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The common sense of shock has lingered since September 11th. On that infamous morning, I was flying from New Haven to Washington in a small plane, and did not know initially why we were suddenly diverted to the airport in Baltimore. Only on arrival did we learn of the al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon. We watched the trade center towers collapse, over and over again, on the television news broadcast. The sense of dread was unavoidable. The terrorist career of Osama bin Laden has shown an unremitting ambition over the last decade, and a gargantuan appetite for violence. In 1999, when I looked closely at bin Laden's handiwork, it was apparent that the al Qaeda chief was seeking a nuclear device. On September 11, 2001, no one knew whether this ultimate weapon of mass destruction might already be in his arsenal. The New York City attacks could have killed 25,000 people or more, had the building evacuations not succeeded, and al Qaeda's attack on Washington had other targets beyond the Pentagon. Bin Laden has passed beyond any escalatory threshold, unchecked in his hostility to the West. With full-throated nihilistic violence, bin Laden defies the possibility of compromise.
The events have made plain the fragility of any liberal society. The qualities we take most for granted and cherish most dearly—such as privacy and freedom of movement and the diversity of a multi-ethnic society—are the very sources of our vulnerability. Economic globalization, touted as the answer for the next century, has been challenged by a globalized skein of cooperating terrorist networks, skilled at moving men, money, and materiel from region to region, from the Philippines to Afghanistan to Europe and now to North America. AI Qaeda framed its attacks against buildings that stood as symbols of international commerce, as if to trumpet the globalization of violence against the more secular view of a world economy.
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