On September 12, 2001, the day after the most egregious terrorist attack in US history, the French newspaper Le Monde published a front page editorial under the headline “Nous Somme Tous Americains” (“We Are All Americans”). The message was poignant – the rest of the world stood by our side in condemning and opposing the evil that was visited upon our nation. But the article concluded with a prophetic warning:
Beyond their obvious murderous madness, these latest attacks nonetheless follow a certain logic. Obviously it is a barbarous logic, marked by a new nihilism that is repugnant to the great majority of those who believe in Islam, which, as a religion, does not condone suicide any more than Christianity does, and certainly not suicide coupled with the massacre of innocent people. But it is a political logic, which, by going to extremes, seeks to force Muslim opinion to “choose sides” against those who are currently designated as “the Great Satan.” By doing this, their objective might well be to spread and deepen an unprecedented crisis in the Arab world.
In the long term, this attitude is obviously suicidal, because it attracts lightning. And it might attract a bolt of lightning that does not discriminate. This situation requires our leaders to rise to the occasion. They must act so that the peoples whom these warmongers are seeking to win over and are counting on will not fall in step behind them in their suicidal logic. This we can say with some dread: Modern technology allows them to go even further. Madness, even under the pretext of despair, is never a force that can regenerate the world. That is why today we are all Americans.
We did not heed that warning. In a few short years we descended into a collective madness fueled by fear and arrogance. We stopped worrying about what our friends and allies thought and we stopped caring about some of the basic rights embedded in our Constitution.
But all that changed in 2008. It took great sacrifice in the form of millions of hours of volunteer work and millions of dollars in small donations. It took an army of people organizing and knocking on doors and making phone calls and talking with friends and registering voters and getting out the vote. And most of all, it took a candidate with a vision and a laser like focus. It took a man who could inspire enough of us to believe that, once again, we could be the people we were meant to be.
And now we’re beginning to see the fruits of that labor: the speech in Cairo expressing our solidarity with the Muslim world, the re-engagement with the United Nations and our allies around the world, the troop reductions in Iraq, the strategic reduction of a missile defense program in Eastern Europe and its impact on our relationship with Russia. For the first time in nearly a decade, we are once again admired and respected around the world.
Many people feel that the Nobel Prize awarded to our President this week is premature, that in his short time in office he has yet to prove his worthiness. But to me this award is an affirmation of the power of our democracy – it’s a recognition that one of the most powerful nations on earth has drastically changed it’s policies for the better. It is the rest of the world saying to us, once again, “We are all Americans”. But this time around, we are humble, not arrogant. This time around our response is “We are all world citizens”.