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NOTIONS: Four years after 9/11, freedom still resounds

September 19, 2005

Dear Mr. bin

Laden:

On Sept. 11, 2005, I woke up late. I'd been to dinner and a movie the night before. Then I stayed up reading. So I slept in Sunday morning.

I moseyed out of bed, put on gym shorts and a T-shirt, and retrieved the newspapers from the drive.

You got beat on the front page by Hurricane Katrina. We like our crises fresh. Yours has grown stale.

You made the cover of The New York Times Magazine, though. It featured a painting of you next to the headline, "Is he winning?" The story implied you are-not because your attack was so effective, but because we retaliated by invading the wrong guy in the wrong place.

I read the papers, took a hot shower (do you have one of those?) and drove to Bloomington for brunch with some friends. We sat in a book-lined room at the Runcible Spoon, sipping tea and coffee, discussing art, travel, music and more.

After we ate, we strolled about town, shopping and talking. We arrived at the Monroe County Courthouse just as a 9/11 memorial service began. (Yes, we mark the occasion, not to celebrate what you did, but to mourn those who died in the process.)

On the courthouse lawn, we saw uniformed servicemen and Legionnaires, and spectators clad in their Sunday best.

Just then, a woman with a Reba McEntire alto started singing the national anthem. As we listened, I looked around to see what others were doing. Some went about their business, but most stood silent, hands on hearts, watching the Stars and Stripes billow in the breeze.

When I got home, I met a friend for a 9/11 service at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. A priest, casting incense all about, led a procession up the center aisle. A 60-member choir followed him into the apse. Across its arch were the words "Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more."

During the service, a boy read Jesus' words: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'"

A priest prayed: "Out of what we have endured, give us the grace to examine our relationships with those who perceive us as the enemy."

Another priest delivered a homily, saying, "Goodness is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Life is stronger than death."

In closing, the choir sang an anthem that began, "Through the long night we have come/The sun is bright/The wars are done/We will unite/We will be one/A new light has begun." Two days later, I rode my bicycle to IUPUI. In an outdoor corridor beneath the business/public affairs building, I read the postings at "Democracy Plaza." Here, on 14 oversized blackboards, passersby wield multicolored pieces of chalk, weighing in on questions posed weekly by a committee of students and faculty. There were quips and quotes, witty insights, hateful diatribes, verbal assaults and rapier responses. This week's boards featured many questions inspired by you. "Has the war on terror become too large in scope?" asked one. "Yes," said a respondent. "Our No. 1 priority should have been catching Osama bin Laden" "Let's see if you can find him!" said an author signing himself "USMC." "He's a 6'5" Arab on dialysis," said the reply. "Why is that so hard to find?" In this section, I found, too, a debate about the merits of military service. "It is completely useless and far too expensive to try fighting people who are born to die for their beliefs with boys who don't even want to be fighting in the first place," said one. "Bring the soldiers home. Impeach Bush," said another. But an apparent veteran replied, "Send me back! I'm not done killing to ensure your right to hate me!"

"We don't hate you," came the reply, "We respect you. We just don't agree with your superiors."

The next writer concluded, "Soldiers fill the gap while the rest of us decide."

Another blackboard posed the question, "Do individual liberties need to be sacrificed for homeland security?"

In reply, one writer quoted Benjamin Franklin as saying: "Those who value security over liberty value neither."

Yet another blackboard asked, "Are we safer since the 9/11 attacks four years ago?"

"No, just more racist," said one author. "Hell no! Even more people hate us and want us dead," said another.

"Who cares?" said another, "If I die, I die."

If you were winning, Mr. bin Laden, we Americans wouldn't be milling about on the town square during the national anthem. And congregations wouldn't be singing the virtues of peace and forgiveness. And students wouldn't be debating, freely, the slings and arrows of democracy. Four years after your bloody business, that piercing peal in your cave is the sound of freedom ringing.



Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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