Like millions of others all over the world I remember exactly where I was when the first plane hit the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. Fortunately, my business trip to Chicago had been canceled, and I was almost at work when the first reports of something burning in the WTC started to come in.
I spent all day watching this most horrible tragedy unfold between the conference room TV and my office computer – sharing the pain, the questions, and trying to understand the magnitude of it all, with colleagues, friends and family all over the world.
In the subsequent days, my internal thirst for basic answers became almost intolerable – driven in part by the need to have to explain what was happening to my 6 year old son, and in part by the changing attitudes of some people towards foreigners – especially those that were unfortunate enough to “look” like they were from Middle Eastern origin. Here in Boston, a woman from South America got assaulted in plain daylight at a busy intersection – mistaken for an Arab, as if that had all of a sudden become a valid reason. A friend of mine of Indian origin, got spit at in a popular suburban mall.
As I do in most cases when faced with the new and the unknown, I started reading everything I could get my hands on that would possibly help explain the “why’s” behind what had happened. Of the many books that I read, three stand out as truly useful in understanding the situation, two of which were written prior to 9/11 – God Has Ninety-nine Names: Reporting from a Militant Middle East, by former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, by former Washington Post reporter Geraldine Brooks, and Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, by former senior CIA official Michael Scheuer.
Feeling the need to do more in fostering understanding for what had happened I also started a discussion thread with a few friends of mine – called thechasm.org. While it never materialized as a vibrant community, we had some very interesting discussions which included people from all over the world – including Palestinians, Arabs, Persians, and even an self-proclaimed IRA member.
Soon, however, it became clear that the “why’s” of what had happened would not matter much longer. It is “because” of what had happened that fundamental changes started to rip through our society that would forever alter its fabric.
While some would have described the pre 9/11 American culture as a “juvenile” culture – one where everything is possible, one where failing as part of learning is acceptable, one where people are eager to explore the new and the unknown, one where differences in cultural background and social origin were not barriers, one where diversity was embraced and turned into a strength, etc. – the post 9/11 America was one that was growing up too fast – skipping some critical steps along the way. We lost almost all our friends and allies, we enabled terrorism to take hold and flourish in places where there was none before, we tolerated religious extremism in this country to interfere with government, science and education, and we allowed socio-economic, religious and cultural differences to become real barriers once again. As was the case with Katrina, those socio-economic differences proved devastating for thousands of people.
We also allowed fundamental freedoms to erode in the name of security – but are we really better off and more secure?
Now I can just hear the echo of that sales woman in the shoe section of a major department store a few years back – yelling at me when I was politely trying to prevent someone from cutting in line: “GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT!”
The problem is that I do care, and I do love this country. Thankfully I still have a juvenile attitude about how all of this will unfold…and I still believe that things will be better in the end.
[Tags: 9-11 ]