Every year on 9/11 it becomes harder to think of what to write, what to say, how to understand what occurred, and how to explain it to those born after that tragic day in 2001. How does one convey the feelings generated by that horror to 15 year olds born after it happened?
The enormity of the human tragedy, the sheer volume of people killed, injured, maimed for life, traumatized forever, the thousands of family members of those killed or injured -- those are staggering figures. How does one begin to grasp the symbolic importance of hitting at the very heart of western civilization, the heart of the quintessential international city that represents all that is great about America and western values? The event may be too hard to wrap one's mind around, even with 15-year hindsight.
Here, in Israel, we talk about it, we remember it, we mention it; there are radio programs and television programs dedicated to it. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that has a 9/11 memorial site (on the Jerusalem hills). While crowds all over the Arab world, from Gaza to Baghdad, celebrated the attack on the U.S., Israelis mourned and still mourn with America.
Israel's 9/11 memorial is also the only such memorial outside the U.S, that lists the names of every victim, because we know that a terrorist attack is, first and foremost, a personal attack on individuals. We remember all of them. We know better than most countries what it is like to be attacked by radical Islam on our own territory. We understand the horror, the pain, and the rage.
But although the attack left thousands of victims in its wake, and although each of them represents a complete and full life taken away, not to mention thousands of bereaved and suffering families, the attacks of 9/11 must be seen in their wider context, in a historical perspective. They are, after all, a historic event that has changed the world.
The attacks of 9/11 were a clear declaration of war by radical Islamists against the West. They attacked not only people, not only the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, respectively symbols of America's financial, and defense establishments. They attacked western values. They attacked democracy and freedom and all the liberties that Americans, Israelis and others hold dear. They attacked those values because they pretend to replace them with a whole other set of values, the values of Islamic law (Shari'a) and their very narrow way of life which they seek to impose upon anyone considered "infidel."
Tragically, the attacks of 9/11 were followed by many more attacks on European and US soil. San Bernardino, Orlando, Nice, Istanbul, Paris, Brussels... the list goes on. Only this past September, New York was again the target of what appears to have been an attack inspired by Radical Islam (there are scarce details at the time of writing). Luckily, nobody was killed this time. In Israel, too, there has been a resurgence of terrorism in the past weeks.
Islamic radicalism offers its followers a simplistic world view, a black and white portrait of humanity which divides all people into two categories: those residing in the "House of Islam" and those residing in the "House of War." Simply stated, every person must choose whether to belong to the House of Islam (as defined by the minority who comprise Islamic radicalism) or be forever condemned to be in the House of War, and therefore doomed to die at the sword. This simple and superficial world view trickles down to thousands of disaffected youth all over the world, from the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines to Al Qaeda and to ISIS. The members of these groups may belong to different streams within Islam but they all have one thing in common: a deep hatred for all western values and freedoms. And a deep desire to impose their own values on the rest of the world.
Islamic radicalism has been threatening Israel's way of life for decades. Since 9/11, it has become a threat to dozens of other states as well, and while each country chooses to deal with the threat in a different way, one thing is clear: Islamic radicalism (not Islam) will continue to hit at western civilization in an attempt to subjugate us to its primitive, extremist view of religion. Together, we can and should make a powerful stand against the forces of radicalism. We can and should make use of religion as a bridge between peoples rather than as a divide, in order to stand up to those who will use religion to disseminate hatred. The alternative is to surrender, abandon, and relinquish our countries to them. 9/11 is a day to remember why that option does not exist.
Israelis share the pain of the American people on this day and we stand together in defense of the western, democratic way of life and values, on 9/11 and every day. For us, September will forever be remembered as the day on which our closest ally was attacked not merely because of who it is -- but because of what it represents.