The terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 have had a profound and lasting impact on the world, including the Jewish world. The attacks carried out by al-Qaeda suicide bombers were not just aimed at the people working in the Twin Towers or the Pentagon, they were not just aimed at America, they were aimed at our values. They were a brutal assault on the entire West, against the Western Way of Life and its core belief: freedom.
For Jews, New York is a towering symbol. The Jewish community in the city numbers around two million. Moreover, Jewish intellectuals, artists and businessmen have helped to build and shape this city, above all as a beacon of liberty. Anti-Semitism in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and later the Holocaust and the persecution of Jews in Arab countries, drove many Jews to settle in New York. Even today, Jews can find a level of opportunity and safety that is probably second to none in the world.
Although there were enough warnings, nobody in America really expected anything like 9/11 to happen. Nobody could have imagined that New York or Washington DC would be hit by such a horrific series of terrorist attacks. One felt safe in New York. Since then, that feeling is gone.
Although the 9/11 attacks were not aimed at Jews in particular, nobody should forget that since then al-Qaeda & Co. have repeatedly launched deadly attacks on Jewish sites, for example the deadly bombings of synagogues in Djerba, Tunisia, and Istanbul, Turkey in 2002 and 2003. And let’s not forget that the wrath of Islamist terror is primarily targeted against Israel, the Jewish state, which they – rightly – regard as the toehold of Western values and democracy in the Middle East.
By creating fear and mayhem, these terror groups try to convey this message among Western populations: Get out of the Muslim world – freedom, democracy and human rights have no place here.
To some degree this strategy seems to have worked. Isn’t it telling that in the last ten years, as one al-Qaeda cell after the other was planning and carrying out the terror attacks in Madrid, London and other cities support in the West for engagement in the Islamic world dropped markedly?
After 9/11, many countries expressed their solidarity with America and pledged to wage war on terror. Some obviously merely paid lip service. With the exception of the United States, Western public support for Israel’s right to defend itself against the terror from Gaza and Lebanon has receded since 2001. Instead, there seems to be a growing groundswell of sympathy for Hamas and its brothers in arms as they continue to fire rockets into Israel. Some in Europe even argue that terror attacks such as that in southern Israel three weeks ago are a logical consequence of Israel’s “illegal occupation of Palestinian land” – a perverse notion, but a widespread one among the Western ‘intelligentsia’.
Although many Jews in Israel live in constant fear of terror attacks, Israel has always remained an open and free society. It has upheld Western values, democracy and the rule of law in the face of terror.
As Jews, we should be proud of the fact that although we are the preferred targets of terrorists all over the world the democratic Jewish state hasn’t budged an inch.
We must continue to defend and uphold our Western values and defend our liberty against the terrorists and never give in to their demands.
New York is the best example: the city has continued to thrive despite the devastation of 9/11.
New York sends out a powerful message to the world: We are stronger than the terrorists.