Reflections on September 11, 2001

This is a terrible tragedy for America, and more generally, for civilization.

Every American and decent citizen of the world is stunned and deeply hurt, and though the perpetrators of this evil have not brought America to a standstill, they have caused sufficient harm and unrest, anger and death, destruction and stalemate in the normal workings of things in the country to secretly claim some victory for their ignoble goal.

We saw mindless puppets in some regions of the world celebrating the catastrophe. But there are many more out there who rejoice at the sight of  America in anguish, for to the physically weak nothing is more pleasing that witnessing a giant groan.

But it is important to understand that what happened on September 11, 2001 was much more than  a horrific feat of terrorism by a handful of frustrated maniacs. It is the ardent manifestation of three powerful forces that are deep in the psyche of millions of people of our times.

The first is intense anger at a civilization which engaged in material exploitation, human oppression, and cultural marginalization of other peoples during the past few centuries. This was conveyed with vehemence in the recent U.N. conference in South Africa. (Ironically, it was the West that sowed the seeds for the U.N. to emerge.)

The second is envy, intense and impotent, of a country which has been all too successful in far too many domains of human endeavor, one which has made more  material, moral, cultural, technological, and scientific contributions to 20th century civilization than any other, a country where people enjoy greater freedom and economic well-being than in most nations, and which is a the strongest military power in the world.

The third factor is the legitimate fear that the universal appeal of the values (human rights, freedom) and governmental systems (democracy, elections) of American/Western vintage would subvert the medieval modes in which some dark-age leaders of ailing civilizations are choking. Incapable of seeing that the framework of civilizations must transform and evolve to survive and create, some misguided cultural patriots are obsessed by the idea that it is by clinging on to a dead past or by reviving it in its ancient, though no longer relevant, modes that they can pay homage to their ancestors.

It is difficult to separate these powerful forces that propel the thoughts and deeds of millions in many parts of the world.

What we witnessed on September 11 was one of many ugly manifestations, albeit  one of the most destructive and insane thus far, of the rage, frustration, and hateful passion of quite a few people in the non-Western world, even of some of non-Western extraction within the matrix of the West.

One may  hope that in the long run, after due contributions from every race and creed of humankind, and due recognition of the spiritual insights and values inherent in the traditional wisdom of all the ethnic shades of humanity, the knowledge and enlightened framework that emerged after the rise of modern science and its offshoots will eventually become part of awakened humanity everywhere.

However, before this can happen, we must achieve a greater degree of economic justice within and among the nations of the world. The pressing human problems of hunger and health, of literacy and education, of racism and casteism must be resolved, and the self-interests of nations must give way to the global interests of humanity as a planetary family.

If, for whatever reason, the retrograde forces manage to win, here or elsewhere, it is likely that humanity will plunge back into another dark and dismal period of history which has a peculiar sinister appeal of its own.