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Let us recommit to our united goal against evil

Revisiting the horror: the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers. Hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the North and South towers (Photograph supplied)

Yesterday marked the fifteenth anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

Fifteen years ago, September 11 was a beautiful late summer day on the Eastern seaboard of the United States. At 8.46am that morning, the world changed profoundly when Flight 11 from Boston slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre.

Terrorism was part of modern life prior to 2001; the world had witnessed horrific events at Munich and Lockerbie and within localised conflicts in many geographic regions. But 9/11 took terrorism to a scale previously unknown.

A group including the Acting Governor, the Deputy Premier and Honorary Consuls gathered yesterday at the 9/11 Memorial in Bermuda’s Botanical Garden to remember the 2,977 victims of that day — people who died in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and on United Flight 93. In doing so, we remembered two citizens of Bermuda — Boyd Gatton and Rhondelle Tankard — who, along with hundreds of Americans as well as citizens from 61 other countries, had their lives cruelly cut short that day.

Also on that day, 67 citizens of the United Kingdom lost their lives ... 24 Canadians ... 16 Jamaicans ... 6 citizens from Ireland and many more. Around the world this past weekend, hundreds of families remembered their lost loved ones.

We also gathered to remember the thousands of victims who have fallen to terrorism in the intervening 15 years. Men, women, and children have paid with their lives as cowardly extremists have used attacks on innocents to proclaim a malformed ideology. This past year alone, we have seen the horrors of terrorism unfold at airports in Istanbul and Brussels, in a Parisian concert hall and an Orlando nightclub, in a market in Baghdad and an international university in Kabul, and on a beach in Nice where families had gathered for celebration and fireworks. Every week seems to bring another example of unspeakable cruelty with the loss of lives from terrorism.

It is hard not to focus on the notion that this violence can catch any of us or our families in its random web when innocent lives intersect with callous and deadly terrorist plans. The victims are too often people who are simply going about the business of living: transiting an airport, eating in a restaurant, visiting a tourist site, shopping in a mall.

Despite this fear — which in itself is a major goal of terrorists — it is important that we continue to gather at memorials, in places as seemingly removed as Bermuda, to remember lost ones first and foremost, but also to focus on the indomitable human spirit. Time and time again, we have seen individual heroes emerge from the chaos of terrorism. People like Robert Higley, a young American who spent a number of years in Bermuda and attended Saltus Grammar School. He guided several people to safety on 9/11 before returning to his office to help others; he died when the South Tower collapsed.

Time and time again, we have seen individuals and communities come together to extend assistance — as we saw here when people opened their arms, demonstrating Bermuda’s legendary hospitality and generosity, to welcome travellers who were affected by the air-traffic closure. We have seen worldwide solidarity in campaigns like “Je suis Charlie Hebdo” or through generous blood drives to assist victims.

National memorials now stand at the sites of the three attacks that occurred 15 years ago in the United States. The last one — the Flight 93 National Memorial — opened one year ago. And while these memorials rightly focus on the beloved people lost that day, they also remind us that we are all members of the human family and that we must stand together to fight global terrorism because anyone can be caught up in these struggles through no fault of their own.

In honour of those 2,977 individuals who lost their lives 15 years ago, as well as the thousands who have died in terrorist attacks elsewhere, let us recommit to humanity’s enduring goodness that emerges from these horrors: our collective resiliency and willingness to extend a helping hand, our united resolve against evil, and our instinctual response to tragedy to rebuild and create something meaningful from the ashes.

Mary Ellen Koenig is the US Consul General in Bermuda