September 11 2001 Remembered
I awoke on the morning of Wednesday September 12 2001 and was greeted by the most horrible thing I had ever seen. The television was talking about New York and the World Trade Center Towers, about aeroplanes and about death. It wasn’t until I saw the first tower collapse that I thought to myself “This is it. This is the beginning of World War 3.”
“Oh my god, honey you have to come in here and see this.”
The events of September 11 2001, which had occurred while I slept, are are etched firmly into the psyches of all westerners. For most it was the only event of its kind in living memory, one which caused the deaths of so many people from a single human action. The very graphic footage of exploding planes, of bodies falling and kicking as they fell, of fire and concrete and steel, and finally of the 2 towers as they collapsed under their own weight are not only still clear to me in my mind, but are impossible to erase. Everyone, even us in Melbourne Australia, 16,677 kilometers from New York, we all felt the blow of the events that unfurled on September 11 2001. It was an event of unspeakable cruelty and horror, and surely one of humanity’s darkest days.
Now as I awake on the morning of September 11 2011, I reflect on what the events of that day in 2001 have meant. The tragic loss of over 3000 people in New York on that day was claimed by Islamic terrorists as an act of Jihad against the infidel Americans. George W Bush used it as an excuse to invade Afghanistan and then Iraq, saying that his God had told him that this was the right thing to do. In Iraq alone over 100,000 people lost their lives during the invasion and the ensuing years since, and troops are still yet to leave Afghanistan, even after the reported death of Osama Bin Laden. But beyond the obvious retaliatory excuses, the spear-shaking and shield-rattling, the anti-American and anti-Islamic rhetoric that bounced around on the days following September 11, what we have seen here is the way that religion divides us and shapes our actions. Not only were the hijackers of the planes on September 11 religious, but they followed a religion that claims that a death with honour will reward you more in the afterlife than just any old death. They were willing to part with their lives, not to free their countries from oppression, not to as a statement against the infidel American, but because their religion told them that it was the right thing to do. In heaven, they would be heroes. Here on Earth however, they have become demons.
This event changed the world, there is no doubt about that. It was horrifying on a scale most of us had never seen. It was broadcast on every station and in every newspaper worldwide. It was an inescapable reality check for Americans and Australians alike. It shattered our illusions of safety by distance, and showed us how easy it would be to perpetrate something even more horrible. Of course, with our innocence shattered, we have seen the many knee-jerk reactions, from security overhauls at airports, to terrorist profiling, to increased Islamophobia, to the billions of dollars spent in an apparent attempt to track down “the mastermind” of the attacks.
The images of the smoking towers serve as a reminder of humanity’s ability to destroy one another, claiming righteous truth, but ultimately by just killing each other.
As well as remembering those who lost their lives, those who lost their lives trying to save other lives, those who lost loved ones, the insanity that ensued in Iraq and Afghanistan in the following years, I will always remember September 11 2001 as the day that we all learned just how perilous our situation here on earth is. From nuclear weapons to climate change to suicide pilots, the ways we could destroy ourselves are vast, but there is only one way to flourish, and that is to act together. We must understand this. We must all know that our continued survival hinges on this understanding.
My heart goes out to all the people and families affected by the tragedy on this day, ten years ago.
As a way of closing, I turn to Carl Sagan who wrote this passage in his book “Cosmos” from 1980. Let it serve as a perspectival reminder of the events of September 11 2001.
“The choice is with us still, but the civilization now in jeopardy is all humanity. As the ancient myth makers knew, we are children equally of the earth and the sky. In our tenure on this planet we’ve accumulated dangerous evolutionary baggage — propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders, hostility to outsiders — all of which puts our survival in some doubt. But we’ve also acquired compassion for others, love for our children and desire to learn from history and experience, and a great soaring passionate intelligence — the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity. Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain, particularly when our visions and prospects are bound to one small part of the small planet Earth. But up there in the immensity of the Cosmos, an inescapable perspective awaits us. There are not yet any obvious signs of extraterrestrial intelligence and this makes us wonder whether civilizations like ours always rush implacably, headlong, toward self-destruction. National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic or religious or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars.“