11 September 2002

One Year Later

A year ago on this day, Islamic blasphemers hijacked airplanes and drove them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and - due to the heroic actions of passengers who discovered their intentions - into the ground in rural Pennsylvania. What have they achieved? The Pentagon is whole again. The World Trade Center site is cleared and ready for reconstruction. Grass is reclaiming the site in Pennsylvania. America, its people and its economy are recovering.

At the same time, Afganistan is recovering, too. Not so much from the relatively bloodless and brief US intervention, but from years of oppressive rule by the Taliban, the bought boys of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network. And bin Laden is dead or in hiding.

But we are not yet done with this episode. Islamic culture has been in decline for 500 years, and has yet to produce a legitimate — by which I mean elected — government in the Middle East. In fact, Israel is the only state in the Middle East in which an Arab woman can vote. What the world needs is not a defeated and crushed Islamic culture (although that can be arranged if Islamic culture insists), but a vibrant and forward-looking Islamic culture that respects its neighbors as it wishes to be respected. Note that I didn't say love — I said respect, and we must insist on that respect without exception, and back up that insistence with the willingness to use force.

We must also insist that our government and commercial sectors respect our individual rights and freedoms. This is problematic, given that over the long haul, technological advances increase the power of individuals and small groups to do great good as well as great evil. Unless there is a revolution in human affairs, human empowerment will come increasingly into conflict with human security, which will require the sacrifice of human freedom to achieve.

We must eventually pass a constitutional amendment to the effect that any information that specifically identifies a citizen is the inalienable property of that citizen, and may not be used for any purpose (with limited exceptions) without that citizen's consent. That will allow each citizen to finally participate in the market that already exists for his or her information (credit ratings, purchasing patterns, medical records, etc.). It will also allow each citizen to push back against the steamrollers of big business and big government. But ultimately, updating our legal protections will only slow the erosion of our freedom.

America is proving more than a match against those external agents who would take our freedom from us. The greatest threat to our freedom comes from ourselves, and our own fears. And the greatest guarantee of our freedom is for all of us to learn to use our freedom well.

In the short term, however, there are some things that can be accomplished by using various technologies to help thwart, apprehend, or kill terrorists. We in the scientific, engineering, computer science, and applied mathematics communities are ready to give it our best shot.