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Dear Mr. President: Words of Resistance, Reason, and Peace

Open Letter from Nobel Peace Laureate
Jody Williams

September 11 was the day of a coordinated, terrorist attack on the United States. Too many innocent people died too many families lost their loved ones in this unspeakable, terrorist attack of unprecedented scope. We are all affected in one way or another and numb with horror and shock. When innocent civilian lives are taken in any kind of military or terrorist attack, the mind recoils. When it happens in our country, a country not at war, it seems impossible.

This terrorist attack has been called an attack on freedom. It obviously is. Civilians in an open society not at war have been killed. But many have also expressed concern that other freedoms are at risk as well in the aftermath of the terror. History has shown too many times that when a country sees itself in a state of war, individual freedoms are subordinated to the survival of the state.

Attacks on innocent people anywhere cannot be tolerated. Those who perpetrated this heinous crime need to be brought to justice. They need to be found and tried in a court of law. Their network needs to be dismantled.

But I share the concern of many others who dedicate their lives to peace and justice and human rights that the very difficult question of how to respond must be considered long and hard and not contribute to an escalation of violence.

Human Rights Watch, a founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, immediately issued a statement about the attack that is well worth thinking about. It reads:

We profoundly condemn yesterday's cruel attacks in the United States and express our condolences to the victims and their loved ones. This was an assault not merely on one nation or one people, but on principles of respect for civilian life cherished by all people. We urge all governments to unite to investigate this crime, to prevent its recurrence, and to bring to justice those who are responsible.

"Last night, President Bush said that the United States 'will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbored them.' Yet distinctions must be made: between the guilty and the innocent; between the perpetrators and the civilians who may surround them; between those who commit atrocities and those who may simply share their religious beliefs, ethnicity or national origin. People committed to justice and law and human rights must never descend to the level of the perpetrators of such acts. That is the most important distinction of all.

"There are people and governments in the world who believe that in the struggle against terrorism, ends always justify means. But that is also the logic of terrorism. Whatever the response to this outrage, it must not validate that logic. Rather, it must uphold the principles that came under attack yesterday, respecting innocent life and international law. That is the way to deny the perpetrators of this crime their ultimate victory.

I conclude offering again my deepest sorrow and condolences to the victims of this unthinkable act. This attack has changed too many landscapes, some of them permanently. I hope that one of those changed landscapes is not outrage so immense that peoples committed to justice and law and human rights think about descending to the level of the perpetrators of such acts.

Jody Williams, International Campaign to Ban Landmines (Nobel Peace Laureate)

 


 
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