I still have vivid memories of September 11th 2001. I remember switching on the car radio after leaving a meeting of the community legal advice services and tuning in to a special news broadcast. As I listened to the events that were unfolding I initially thought I had tuned into Radio 4′s afternoon play. It was a good few minutes before I realised that the horrific eyewitness accounts were actually true.
It made me think how fragile all our lives are and how they can be snuffed out in an instant. I thought about the sheer terror that the passengers on those airplanes must have felt knowing they were powerless to do anything about the circumstances in which they found themselves.
Just the day before I had returned to the UK on a flight from Brussels where NATO’s headquarters are located, which could just as easily have been targeted like the Pentagon had been. I pondered how I would have reacted had the aeroplane on which I had been travelling had been hijacked. It sent a cold shudder down my spine.
When arrived back in Derby the news had not filtered through. I remember telling my late wife, Lonny Wilsoncroft, what had happened. She thought it would cause a war, but I said a war against who? How prophetic Lonny’s words were. Little did I think then that the events of September 11th would lead two years later to an ill-judged war in Iraq. Still less did I think that 10 years after our young servicemen and women would be losing their lives in a conflict in Afghanistan.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I believe the West’s response to 9/11 was wrong. It did not make the world a safer place and probably contributed to the worst terrorist atrocity on British soil on July 7th 2005. That was the day that four young British men turned themselves into suicide bombers to kill their own countrymen.
It was Martin Luther King who said: “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.” And it was Winston Churchill who acknowledged that “It is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war.”
The ghastly events of 9/11 changed our world forever. But modern day world leaders and policy makers would do well to be guided by the wise words of Martin Luther King and Winston Churchill. It is not a sign of weakness to try to understand why some people resort to evil deeds. It is not a feeble act to meet the forces of hate with love. And there is no betrayal in talking to your enemies.
I accept that when faced with unspeakable acts of violence and cruelty the urge for retribution is understandable. But we must resist that urge and remember Martin Luther King’s counsel. In my view, love, understanding and dialogue are more likely to prevent a repetition of the appalling events of 9/11 in the US and 7/7 in the UK.