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Today: 9/11

11/09/2011

Like all of us, I remember that day a decade ago – where I was, what I was doing on that beautiful, sunny day. But to dwell upon individual recollections of events on 11th September 2001 seen or heard  from a safe distance seems disgracefully self-indulgent given the scale of destruction and grief generated by those murderous attacks . But, of course, that wasn’t all: the world changed that day and the West lost what innocence it had. Vigilance – with its customary corollaries, political, economic and psychological – has become a drearily necessary part of all our lives. And taken up permanent presence in our minds.
Sometimes, though, I wonder if we are applying it properly – so as to safeguard the innocent and preserve our hard-won democratic traditions.  When I read the following passage forty years ago, it was revelatory. How much more important are its lessons now:

‘Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.’
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies: The Spell of Plato (1945)

A sober argument of fundamental force and importance, presented with painstaking clarity. There is nothing to be gained from tolerating the intolerant for they produce nothing but a fast route into a nihilistic abyss: aut nihil nil nisi bonum. But we might consider why Popper’s words have such impact, and here I’d prefer to let one of my favourite English writers remind us of the possibility of good prevailing over even the most incomprehensibly reprehensible people:

‘There is surely a piece of divinity in us, something that was before the elements, and owes no homage to the sun.’
Thomas Browne, Religio Medici (1642)

We saw plentiful evidence of that ‘piece of divinity’ among the heroes of 9/11, and those whose dignity in loss has proved so impressive since.
Those who perpetrated these acts were – and are – in the dark.  And there is no light in them. They chose to pursue petty and irrational hatreds promoted to insane levels. These they nurtured in tandem with a sense of victimhood (characteristically an excuse for childishness when not used as a spur to constructive action). They chose killing other human beings rather than at least accepting the right of those others to live.  They could have chosen joy and wonder. And they are owed no more respect than any other violent criminals who get off on hatred, selfishness and killing.
Thoughts and prayers today to those who have suffered because of the stupid, vicious and destructive tenets of terrorism – among them, the only son of my neighbours, les Pastorelli.  Monsieur et Madame Pastorelli, whose  unfailing kindness and humour in the face of unfathomable sadness continues to inspire and illuminate the lives of all who know them.

Pic sourced from Commons Wiki.

Note/update: Martin Robb, a clever blogging friend, has included an extract from this post in his own, thoughtful and thought-provoking selection of quotes for that day. It is a great accolade for me. And Martin’s blog is always worth a visit.

Copyright © Minnie at Les Minimes (minniebeaniste) 2009-2011. This content is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this content feed on other websites breaches copyright.

2 Comments
  1. 13/09/2011 13:43

    Excellent and thoughtful post Minnie. Wandering round t’Internet looking at what people were doing when it happened and it seems many of us thought it was the beginning of World War Three. I remember switching on the tv just as a shopping delivery arrived. The guy came in and we both sat on the sofa for three hours. I made him lunch. Didn’t know his name. We just sat stunned.

    • Minnie permalink
      13/09/2011 14:22

      Jane: thank you. Yes to possibility of WWIII: everyone definitely holding their breath. That year marked the beginning of my personal armageddon, so I generally avoid revisiting memories of the time (many of them recur as nightmares). However, I do remember a dazed drive home from job interview in Bristol as result of the news breaking into a concert on R3. Once home, I ‘phoned unusually sombre ex, and later emailed a former colleague the q ‘is this the end of western liberalism?’ to which he responded with uncharacteristic succinctness, ‘yes’. It was, too. Couldn’t watch the live broadcasts until much, much later – so ‘chapeau’ to you for facing up to them.

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