Ten Years Later; Have We Actually Learned Anything?

11 09 2011

It is probably quite fitting that the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks  takes place on a Sunday.

It will give those who have faith in a higher power the chance to gather in their regular location, to think about the people who were lost that day and the 102 minutes that arguably changed America.

The Memorial Service will be beamed around the world, much as the images of that Tuesday in 2001 were. The current President will get the chance to talk to the previous occupant of the hottest seat in world leadership and he will probably take the time to thank him for the decisive action that he took to right the wrong that had been visited upon innocent people.

For those who lost friends and family that day, the fact that it is ten years ago will not diminish the hole in their lives that is as big as the one in the Manhattan skyline.

Every previous September 11 has reminded us of what we witnessed that day, the images are just as fresh and remain a poignant reminder of the fragility of life.

I decided not to watch the Memorial Service on the television. And it was on a lot of channels.

I wanted to watch the History Channel who were showing a program that presented archived footage of that day, with no commentary and featuring what looked like footage shot by ordinary people as they struggled to come to terms with what was happening. There were no voiceovers, no replays or slow motion, just real-time reactions to the events in New York.

It was powerful television, riveting to watch and no less dramatic than when I saw the Twin Towers collapse from the safety of a pub in London. The media on site that day played a part, asking people on the street how they felt and what they thought had happened.

What was interesting was the amount of people who believed even then that “we should go to their countries and blow them up” or that whoever had done this were “animals who don’t deserve to live on God’s Earth”. Emotions ran high but the overwhelming feeling was one of shock and certainly not awe.

The shots of people trudging through streets covered in ash, the ones who decided to jump from the windows of the World Trade Center, the people running down the road to get away from the huge cloud of smoke and debris when the North Tower collapsed, the faces of the firefighters as they put their equipment on and walked towards the carnage…images that the world saw ten years ago.

That’s why I wanted to watch the program. To remind myself of what happened that day and to think about what has actually happened in the last ten years.

When I commented on 9/11 a year ago, I thought that the world changed that day and that those of us in the Western World had as well. I believed that the actions of al-Qaeda had actually united people in a common cause, had given a face to the problems that can be created by extremists who commit atrocities under the convenient blanket of religion.

I am not so sure any more.

I freely admit to being an atheist and do not believe in the existence of God. As far as I am concerned the earth was not made in seven days and I think that evolution as opposed to a spiritual being is responsible for the development of Homo sapiens. If man is made in anybody’s image, it is through the lessons we learn from other human beings, not by a divine presence.

But that day, that one day in September, the image of man changed. It would be easy to label the hijackers as evil, to remember those who died as innocent.

Easy and convenient.

Again, for those who lost their loved ones that day, I have nothing but sympathy and the last ten years must have seemed like a lifetime. Nobody deserves to die as a result of unilateral terrorist action, nobody should have to face the choice of burning to death or jumping out of the window.

But the attacks refocused the minds of the Western World away from their own sovereign states and turned their eyes towards the East. We know that 9/11 was the reason for the war in Afghanistan and the subsequent incursion into Iraq. We have got used to heightened security at airports, to be mindful of suspicious behavior and packages while trying our hardest not to judge anybody who isn’t the same as us.

But the memory remains, the sense of injustice still lingers and even the killing of Osama Bin Laden in January was an act that will never banish the sight of two towers burning before crashing to the ground.

Ten years in which innocent lives have continued to be lost, ten years in which billions of dollars have been spent on exacting revenge and ten years in which the definitions of good and evil have been blurred into a battle between religions, each one believing themselves to carrying out God’s will.

Ten years of knowing that terrorism fueled through religious belief is part of our lives. And we don’t have to live with it every day, that fear is part of everyday life in the Middle East.

And that is why we should remember September 11, 2001. The day that reminded us of how small the world really is and that events in a distant land are just as important as the ones that are slightly closer to home. Even if you don’t know where certain places are, we should always be aware of what actually matters in life.

We are all in this together, one day at a time.

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