When Muslim extremists seized four airliners on Sept. 11, 2001, their motivations included not only anti-American politics and twisted interpretations of Islam but a wider rejection of the Western notions of citizenship and nationhood.
The attacks that felled the World Trade Center and struck at the Pentagon ultimately killed more than 3,000, including firefighters, police officers and soldiers. One of the latter was a Baton Rouge lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. Louisiana has long been proud of those it sends to the services, as we are today. The citizens who stopped Flight 98 from joining the attack also were heroes of that day.
That the attackers failed on 9/11 is evident, as the World Trade Center is again towering over Manhattan and, despite our travails in the Middle East and Central Asia since, the U.S. military remains the unmatched force for our values and power abroad. Our allies might differ with us and bicker over this or that, but when the chips were down, they sustained us in our hour of need.
But the “soft power” of the United States is also one of the significant replies that we make to the challenges thrust into the spotlight by the events of 9/11.
The deaths at the World Trade Center and in the Pentagon included native-born Americans from all sorts of backgrounds, new immigrants and even undocumented workers — those whom American business simply cannot do without.
The terrorists attacked, as the Archbishop of Canterbury preached that week, “the ideal of liberty that is at the core of America’s greatness.”
That is why we think it is appropriate that on this anniversary the U.S. government declares that it will make available the refuge of America to Syrian victims of Middle Eastern extremism.
President Barack Obama said he will seek the addition of 10,000 asylum slots for the Syrians fleeing war and oppression. That’s in part a diplomatic initiative, as our allies in Europe, from Britain to Turkey, wrestle with the wave of Syrian refugees; while the United States has contributed considerable aid in the crisis, the new immigrants to be admitted here are a tangible statement of our solidarity with our friends abroad.
But it also strikes us as a reaffirmation of the unity amidst diversity that was demonstrated in New York City and Washington 14 years ago today.
Our losses were not only workers from many foreign lands in New York, one of the world’s great trading capitals and, thus, an international city. They were also many Americans, newly minted or hailing from generations born in this country.
We don’t know if the Syrians to come to this country will stay and become Americans or return one day to the land of their birth. But it is that ideal of openness that is also at the core of America’s greatness.
Let us have more living memorials like this to the heroes of Sept. 11, 2001.