The terrorists who attacked the United States on 11 September aimed at one nation, but wounded an entire world. Rarely, if ever, has the world been as united as it was on that terrible day. It was a unity born of horror, of fear, of outrage, and of profound sympathy with the people of the United States. It was a unity born also of the fact that the World Trade Centre was home to men and women of every faith from more than 60 nations. This was truly an attack on all humanity, and all humanity has a stake in defeating the forces behind it.
As the United States decides what actions it will take in defence of its citizens, and as the world comes to terms with the global implications of this calamity, the unity of 11 September will be invoked, and it will be tested. I have expressed to President Bush and Mayor Giuliani – and to New Yorkers at services in churches, synagogues and mosques – the complete solidarity of the United Nations with the United States and its people in their hour of grief.
In less than 48 hours, the Security Council and the General Assembly joined me in condemning the attacks, and voted to support actions taken against those responsible and the states who aid, support, or harbour them. Of this solidarity, let no one be in doubt.
Nor should anyone question the world-wide resolve to fight this scourge for as long as is needed. Indeed, the most eloquent global answer so far to last week's attacks has been the commitment of states from every faith and region to act firmly against terrorism.
At a time like this, the world is defined not only by what it is for, but by what and whom it is against. The United Nations – and the international community – must have the courage to recognise that just as there are common aims, there are common enemies. To defeat them, all nations of goodwill must join forces in a common effort encompassing every aspect of the open, free global system so wickedly exploited by the perpetrators of last week's atrocities.
The United Nations is uniquely positioned to advance this effort. It provides the forum necessary for building a universal coalition, and can ensure global legitimacy for the long-term response to terrorism. United Nations conventions already provide a legal framework for many of the steps that must be taken to eradicate terrorism – including the extradition and prosecution of offenders and the suppression of money laundering. These conventions must be implemented in full.
Essential to this response, however, is that it deepen and not fracture the global unity of 11 September. While the world must recognise that there are enemies common to all societies, it must equally understand that they are not – they are never – defined by religious or national descent.
No people, no region and no religion should be condemned, assaulted or targeted because of the unspeakable acts of individuals. In Mayor Giuliani's words, "that is exactly what we are fighting here." He and President Bush have shown admirable leadership in condemning attacks on Muslims in the United States, and around the world other leaders have done the same. To do otherwise, and to allow divisions between and within societies to be exacerbated by these acts, would be to do the terrorists' work for them, and no one could wish for such an outcome.
Terrorism today threatens every society, every people, and as the world takes action against its perpetrators, we have all been reminded of the necessity of addressing the full range of conditions which permit the growth of this kind of hatred and depravity. We must confront violence, bigotry and hatred even more resolutely. The work of the United Nations must continue as we address the ills of our time – conflict, ignorance, poverty and disease.
Doing so will not end every source of hatred and every act of violence – there are those who will hate and who will kill even if every injustice is ended. But if the world can show that it will carry on, that it will persevere in creating a stronger, more just, more benevolent and more genuine international community across all lines of religion and race, then terrorism will have failed.
The author is Secretary-General of the United NationsReuse content