On the 20th Anniversary of September 11, 2001, Remember American Resilience

This weekend will mark the 20th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s gutless terror attacks on September 11, 2001.  Images from that day are burned into the minds of so many Americans, especially those who are old enough to remember the heartbreaking events: enormous plumes of smoke rising from the Twin Towers; a gash in the Pentagon filled with charred rubble; the scorched, mangled metal of Flight 93, a testament to the bravery and heroism of its passengers forever; and heroic New York firefighters in a choking cloud of dust, wading through debris and wreckage to pull survivors to safety.  Nearly 3,000 innocent American lives lost.  There is no doubt the day had, and continues to have, an enormous impact on our nation.

When I think about 9/11, though, I do not just think about the tragic images from that day alone.  I also remember what transpired in the days and weeks after, when the American people came together as one nation, indivisible. We refused to allow those heinous acts of terror to frighten and divide us.  I remember how firefighters from all over the country – including from my hometown of Wichita, Kansas – made the long journey to New York City to support the rescue efforts at Ground Zero.

I remember how St. Paul’s Chapel, miraculously unscathed following the disaster given its location right across the street from where the Twin Towers fell, became an essential place for weary firemen and other rescue workers to rest and recuperate.  Church leaders and volunteers from all over America flocked to that small church to assist in any way they could.

I remember Mike Piazza’s home run in front of thousands of New Yorkers, who defied the fears al-Qaeda had hoped to foster by gathering together and celebrating America’s Pastime just ten days after the attacks.  The reaction of Americans everywhere in the wake of 9/11 was incredible, resilient, and unified.  That reaction was itself a victory over terror.  It is what makes America the greatest force for good on the planet and defines us as Americans.

It’s true that the Biden Administration’s disastrous handling of our withdrawal from Afghanistan has dominated the news cycle leading up to the 20th anniversary of 9/11.  The Taliban’s flag now covers the wall of our hastily evacuated embassy, and it may feel to many this weekend like America failed in Afghanistan.  But President Biden’s failure isn’t the whole story.  While Team Biden’s withdrawal was a colossal failure, America’s mission in Afghanistan – to root out and destroy the terrorists who perpetrated the senseless, barbaric acts of terror on 9/11 – was largely a success.  When the Trump Administration left office, al-Qaeda’s numbers in Afghanistan had dwindled to around 200 active members.  We should all take time this weekend to honor not only those who died on 9/11, but also those who died in Afghanistan and elsewhere, fighting to eradicate the threat of radical Islamic terror for the entire world and keep us safe here at home.  We must also remain vigilant and commit ourselves to ensuring that al-Qaeda’s numbers and capabilities never again reach the levels they were at before 9/11.

Outside Afghanistan, too, we are winning the fight against the radical extremism that inspired the 9/11 attacks.  The Trump Administration’s Abraham Accords are a prime example of this progress.  These historic agreements provide a framework for Islamic countries to live alongside Israel in a shared community of nations, defying malign actors like Iran whose goals are the destruction of Israel and the West.  We must continue to isolate nations like Iran and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan if we want to choke out the resources of terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIS and ensure American security.

Al-Qaeda hoped that their attacks 20 years ago would fundamentally undermine the United States and the broader Western world.  They expected that their attacks would force us to turn on our own Muslim citizens, thereby abandoning the conception of individual liberty and freedom on which our republic is built and expose what they saw as the hypocrisy of the Western world.  They hoped we would be petrified and frightened of more attacks, that our societies would come to a halt out of fear.  Instead, their attacks strengthened us.  We repudiated al-Qaeda’s narrow, primitive view of the world.  We embraced our fellow Americans, regardless of their religion or creed; and as a result, Muslims in America today enjoy greater freedoms than anywhere in the world.  We became more vigilant, yes – getting through airport security now takes a bit longer – but we remain a robust, free, and open society, just as we were before.  And through embracing those same principles of liberty, we will overcome the challenges on our horizon.  Al-Qaeda may have partially succeeded in carrying out its attacks on September 11, 2001, but it failed to undermine who we are as Americans – that is worth remembering.