Today is one of those days where the subject is inescapable. I don’t like to write on a topic just because it has the attention of the world. Partly because I don’t like running with the herd. Partly because what’s the point of saying something which is bound to have been said already?
The strong temptation is to write about where I was and what I was doing at the moment the planes struck. This eternal, basic human need to recount the moment of awareness: Churchill’s funeral, moon landing, John Lennon’s death and the collapse of the Berlin Wall are some of those epochal instants.
For the record, I was playing with my little toddler in the playroom with the television on in the background. I caught a newsflash about a small plane crashing into a building in New York. “What idiot pilot tries to fly through Manhatten skyscrapers?” I wondered, and duly flicked onto Sky news to see if there was a bit more information on the idiot. As I watched along, I saw the second hit happen, and along with hundreds of thousands worldwide, knew in that instant that the world had changed forever in some as-yet-to-be determined way.
About 10 minutes later there was a knock on the door. Our neighbours’ son, recently graduated that summer from Cambridge, stood ashen-faced. Could he come in? he wanted to know. He said he’d been sitting watching it all unfold by himself and just wanted to talk to someone about it. No fool, he had sensed all too clearly the doom-laden implications, and we sat there together for a good hour so trying to persuade ourselves that the world wasn’t actually going to end.
There. I have reminisced. But it is the reminiscences from across the globe that I have found most compelling during this last week. The accounts of survivors and witnesses and the bereaved, harrowing and moving in equal measure, have been widely recounted for a decade. The stories however gathered in from across the globe during this memorial week cast a different but equally moving dimension on the events of 9/11.
I was most shocked (but with hindsight ought not have been) by the comments of ordinary young men in the Middle East and Asia, not militant fundamentalists, who whilst upset at the human tragedy, felt quite happy that the US had been attacked and pulled down a peg or two. One Karachi businessman was happy, but later lost his business as a result because he traded with Afghans. Then there was the Iraqui who was horrified at the events, but also lost his business in the war which followed, so whose sympathies were subsequently rather less with the US. I was also shocked at the conspiracy theories now circulating and being expressed as truth by all sorts of people across the globe.
Nothing happens in a vacuum. 9/11 was a disaster for the US, but at a micro level, its direct consequences in the intervening decade have been pretty disastrous for a lot of people worldwide. My selfish mutterings about increased security at airports need to be put in perspective and shelved.
We may not agree with the feelings experienced at the time by many of those interviewed for these recollections, but we have to listen and try and understand where they are coming from. Not much these days is clearly black or white.
On this tenth anniversary, listening to reminiscences, however unpalatable, is a path to better mutual understanding for all sides.