The day after September 11, I sent an email to colleagues and friends. On this fifth anniversary, I have reprinted it, with slight editing, because I think its key themes are still very valid. We must promote understanding and respect among people from different backgrounds and different parts of the world. Otherwise, September 11 will continue to repeat itself.
The tragic events of September 11, 2001, will have an emotional toll on all of us. Some of us know people who were killed or injured by the terrorists. My family and close relatives were very fortunate. My brother stood in the street by the World Trade Center when one of the planes hit. He literally had to run for his life to avoid the falling debris. Some people near him did not make it. My nephew, who works in the WTC, was on the ground floor when the explosion occurred. A few minutes later, he would have been up in the Tower. He ran to safety as well. My cousin, a colonel at the Pentagon, was on duty when the attack occurred. He survived. Unfortunately, at least one friend of my brother was killed; and several friends and neighbors of my family (who live in the New York area) are missing and presumed dead.
It comes naturally to feel anger now, but that should not interfere with our reason and compassion. Certainly, the perpetrators should come to justice. We must pursue the terrorists and those who support them. However, we need to be forgiving of the people who get caught up in a vicious cycle of hatred, without ever hearing the truth, and without ever coming into contact with the people they have been trained to hate. Violent retribution will not cure this hatred; it will only contain it in the short run. If there is a long term cure, it lies in the promotion of communication among conflicted groups, the promotion of justice, and the promotion of peaceful coexistence.
These events should make us all the more committed to the work of the Wilder Foundation. Our work promotes justice. Our work attempts to reduce prejudice. Our work seeks to remedy social problems and reduce inequalities. Our work brings people together to see their common human interests and to build communities that meet everyone's needs. We might think that this effort just makes a difference on a small scale. However, in reality, the problems of the world will not be solved through high level diplomatic meetings. Nor will they be solved through wars. They will be solved when ordinary people work on a local level to understand one another and to get along with one another. That's what we promote when we serve the needy in one community, when we strengthen neighborhoods and organizations to enable them to serve others, and when we promote policies that enhance the lives of all. If enough of this work occurs in localities throughout the world - that's when the hatred that breeds terrorism will diminish and hopefully disappear.