This was the date when the world changed forever. The images of two passenger aircraft flying intentionally into the World Trade Center and the subsequent collapse of the two towers will be seared into the brain of every person in the world with access to a television.
It was of course horrendous, incomprehensible and unforgivable. Thousands of people suffered personal tragedies. There is talk of retribution.
But against whom? All the principal perpetrators were killed. No-one else has claimed responsibility. Almost every nation in the world has denounced it, and sworn to give whatever support they can. All the might of American technology and military might can avail nothing against a person who is dead.
Worse, the way it was done was simply by overpowering the flight crews of the planes. No military arms were involved. It is very hard to see how copycat events can be avoided.
There are unfortunately many “hawks”, particularly in the US military, who would like to treat this as an excuse to annihilate several countries that have made the USA look foolish, notably Iran (the Embassy siege) and Iraq (the Gulf War). Mercifully, there is also a growing awareness among more thoughtful people that this would only make a bad situation worse.
There is a suggestion that Osama bin Laden is the mastermind behind this act. He appears to be the only person with both the fanatical attitude to the West and the financial and organisational resources to pull it off. However, he is a recluse living in hiding in an already bombed-out country (Afghanistan).
The USA may be able to locate and kill him (though it’s hard to see how), but it is likely to kill many innocent civilians in the process. This would reduce them to terrorism too.
As one commentator put it, if the US kills a thousand civilians to cut off the head of bin Laden, ten thousand more fanatics will rise in his place. And, as the IRA has famously said, whereas the security forces need to be constantly successful in order to prevent acts of terrorism, the terrorist only needs to be successful once.
The only way out of this conundrum is to understand what breeds fanatics who are sufficiently motivated to do these terrible things. In this, there are the first seeds of hope for something good to come out of this event.
For it is true, that the USA is not good at listening and understanding other societies’ agendas. As the one remaining economic and political super-power, it feels it has the right to tell the rest of the world to do things its way – after all, it works, doesn’t it? (Of course, it only works, if you accept the American judgement criteria of democratic freedom, a consumer society and material wealth.)
It is beginning to appear that the only way Americans are going to be able to sleep peacefully at night, is to start listening, to be less arrogant, to understand the sources of deep bitterness in other societies, and to take action to mitigate the reasons for that bitterness.
In the same way, but to a lesser extent, the Islamic countries of the world must be seen to understand better where the Americans are coming from, and direct the energy of their people into learning how to adopt the good things from American society on their own terms, and reject the bad. A demonstrable preparedness to do this will defuse the American desire for reprisals against them.
Nobody wants a repetition of the events of last Tuesday. It does seem that the only way to ensure that there is no recurrence, is for the world to become a less polarised place, for people to be more ready to listen to other people and appreciate them as human beings, to emulate their strengths and tolerate their weaknesses. In this way, fanaticism will not thrive, and the world will indeed become a better and safer place.
Chris Moller, 15th September 2001.