Rethinking 9/11

By CATHERINE TUMBER  |  September 11, 2006

Eli Pariser, Executive Director of

I’ve changed my mind in two, kind of contradictory ways. One is that, before 9/11, I really had a perhaps naive faith that while public officials were occasionally corrupt and sometimes placed politics above sensible policies on tragedies and events of this magnitude, that surely no one would twist them to entirely opportunistic and unrelated ends — especially a president. It was a nice thing to feel about your country, to have that kind of faith. And it was shaken and probably destroyed somewhat for me by the way this president and his team skillfully manipulated the aftershocks of 9/11 to push us into a war that had nothing to do with it.

So, on the one hand, it made me more cynical than I was. On the other hand, it made me hopeful because that moment after 9/11 when it was clear that not just Americans were in this together but that the whole world was, was an incredibly beautiful moment and spirit, and it’s re-emerged from time to time after the attacks. It re-emerged when millions of people from around the world came together to oppose the war. After Katrina was another time when you saw people really reaching out to one another and pulling together in the face of something catastrophic.

So I guess the flip side is that while I never would have guessed leaders could be so craven, I also had no experience of people being as good as they were after the attacks, and that’s opened my eyes also. That spirit of generosity is what drives the members of MoveOn to do what they do, which is essentially that there is no quid pro quo as in most of politics, where if you lobby really successfully your paycheck goes up at the end of the day. There’s been this kind of renewed commitment to the greater good after the attacks.

And I think in both of those moments it was a trans-partisan thing. The rifts that have always existed in American politics between the people on the outside [of Washington, DC] and people on the inside has gotten much deeper over the past five years. In some ways, that is a more important fissure than the partisan one. Because really, on so many issues of national importance, people are pretty clear. It’s the politicians who are muddled.

John Silber, President Emeritus of Boston University

The biggest change in my thinking over the past five years is this: I was optimistic that effective action against terrorist groups would be undertaken; that Saudi Arabia would be forced to terminate all financial support to radical imams preaching hatred, sharia, and holy war; that we would recognize and denounce those aspects of Islam that are not peaceful or in any way capable of assimilation into a democratic society; and that we would avoid wasteful entanglements that consume our treasure and undermine our voluntary military forces. Now I am quite pessimistic.

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