Everyone has a 9/11 story. I won’t bore you with mine. But I’ll just remind you all of the hundreds of non Americans who died at ground zero including 69 Brits, more than have ever been killed in any other terrorist atrocity, more than the 7/7 London tube bombings in 2005
NYC is a capital of the world. It belongs to the world. And our whole lifestyle, liberalism and internationalism were under attack. It was literally an attack on modern western secular values – and we all have a stake in them.
But while I can’t forget those 3,000 victims, the spiral of reaction and counter reaction has amplified those deaths many times over, all the victims of other Al Qaeda atrocities in Bali, Madrid, Baghdad, Lahore, Tanzania. And of course the civilians caught in the cross fire of counter-insurgency and invasion, hundreds of thousands in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I’m happy this morning, but I don’t feel like partying. I feel like breathing again…
It feels like a ten year nightmare might finally be over…
From that day in September 2001, I can trace so many changes in my personal life. I can trace many changes in the lives of friends, divorces, paranoias. I know several who had breakdowns post 9/11 – a particularly close friend of mine because he was constantly suspected of being a Muslim. Before then, I could travel freely to the States. I was in a transatlantic relationship which became increasingly unviable after 9/11.
And I also felt the Atlantic ties creak, stretch, and sometimes break. I first noticed this during a White House fellows conference in DC in November 2001. Bremer was there spouting nonsense that ‘only terrorists kill civilians’ (I was going to put up my hand and say ‘Hiroshima’ but as the only Brit there it might have been dodgy). Then Cheney came out of his cave to address us edgily. He basically said “we’ll fit the coalition to the mission not vice versa” and unleashed the doctrine of unilateral pre-emption which justified Iraq.
As someone commented on a British blog this morning, paraphrasing the words of Andrew Marr:
The events of 9/11 created wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, destroyed villages, towns and cities, sent people into exile, threatened and toppled governments, made architects tear up and redraw our urban environment, filled church and mosques, emptied aircraft, bankrupted companies, changed the diplomatic power game, produced new icons and anti-heros, added words to common langages, subtracted the lives of innocents. It sent blast waves into underground tunnels, columns of tanks into Iraq and put the fear of God and Allah, into millions of hearts.
My transatlantic soul began to be torn in half. Of course you guys were from Mars, and we European pussies were from Venus. We were from ‘old Europe’ anyway. We couldn’t understand what it was like to suffer terrorist attacks or have our cities destroyed (!!). The cracks grew so wide, especially when Tony Blair’s laudable commitment to our alliance, led him to be an unquestioning ally over Iraq. We had the biggest demonstrations in London ever because of that. The tensions eventually ruined Blair’s credibility and led to the defeat of the Labour goverment.
Everywhere the fires started on 9/11 seemed to rage uncontrollably, with reaction and over-reaction, until it seemed Osama was getting exactly what he wanted – Western Islamophobia and over-reaction, splits in alliances, generalised attacks on the Muslim world, more radicalisation and more conflict.
By 2006, I truly believed that Osama had won. The fiasco of Iraq, followed by the horrors of Abu Ghraib, seem to prove that we had fallen into his trap. As Denise noted yesterday on another subject, citing some words of Confucius:
A person who sets out on a journey of revenge should dig two graves….
…I truly believed that, in our over-reaction to a terrorist threat, legitimising criminal acts by elevating them to a War on Terror, we had truly lost the battle, and also buried our own values of tolerance and the rule of law in a ‘crusade’ invoking torture and Islamophobia.
One of the reasons I was so involved with Obama’s campaign, and have been ever since in the blogosphere, is precisely because – through his stance on Iraq – his rational, quiet, but focused analysis of what was wrong with the War on Terror, and how it should be conducted, I knew the Obama’s election could have a huge impact on the world, and on my own polity. His background in a Madrassah in Indonesia, his middle name inherited from his Muslim convert father, all this convinced me he could use his identity to talk to the Arab street in a new way, and defuse some of those mutual misunderstandings and grievances.
So it’s no surprise to me that Obama got Osama. There were inklings of hope in late 2008, when America did the completely unexpected, and voted a man with a Muslim middle name, and the surname similiar to your greatest enemy. That was a sign of how open minded, how smart and flexible the US public could be.
But now that has been repaid in full. Obama got Osama. Combine this with the Arab spring showing that young people across the Mashriq and Maghreb have disavowed the Salafist path of violence, and are turning to demoncracy, legitimate protests and civil society to overturn their dictators, and ten years on we can say – Osama bin Laden lost.
Though there will be reprisals and repercussions, I can fly a little more safely, my kids sleep in their beds a little more securely, and believe that violence doesn’t always beget violence; that you don’t have to repay religious or ethnic hate with more of the same; and that the brutes and the bullies don’t always win…
And a ten year nightmare is over.
(Sorry this is an extension of my previous comment, but some new thoughts here. Crossposted on DailyKos)