Responding to September 11, 2001

by David C. Korten

In our hour of sorrow, fear, and anger
may America have the wisdom
to know the difference between justice and vengeance,
and the courage to chose justice. 

The horrific and unconscionable September 11, 2001 (911) terrorist attack on the United States that destroyed the World Trade Towers, damaged the Pentagon, and left more than 5,000 persons dead was a dramatic wake up call for those of us who thought our lives and prosperity to be safe and secure behind the walls of fortress America. It dramatically changed the political context, radically reoriented near term priorities, and brought the need for transformational change into sharp focus. 

PCDF is working with various groups and initiatives to advance two immediate priorities related to the 911 terrorist attack:

1. Forestall the inappropriate use of military force, the killing of innocent civilians, and the suppression of civil liberties as counterproductive and morally indefensible responses to terrorism. This has been the immediate PCDF priority. To this end we have joined countless others throughout America and the world calling attention to the simple truth that military force has at best a very limited role in dealing with hidden and widely dispersed terrorists networks.  PCDF has been a sponsor, along with the Positive Futures Network here on Bainbridge Island, and the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, of a Justice, Not Vengeance statement signed by more than 150 notable American opinion leaders, including many whose names are household words. I’ve put forward this message in presentations to various forums, including to a Saturday, September 22 Justice, Not Vengeance Rally here on Bainbridge Island where I live. Our immediate goal has been to do whatever we can to turn a national monologue on vengeance into a national dialogue on peace and justice. 

2. End the verbal and physical scapegoating of people of color and those of the Muslim faith.  We are also speaking against racial violence in public presentations and align with groups promoting community and state hate free zones;  inter-racial, interfaith exchanges, rallies, and alliances; individual and collective expressions of inter-racial, interfaith solidarity; and the vigorous pursuit and prosecution of those responsible for hate crimes. 

Over the longer term, the 911 tragedy has created a teachable moment for building awareness and mobilizing action toward two long-term priorities:

1. End apartheid in America. Apartheid is an unspoken, unacknowledged, and unacceptable fact of life in much of America and the world. Heightened awareness of racial issues and violence creates an opportunity to draw attention to the extent to which apartheid is an unacceptable wound that nurtures hatred and violence.

2. Create a world that works for all. The events of September 11 have awakened a new consciousness of the conditions that foster the hate and vengeance that motivate terrorism. It is a moment ripe with possibilities to build commitment to freeing the world from the scourge of exclusion, hopelessness, and cultural degeneration that are the product of unjust economic and political institutions. 

The most beautiful tribute humanity can offer to those who lost their lives to terrorism on September 11 will be to embrace this tragic moment to make a collective choice to create a world of peace and justice that works not only for all people, but as well for the whole of life. This is a defining moment for humanity. We must use it well.

David C. Korten
President, People-Centered Development Forum

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