9/11 – Ten Years On

I wanted to write about 9/11. I don’t know why, possibly to try and gather my own thoughts about the day and its impact in the years since. To understand what my thoughts are perhaps…

Ten years ago today I was sitting in a bar in Paris, when I looked up at the tv and saw a skyscraper with a hole in its side and smoke billowing from it. A news caption ran across the screen , informing ‘viewers’ that America was under attack.

“What film’s this?” I asked, thinking I was watching some apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster. Sadly, I was mistaken.  Like millions around the world, I watched dumbfounded as the second plane hit the South Tower of The World Trade Centre. Like imagining the vastness of the galaxy or the number of dead in the Somme on the first day of the battle, trying to get your head round the magnitude of the horror that had just occurred was quite frankly, nauseating.

A nightmare was playing out on tv and the world was being sucked down a rabbit hole and we didn’t know what was on the other side. Then when the towers came down, for us observers the hole got deeper and darker, beyond reckoning, whilst for those trapped in and around the World Trade Centre in Manhattan, it simply closed over, crushing them forever in a hellish tomb.

Panic and hysteria are words we’re familiar with, but for those trapped on one of those planes or in the Twin Towers that morning, well, I fear in their final few minutes and seconds that those terms, like most other things in their world, must have ceased to have meaning. You just hope that enough of them managed to get through to loved ones to say goodbye, and make peace with themselves before they went. How many of us will get that chance before we go?

I didn’t know anyone killed or directly affected by the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001, and I’ve never been a great fan of American foreign policy, but I couldn’t help but feel utterly disgusted, sickened, maddened, horrified and countless other thing at the hugeness of the atrocity that took place that day.

And it was a hugeness on two levels: first, the sheer physical size, of the buildings, the planes, the flames, the smoke, the number of dead were larger than anything we’d ‘witnessed’ live and in one place, well ever really. It was awful, tragically compulsive viewing – you didn’t want to watch the second plane hit but you couldn’t take your eyes off it. And secondly, the incalculable hugeness that such an impact would inevitably have on the world. You can’t expect to fly two planes into the richest country in the world’s two most financially important buildings and not expect them to retaliate, tenfold.

And retaliate they did. In the decade since, America’s waged a war on ‘terror’. They sought out those responsible by just about any means, invaded countries, bombed cities and ‘strategic targets’, used Shock And Awe in their search for WMDs, toppled regimes, created laws to help detain and investigate suspected terrorists, instated governments and Democracy in foreign lands. And finally, found and killed the man who masterminded the attacks ten years earlier.

And what did the terrorists do? Well, bombed more targets, obviously. Because that’s what they do, that’s how they communicate with enemies. In the West alone the rap-sheet makes disturbing reading: the Madrid train bombings in March 2004 killed 180 people and injured 1,800; the 7/7 bombings in London also targeted public transport and killed 52 people and injured over 700 more;  several aeroplane bombers failed; the failed Glasgow airport car bomb.

And that doesn’t take into account the embassy bombings that have become almost commonplace, the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing  which 202 people and injured 240 more, the horrific slaughter that took place in Mumbai in 2008, killing 164 and wounding 308, (the only terrorist who survived, incidentally, told the police afterwards, “If you give me regular meals and money I will do the same for you that I did for them.” He wanted food for himself and money for his family. A simple want, that was paid in blood.)

I’ve probably missed out a lot in my brief summary. I’m just recapping my thoughts and memories of the last decade. Even if some of the groups responsible for bombings in the last decade aren’t directly linked to Al-Qaeda, the link is implicit through their gumption to attack the most powerful nation on earth, giving heart to other disheartened and violent groups elsewhere.

So, ten years on, how has the world changed? Are ‘we’ living in a safer world now? Maybe, hard to say. Depends which ‘we’ you’re part of. Safer from who, from airplane bombers? Yes, undoubtedly. Safer from terrorists? Who knows? You’d like to think so, but they only need to attack once to create an effect, whereas a country has to defend itself permanently. It’s not an even war, but then, neither side wants it to be.

The world has changed and continues to change a decade after the worst terrorist attack in history. America is weaker, it’s people stronger. Al-Qaeda’s leader is dead, but they could grow again. Islam is still trying to shake off and distance itself from any association with terrorism, and the West remains quietly fearful of further attacks, yet at the same time largely unhappy to be fighting foreign wars. The world has changed in the last decade. But it still has a very long way to go to dig itself out of the rabbit hole.