US Ambassador to Iceland Luis Arreaga, at a seminar looking back over the ten years that have passed since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, gave a speech on his impressions.
The full text is as follows:
The events of September 11, 2001, changed the United States, some say forever, however, we will leave to historians to make that determination. What is certain is that September 11 had a profound impact on our national psyche. It was the sort of event that shook our core foundations and values. It was also a very personal experience. Any American can tell you what they were doing when they first heard of the attacks, when they first saw the images of the falling buildings.
For those of us who were in Washington DC, it was mixture of shock, disbelief, and uncertainty as to what would come next, especially what would happen to our loved ones. I don’t want to dwell on those images, but I believe it is important that we remember all the thousands of innocents who perished in the buildings. It is also important that we honor the brave firefighters and policemen that rushed to the scene and lost their lives in the crumbling wreckage of the Twin Towers. We love these individuals as much as Icelanders love their search and rescue workers. These people are very special human beings and we lost hundreds of them in a matter of minutes.
I would also ask that we remember that many of the victims on that day came from other nations — citizens from over 90 countries perished in the 9/11 attacks. Fortunately, no Icelanders died in the attacks; but we know that September 11 certainly had a profound and personal impact on this country. I know that many Icelanders lost friends and family on that day.
We are grateful for the kind comments and condolences made by Prime Minister David Oddsson on behalf of the Icelandic nation. We remain appreciative of Iceland’s offer to provide the assistance of its international search and rescue team.
The attacks of September 11 also brought outpourings of support and assistance from every corner of the world–from public leaders and private citizens alike. It can be said that there wasn’t a nation in the world that was not touched, in one way or another, by this tragedy. Another outcome is that the world came together as a global community and as a result, today we remember not just the victims of 9/11, but the victims of terrorism from around the world. And we honor the resilience of all of the survivors and families affected by terrorism. Recent events in Norway remind us that terrorism can come from the least expected of places and strike at the core of what we hold very dear.
The attacks on September 11 failed to achieve the two primary strategic goals of its organizers. First of all, they did not weaken the United States. Not only did we overcome those attacks but we came away resilient, resolved, and more committed than ever before to protect our values. Secondly, the attacks also failed in the terrorists’ desire to create a schism between America and the Muslim world. The attacks did not deter us from continuing our efforts to work with our Muslim friends to promote peace and democracy around the globe.
But we don’t have to go the Middle East for evidence of these connections. Right here in Reykjavik, I had the honor of hosting an Iftar dinner for Muslim leaders in Iceland. I can tell you that we shared a sense of community and mutual respect. Our guests shared with us their culture and the traditions of Ramadan. I learned a great deal that evening and now have a much better sense of what it means to be Muslim in Iceland.
In the last ten years, we have also witnessed dramatic changes within the Muslim world. You see this most visibly in the streets of North Africa where people have inspired all of us with their courage and sacrifice as they assert their demands for basic human rights and dignity. Transitions in societies that have been warped by decades of repression are and will be challenging. Those of us who have the good fortune to live in free societies should applaud their achievements and lend a hand to support their efforts to build new institutions. Looking the other way or denying them support while they are getting killed and massacred by their leaders is hardly the answer.
As we reflect on the legacy of 9/11, I would like to draw your attention to recent comments made by President Obama. The President, reflecting on what American values look like in a post 9/11 world, said, “We are an America where our fundamental freedoms and inalienable rights are not simply preserved, but continually renewed and refreshed. An America that stands up for dignity and the rights of people around the world, whether a young person demanding his or her freedom in the Middle East or North Africa, or a hungry child in the Horn of Africa, where we are working to save lives. Put simply, we are an America that goes forward as one family, like generations before us, pulling together in times of trial, staying true to our core values and emerging even stronger. This is who we are and this is who we must always be.”
Like President Obama, I want people to remember the positives that came out of September 11. I want people to remember that the world came together on that terrible day rather than being torn apart. I want people to understand that America is stronger and more resolute than ever before. While it is true that we still have challenges resulting from September 11, we are moving forward and building on the values that define us as a nation.
Some of the challenges we confront include finding the right policies to provide us with security while protecting the individual freedoms that we hold so dearly. We created an entirely new agency–the Department of Homeland Security– to deal with this issue. We strengthened our borders, fortified our infrastructure and addressed our vulnerabilities. Our approach is still a work in progress and there will always be tension between protecting our citizens and safeguarding their fundamental rights. Fortunately, we have a constitution that mediates these debates and a court system that can check the power of the government when necessary.
The United States is now a safer and more secure country than ever before. Sure, we may all wistfully remember the days that we could breeze through an airport security line, but our basic rights and liberties remain undiminished.
One final point that I would like to make is that it is now widely recognized that those who committed those acts of terrorism on 9/11 were on the wrong side of history; the events this year show that the future belongs to those seeking open, vibrant societies, not to violent extremism.
I would like to thank NEXUS and professor Bailes for inviting us to speak today. As you can imagine this is a very significant date for us and we appreciate the opportunity to share our thoughts and our hopes and commitment to a brighter future.