Bill Clinton: Life is more than the little boxes we live in

From the Dimbleby Memorial Lecture given by the former US President at the Institute of Education in London
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The Independent Online

I am confident that we have the knowledge and the means to make the 21st century the most peaceful, prosperous, interesting time in all human history. The question is whether we have the wisdom and the will.

The terrorists who struck the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre believe they were attacking symbols of corrupt power and materialism. My family and I have a different view of that. I was Commander-in-Chief of the people who worked at the Pentagon. My wife represents the people of New York in the Senate. I knew people who were on those airplanes. My daughter was in lower Manhattan. I met one of her friends who lost her fiancé. I talked to victims who lost their loved ones who were Jews and Christians and Hindus and Muslims, who came from every continent, including over 250 from the United Kingdom.

To me, all these victims represent the world I worked very hard for eight years to build, a world of expanding freedom, opportunity and citizen responsibility, a world of growth in diversity and in the bonds of community.

The deliberate killing of non-combatants has a long history. No region of the world has been spared it and few people have clean hands. In 1095, Pope Urban II urged the Christian soldiers to embark on the First Crusade to capture Jerusalem for Christ. Well, they did it, and the first thing they did was to burn a synagogue with 300 Jews. They then proceeded to murder every Muslim woman and child on the Temple Mount in a travesty that is still being discussed today in the Middle East. Down through the millennium, innocents continued to die, more in the 20th century than in any previous period.

In my own country, we've come a long way since the days when African slaves and Native Americans could be terrorised or killed with impunity, but still we have the occasional act of brutality or death because of someone's race, religion or sexual orientation.

No terrorist campaign has ever succeeded. Indeed the purpose of terrorism is not military victory, it is to change your behaviour by making you afraid of today, afraid of tomorrow and, in diverse societies like ours, afraid of each other. By definition, a terror campaign cannot succeed unless we become its accomplices and, out of fear, give in. In the years in which I served as President, we worked very hard to prevent a day like 11 September ever happening. Far more terrorist attacks were thwarted at home and around the world than succeeded, and large numbers of terrorists who did commit crimes were brought to justice.

We're gonna win this fight – then what? 11 September was the dark side of this new age of global interdependence. If you don't want to live with barbed wire around your children and grandchildren for the next hundred years, then it's not enough to defeat the terrorist. We have to make a world where there are fewer potential terrorists and more partners. And that responsibility falls primarily upon the wealthy nations to spread the benefits and shrink the burdens.

There are changes that poor countries have to make within that make progress possible. It's no accident that most of these terrorists come from countries that aren't democracies. If you're never required to take responsibility for yourself, then you're kept in a state of permanent immaturity where it's easy to convince you that your distress is caused by someone else's success.

So this is a fight we have to make everywhere. Which will be more important in the 21st century – our differences or our common humanity? Think about how important your differences are to you. Think about how we all organise our lives in little boxes – man, woman, British, American, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Tory, Labour, New Labour, Old Labour, up, down. We have to organise that, but somewhere along the way, we finally come to understand that our life is more than all these boxes we're in. And that if we can't reach beyond that, we'll never have a fuller life.

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