Nine years on……the memory remains.

11 09 2010

What I remember most is the realization that there wasn’t a plane in the sky, the tell-tale trails that showed the path of an aircraft were conspicuous by their absence.

Above London, all you could see were clouds. Little fluffy clouds.

The Camden pub that I was in on that day was crowded but silent, all eyes trained on the television set in the corner. On the screen an image of a burning building, smoke pouring from its upper floors and colouring the morning sky with a dark, noxious cloud. We had been watching this screen for some time, we gasped as we saw people falling from the windows, we gazed in shock as a plane banked into the building and rammed it at speed.

We stood helplessly waiting for the next act.

It comes suddenly, the top of the tower moves and then folds in on itself, it collapses in a straight line and sends those at the bottom running for cover. The smoke doesn’t clear immediately but when it does there is very little left, just a gap in the urban sprawl that is New York City. Of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, there is nothing save twisted metal.

Silence in the room is replaced by shocked awe, it was an amazing special effect, and one that if was played out in a Bruce Willis film would draw applause (possibly). This was no CGI creation, this was the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the United States, 3000 people have died and it was beamed live around the world.

September 11th, 2001, was a pivotal moment in history.

It is when the continental United States was attacked by an Islamic terrorist organization ( few had heard of called Al Qaeda funded by a shadowy leader of Saudi Arabian lineage), who instructed 19 individuals to enter the USA and hijack four aircraft – two from Boston and two from Washington. They were to use them as flying bombs in their continuing war against icons of global capitalism and what they perceived to be Western ideals.

The skyline has never seemed the same.

Three of the planes reached their intended targets, the fourth (United Airlines 93) was retaken by the passengers but crashed into a field. It was a “flashbulb” moment in time, it was a moment when everyone in the world can remember where they were when they heard the news.

It resonated with older generations who remembered the assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963, more recently events such as the death of Princess Diana, the 7/7 bombings in London, the Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina have also received worldwide attention but nothing has been able to erase the memory of those buildings crashing down.

It was not just the amount of people who died that day, or that suddenly we all knew who Osama Bin Laden was. It wasn’t the elevation of the NYPD and Fire Departments to mythical hero status. It wasn’t even the fact that suddenly we were all aware of the noise of planes in the sky, as suddenly all flights were grounded and the skies became silent. It was the moment when we all realised our vulnerability and we watched it live, “breaking news” over the television channels and apparently the world was suddenly a dangerous and violent place.

TV Sets everywhere were flipped on. It was unlike anything you had ever seen. Your brain now confronted with an event for which it had no prior reference, was scanning itself trying to figure out what it all meant, and in particular, what it all meant for your own personal survival, whether you were watching from your rooftop in Tribeca, or on CNN in Topeka.”

Michael Moore

The actions of those terrorists nine years ago changed the world and, in so many ways, not for the better.

The atrocities carried out on 9/11 are directly responsible for the continuing war in Afghanistan, the apparent liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein and the continuing fight for “democracy” in the Middle East. Al Qaeda have ensured that their martyrs are remembered by the faithful but, for those in the West, we are acutely aware of companies like Halliburton, we know what a Green Zone is, waterboarding is not an extreme sport, Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay are holiday destinations that nobody wants a trip to.

Flying is an action that we have previously taken for granted, but the ability to just hop on a plane has been taken away from us. Security checks, limitations on what can and can’t be taken onto the aircraft, the removing of shoes, the constant mantra to be alert and the suspicion that we have of passengers who may appear to be of a different ethnic background have all increased the tension, ramped up the fear and allowed the leader of Al Qaeda, who has been playing hide and seek for so long that it could be a World record, to smile at the devastation the actions of 9/11 have inflicted on the West – aftershocks that reverberate but never seem to be silenced.

Only when we are alone in the dark or when we get on a plane, can we start to think about the violent world we live in and the violent individuals that live in it. 9/11 is a prime example, but we must all take care not to live our lives in fear and terror. If that happens then those who wish to engage in violent acts have won and those who have given their lives in the nine years following that fateful day have done so in vain.

But the images won’t be erased from our minds. Our memories will ensure that the fight against those who seek to disrupt life through cowardly means will go on.

9th September, 2001, the day the world changed.

And so did we.

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