Ten Things I Want My Children To Learn From 9/11

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15 Responses

  1. Matt Raft says:

    Ken, this is one of best pieces anywhere, on any topic, period. Thank you. One quick nitpicky note: I don't necessarily like the ebola comparison as you've used it. You seem to have decided that studying Islam and Muslims may, at least for some people, equate to studying a subsection of terrorists. It doesn't work that way. For example, no one would rationally study atheists to understand the Unabomber, or Scandinavians to understand Anders Behring Breivik, or Judaism to understand Madoff. If the previous examples don't make sense, neither does your comparison. (Another way to explain this fallacy is that no one would study an entire group to understand 0.1% of its adherents.) I don't know the best way to capture, identify, or understand terrorists, but the idea that studying an entire religion will somehow help us understand 9/11 or terrorism won't help. It'll just help associate terrorism with that religion, which is unjust to the 99.9999% of the group.

    In reality, Americans in general don't understand much about the rest of the world, period. Part of this is because most Americans don't travel outside of North America and Europe. Part of this has to do with our shock-and-awe soundbite media. But one thing is for sure–creating misguided conceptions and superficial associations will stymie substantive understanding of important concepts. Just my two cents.

  2. Ken says:

    I see your perspective on that line, Matt, but it was addressed to the mindset of people who see Muslims as by definition or nature probable enemies. Regrettably that's not an unusual sentiment.

    It would be my hope that learning more about Islam would allow people to distinguish between the vast majority of its adherents, on the one hand, and people who use it as a justification for evil, on the other.

  3. Matt Raft says:

    Ken, no amount of studying will help people who believe there is a natural East/West clash of civilizations or that Islam is in general anti-American or violent. We look for what we want to see. For example, I can easily make out Christianity to be anti-woman, just as someone can easily do the same thing with Islam.

    In general, people are afraid of the unknown, and there just aren't enough Muslims in America to give people a face-to-face and personal experience with Islam. A Californian or New Yorker might see a few Pakistanis or women with headscarves on a weekly basis, but that won't help him or her understand that India has 100+ million Muslims, or that Islam is practiced differently in Indonesia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Even knowing these facts won't help humanize Muslims and take them out of the "other" category for most Americans.

    It will take time for Muslims to disassociate themselves with 9/11, but studying Islam won't help the process. MLK knew what he was talking about when he said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." He understood that some things just take time. Rational and articulate people like you help keep the arc bent in the right direction. Thank you.

  4. Skip Intro says:


    This is a really thoughtful and important piece. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    The first, startling lesson that I took away from 9/11 was the thought "I've been expecting this for twenty years". I read history. I follow the news. I knew that there was a segment of Muslim society that held us in contempt because of decades of "If we can just sit down with them and talk, I'm sure we can work it out without violence" foreign policy. I knew that, further, decades of criticizing regimes that tried to control their radical thugs, while making excuses for those that didn't, had had the consequence of undermining all attempts by Islamic States to remain civilized.

    The lesson of 9/11 is not simply that there is Evil, but that there are Barbarians, and that one should not treat Barbarians as if they were civilized people. Nasty as it is to say, civilized people will work with you to avoid war, because they have a lively idea of how nasty life can get when you fight a war and lose. Barbarians have to be reminded of this more often. Barbarians prefer war to trade, because they conceive of both as having winners and losers, and they have exaggerated ideas of their capacity for war. Conducting civilized diplomacy with Barbarians excites them to feelings of contempt.

    On 9/11 we had spent decades trying to be Mr. International Nice Guy. The Barbarians of the world had forgotten how truly unpleasant life can get when you make America mad. Sadly, the blithering of the established Media has badly blunted the lessons that Iraq and Afghanistan would otherwise represent.

    I live in fear of the day that the Barbarians launch a really successful terror attack on us (9/11 was, in concrete terms, a moderate failure. Better timing on the same targets could easily have killed ten times the number of dead). When that happens, we really WILL lose our temper, and Hell will go out for a walk with the sleeves rolled up. When the dust clears we will have changed as a nation, and not for the better.

    And the Arabian Peninsula may well be one large sheet of radioactive glass.

  6. piperTom says:

    Thank you for a wonderful piece, Ken. But I cannot agree with #10 — the philosophy of respect for the individual and the fundamental equality of people that began in the time of John Locke is/was a new goodness for all mankind. Already it has ended institutional slavery and molded a limited government in the U.S. It is a flower still unfolding.

  7. Ken, this was absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much for taking the time, thought, and emotion necessary to write it.

    I do completely respect your copyright and would like permission to (properly attributed, of course) post your words from number 9 above to a discussion board for my philosophy class. It's a restricted use board (only for members of that particular class). We're discussing the Egocentric Principle and this is a perfect description of how that works. I would, also, provide a link to the entire article. More people need to see this.

  8. Ken says:

    That's very flattering, Ima. Feel free.

  9. Christina says:

    Absolutely wonderful. I especially like the progression through the items, because I too agree that #10 is the right conclusion of any series of thoughts on the topic. One must think and act, not because 9/11 was the "worst" attack on the "best" country in the world, but because people were killed and injured by the actions of others, and this is a wrong we must universally seek to eliminate from the world.

    Good and evil exist – as Solzhenitsyn said, in the heart of every person. The most tragic story I have read on this tenth anniversary was the NYTimes article about a Polish immigrant who took the wrong train to a job interview on the evening of 9/11 and was murdered in a gang/drug incident. Even on a day when extraordinary good was responding to extraordinary evil, the ordinary work of the human condition proceeded apace. The extraordinary actions have their roots in the ordinary ones, and we must all work daily to nourish the good and weaken the evil which resides in our own hearts.

  10. -pwl says:

    On point #9: I can't remember how long ago it was that my now 15yo son and I were listening to a news report about the war in Afghanistan. It was after a particularly grizzly period when people were dying left and right. On this day the report was of (only) 10 people being killed. He thought 10 was a comparatively small number and I had to agree–comparatively was the key phrase. So I asked him what he would have said if it was only three people. He said that was barely any. Then I said, what if the three people were me, his mother and his sister.

    It was not something that I had been thinking about. The sentiment came as a bit of a shock to me as soon as I said it. The look on his face stirs me to this day.

    I feel bad for making him feel bad that day, but we both were changed for the better– right there in the kitchen.

    People are connected. Every death is a pity.

  11. Alberto Salceda says:

    I want to print this, frame it, and read it to my children every day. It's not only a deeply insightful reflection on a great tragedy, but it contains great lessons in character and integrity; especially (but not limited to) 4, 5, and 6.
    Thank you.

  12. Contracts says:

    Not only the best remembrance that I've seen this weekend, but also one of the best blog posts that I've seen in a long time.

  13. Will says:

    This is a great article, I wish more people would read it. I have a slight quibble with #10. Even if 9/11 were the worst thing to ever happen to the US, that does not mean we need to change who we are fundamentally. I don't think you were implying that it would, I just thought that maybe it should be mentioned. We got to where we are today by being who we are, we can over this and any other tragedy without becoming someone else.-

  14. Tom says:

    The only important thing in our world is truth. The truth of 911 has not yet come out.

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