Our perception of the world has changed since 911

Fifteen years ago, the attention of much of the world was focussed on the horrific spectacle of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City collapsing into dust and rubble after two hijacked airliners, with the hijackers as well as the innocent passengers and crew aboard, were flown into those twin edifices that had come to epitomize the financial might and power of the American empire.

For hours Canada’s outstanding public broadcaster provided in depth coverage of events as they unfolded, often providing more information than was available on news media in the US. Contributor Bonnie Kogos called Expositor publisher Rick McCutcheon from her home in Manhattan, just a few city blocks away from where the events were unfolding, to discover what was happening. In an unusual turn of events, it so happened that Mr. McCutcheon had turned on the television at 9 am in the morning and so was able to provide her with more information than was then available on US media.

So much has changed in our world—a tremendous innocence lost.

It is not as though there had not been attempts at terrorism on such a massive scale prior, in fact the World Trade Center had narrowly escaped an earlier attempt to destroy one of the main buildings through an explosives loaded van in the parking garage. That attempt was thwarted through vigilance and no small measure of luck on the part of the American security services and law enforcement agencies.

But the destruction of the World Trade Center’s twin towers shook our complacency to the core and America’s conventional reaction against an asymmetric foe led to the unanticipated birth of an even more pervasive global terrorism and breeding grounds for further fanatical terrorism.

So many of the freedoms we took for granted, the free and easy travel between our two nations, long best of friends and allies, is now largely a thing of the past. These days a security fence arises on the Little Current waterfront when cruise ships come to call, travel into the US requires passports (even for returning US citizens), with accompanying long lineups at many crossings and checking into a domestic hotel requires a guest to produce a piece of photo ID.

Innocent travellers speaking Arabic or wearing the traditional garb of the Middle East, India, or any non-Western culture are removed from airlines almost as a matter of course upon a fellow passenger’s fearful complaint.

We will likely never regain the innocence (or unfettered freedom and rights) we once enjoyed, for technological advances and sophistication make it possible for a disproportionately small number of folks with a grudge to inflict a vastly disproportionate amount of damage should we drop our vigilance.

The fierce and massive reaction to an ill-advised American commercial selling mattresses that referenced the tragedy in a flippant manner shows clearly that it is too soon, that it will always be too soon, too raw, for comedy or for crass commercialization.

Like our grandparents and great grandparents before us, we now look over our shoulders at anything strange or unfamiliar, fearful that the terrorist is now among us. A woman’s choice of garb becomes a focal point for fearful xenophobia, masked in the guise of “protecting women’s rights” or “ensuring secular freedoms.” In war, if truth is the first victim, tolerance is most certainly the second.

On September 11, 2001 much was stolen from each and every one of us, certainly the families of the terrified victims on those crashed planes, the workers in those Pentagon offices, in the twin towers, and the fallen among the first responders and those who have died from the fallout from that destruction that now matches the lost in the initial attack, have suffered great losses and so have we all.

The real battle against the perpetrators of the 911 attacks will not be fought in foreign lands with bombs, tanks and drones, it is being fought right now, within our very souls, as we struggle to regain to the rights, privacy and freedom that have been lost in this ‘war on terror.’ That is the legacy of the 911 attacks and we while we may some day heal from those losses—our cherished pre-911 innocence will never recover.