September 11, 2011

On the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the time is right to consider how we have changed as a country and how we remain the same.  It is a widely-accepted truism that we were all changed after the terrorist attacks in Washington, DC, New York, and Pennsylvania. However, even though some made use of the fear and heated emotions following the attacks to suppress human and civil rights, our bedrock principles endure, and in fact, flourish.

Throughout the history of our country, we have struggled to navigate the tension between security and fairness.  At times, we have experienced shameful failures – the World War II internment camps for Japanese Americans are a notable example.  And yet, our democracy continues, striving to reaffirm our national unity of purpose. This tension is not a simple intellectual exercise – it goes to the heart of what America will be. This dialog and our ability to have it demonstrate how deeply our country values freedom.

In the decade since September 11, 2001, the evolution of our counterterrorism policies has clearly exemplified this struggle.  Some of the measures we’ve taken have put human rights at risk and promoted suspicion of particular communities. The indefinite detentions following the Patriot Act are one example. However, an atmosphere of suspicion toward immigrants and our history of immigration risks a core element of our country and does not make us safer. In fact, the opposite is true.  Experts have noted that the decision to institute military commissions in the wake of the attacks had the potential to place the men and women of our own armed services at greater risk. Moreover, alienating or demonizing some of our communities prevents the flow of information that is vital to effective security, damages our unity, and most importantly, violates our fundamental values.

Our commitment to fundamental freedoms and human rights must trump partisan political divisions as we work together to ensure American security. We must reject ethnic or racial stereotyping, we must protect religious freedom, we must protect civil and human rights, and we must stand together – to prevent losing even more than the lives we lost that day and the human rights we lost in the aftermath.

Tags: September 11, New York, security, human rights (all tags)

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