On Sunday, President Richard Levin spoke about “The Lessons of 9/11.” He spoke about freedom, tolerance and open-mindedness, and ended with a seemingly simple request: “Let us ever confront darkness and prejudice with light and truth.”
It is easy to look at the attacks on 9/11 and say they are evil. It is easy to look at extremists and say they are evil. It is easy to look at the world and divide it into Good and Evil. In fact, it may be difficult not to do so.
I do not believe, however, that we can sit back and blindly state that the attacks on 9/11 were evil. First, let me make it clear that I am not saying what happened on 9/11 was acceptable. They were heinous, horrible acts. There are no words to describe what occurred. But simply calling them “Evil” does not help us confront the darkness of that day with light and truth.
Despite what we all know to be true, 9/11 was not a single day. Centuries of religious intolerance, centuries of foreign exploitation and centuries of people struggling to survive preceded the events of 9/11. When the current country that we think of as Afghanistan was formed, it was little more than a collection of peoples who happened to live in the same geographic area.
Living a life that most Yalies could not even imagine, and facing choices that most Yalies will never need to face, the members of al-Qaeda made terrible, life-altering (and world-altering) decisions that were morally wrong and legally indefensible. At the time, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani quite correctly declared that there was “no moral equivalent” to the terrorist acts of 9/11.
Only if one isolates 9/11 into a single day, however, can it be said that the events of that day were evil — pure evil. Unfortunately, we do not live in such a simple world. The events that led up to that fateful day, the day that will define our generation, were long in the making. It is easy to ignore the past, but we cannot do so.
Accepting a universal definition for Truth, Good and Evil only will lead America further from the ideals on which she was founded. Once America’s political leaders affirmed that those behind the 9/11 attacks were Evil, it was easy to invade two countries, torture human beings, and deprive individuals (both abroad and at home) of their basic rights. In the fight against Evil, the line between Right and Wrong is easily shifted.
We need to carefully examine where to draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not. We need to thoughtfully consider when the needs of a society outweigh the needs of an individual. We need to recognize that even such simple issues are seen in very different ways from very different perspectives.
We live in a society marked by differences. We live in a world faced with unprecedented problems. We live in a time of amazing hope and opportunity. Dogmatically holding only to one’s own ideas of Good and Evil, and accepting Veritas while being blinded by Lux, will not lead to a world that any of us should want to live in. As President Levin stated a few days ago, “Blind adherence to ideology, a conviction that one alone is in possession of the whole and genuine truth, is a recipe for disaster.”
Our childhoods were shaped by 9/11, but we still have a choice as to how that will shape our futures, and the futures of others. If we are so desperate to delineate Good from Evil, to label and to characterize, we forever will be in a world doomed to exist under the shadow of 9/11. It is our prerogative to learn from the events of that day, and to grow out of them. But we cannot learn just from that one day, for there is so much more to see and understand.
Thomas Jefferson believed that all people are created equal and that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights. I refuse to condemn an individual, a group of people or a nation as evil; doing so only further denies them their unalienable rights.
Glen Meyerowitz is a junior in Ezra Stiles College.