There’s been a very snidey atmosphere pervading on the internet today on the anniversary of 9/11. A lot of the self-styled “intelligentsia” have been commenting that the deaths of a confirmed 2,993 victims, the youngest of whom was 2, the oldest 85, have been blown out of all proportion because the majority of them were “white and rich” and were it not for the cultural influence of America, then these deaths, this atrocity would be starting to fade from the world’s collective consciousness and that perhaps the incident should fade and we should all move on.
Whilst I most certainly agree with the sentiment that global governments have used 9/11 to create a worldwide climate of fear, which does not prove conducive to world peace, I don’t think that 9/11 should or will fade from public consciousness. Whilst we should not dwell on the acts of a few terrorists and use these attacks as a constant source of division, given the nature of the atrocity, it seems fair that it should be remembered respectfully. The lives of the victims were of no more or less value than the lives of Muslim shoppers in the markets of Baghdad for example. All human life is of equal dignity and worth. Innocents may have been killed as a result of how the global governments reacted to the events of 9/11, but that does not make the events in themselves any the less horrific.
9/11 is one of those events that is going to remain a cultural reference point for the next few generations. Everyone is going to have some memory of where they were, what they were doing at the time that the events unfolded. My story is that I was working on the trading floor, for a European Investment Bank, attempting to write a piece of research when the tagline flashed up on my Reuters screen that a light aircraft had crashed into the World Trade Centre. CNN was permanently running on one of the many TV screens. So I peered at it and saw a light plume of smoke trailing from one tower. I rang up my ex, who is an airline pilot, thinking that he might be interested, whilst also thinking quite how bizarre it was that a light aircraft could make such a blunder. My ex switched on the news and confirmed ‘that’s no accident, look at the weather conditions’. I relayed this opinion to my colleagues and as we were gathered around peering at the TV screen, bang, the second plane hit. We then continued to watch the events unfold in stultified silence. Many of our colleagues and clients were based in the second tower. By a fortuitous coincidence my boss from the New York office was over on a business trip, and I will never forget his reaction nor indeed all of ours, as we realised that we were watching people we knew die on live TV. Traders were ringing the offices but getting no response, only a shrill shrieking beep or perhaps more eerily, voicemail. I don’t think anyone who saw the events will ever forget the shocking sight of the man leaping from the top of the tower. No work was done, it was pointless, no-one could predict how the markets would react, this was a one-off, once-in-lifetime disaster and any attempt at guessing what was going on was pure speculation, although I do remember there being a brief rally on the Swiss Franc and the price of gold predictably rose.
The newswires were aflame and as the Pennsylvania tragedy unfolded and the US airspace was gradually shut down, reports were coming in minute by minute of the flights that were still unaccounted for. We then saw that Canary Wharf was evacuated and were told to make preparations to evacuate ourselves. It was like something out of a Hollywood Blockbuster, it felt like Armageddon was on its way. I remember ringing my sister and saying very jovially “oh it’s all very scary here” and her reaction was “just get out of there now”! London, instantly felt vulnerable and threatened. This had nothing to do with the rhetoric of George Bush and everything to do with the fact that city workers, particularly those in the financial sector had just watched entire offices be wiped out, identified with their American colleagues and felt under attack. After all, the victims of 9/11 had done nothing more provocative than go to work. The terrorists had deliberately wanted to cause terror and mayhem, had wanted to wipe out huge amounts of innocent citizens and they didn’t care about the lives that would be taken, or those who would be left to pick up the pieces. Their aims were to prove a political point at whatever cost. It resonated globally because those in the West identified with the victims, empathised with them, the nature of our 24/7 media meant that graphic photos and heart-rending stories of tragedy would infiltrate our media for weeks and months on end. George W Bush didn’t actually need to warmonger, the sense of outrage was palpable, this was an attack of the Western way of life, of freedoms and liberties, however, it did not justify the lamentable response which still continues today.
The 9/11 attack will always resonate because of the knock-on effects it had, and not just in terms of making the world a unsafer place. For months I was terrified when travelling on the tube, years before the attack of 7/7 took place. It seemed like an obvious target and indeed those fears were eventually realised. The airline industry changed beyond all recognition. As former crew, I could imagine all too graphically the on board scenario, the terrorists using box cutters to slit the throats of the crew, in order to gain access to the flight deck. What went through the minds of the passengers does not bear thinking about. It was not just the sheer body count that was important, but the nature of the attack itself. Using civilians as a weapon, a missile to murder other civilians. They were not simply collateral damage. Firefighters doing their jobs also died, all in all, the scenario was one of pointless bloodshed and carnage.
People may feel that the significance of the deaths of the 2993 may have been greatly elevated due to their racial and social status. Perhaps that is true, but that doesn’t make their lives of any less worth than any other innocent needless deaths and thus it is right and proper that they and the events of that terrible day may be marked and will live on in Western consciousness. What did not help matters was the footage broadcast later that night of militants around the world triumphantly celebrating their victory, dancing in the streets and rejoicing. Just as I wouldn’t want the deaths of my relatives to be manipulated to fuel a political agenda or warfare on innocent civilians, I wouldn’t want them to be celebrated either. The events of 9/11 should continue to be marked, both in terms of respect for the innocent victims and also in terms of what it meant for the world going forward. The West may despise the actions of its governments, the despicable wars waged in the name of our safety, but that does not mean that we should hide our sense of grief, loss and outrage at these senseless acts of despicable violence, nor should we be ashamed. The victims and the 3,521 children who lost a parent in one single incident, deserve better.