The destruction of the World Trade Center

11 September 2004 | Faith & Society

History may rank the destruction of the World Trade Center in some league-table of evil or it may not. No matter: we are no jury shortlisting ‘9/11’ for the ‘Booker Prize’ of terrorism. We are the first generation on this planet to have watched, from every continent, as it happened, thousands of fellow human beings being killed. Some of us wept, some were numb, some wanted to kill and some applauded. Whether we remember, and what we remember, judges us.


One photograph in a book published to mark 11 September 2001 shows part of one side of the World Trade Center’s north tower – a fragment of four floors – shortly before the tower collapsed. Smoke is streaking from the windows which people have smashed, and people are leaning or clambering out of the windows. With difficulty you may count twenty of them. They are the tip of a human iceberg which is about to disintegrate.

To remember inadequately is a kind of lie. We need to remember the people who were crushed in the buildings and on the aircraft; those who tried to rescue them; those who received telephone messages from hell and those who searched for days receiving no message at all; and the children left behind.

In the same book are twin photographs showing the same Manhattan skyline on 30 August and 27 September 2001. For me, the now-missing towers suggest twin questions which arise from the devastation: for what should I be prepared to kill? And for what should I be prepared to die?



Dear God

Pour out your love and your hope on this sometimes hellish world;

A world in which so many people in so many places – in America, in Israel, in Palestine and elsewhere –

are parched and dying for the lack of either of them.



The prayers which follow were used in a multi-faith service at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 8 September 2002.

 At this time of international concern we lift the hopes and fears of the world to you, O God. The response to the prayers comes from Africa. It is ‘Your will be done on earth O Lord’, in Xhosa.

God of Abraham

You taught your people through faith and through suffering.

Strengthen our faith in you and our understanding of you.

In the face of flames of anger

In the face of explosions of hate

In the face of terrorists who say, ‘I shall smash your world’

Give us grace to say: God of faith, your will be done.

Mayenziwe ‘ntando yakho


Lord Jesus Christ

You showed your people love and forgiveness beyond our imagining.

When our lives are in ashes

When our city is in ruins

When we want to say to the terrorists, ‘We shall smash your world’

Give us grace to say: God of love, your will be done.

Mayenziwe ‘ntando yakho


God of Muhammad

You challenged your people to hope and to struggle for a better world.

When this task seems impossible

When our imaginations are empty

When our words have died

Give us grace to say: God of hope, your will be done.

Mayenziwe ‘ntando yakho


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