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Though the memories get dimmer with every passing year, 9/11 – at least for those alive on that day – will retain its horrible stature in the imagination forever. The story is now old, cinematised, novelised and set to music. Everyone alive knows the order of events, the reactions that followed them and – increasingly – the ‘reasoning’ used by those who set the nightmare in motion. But it was a truly universal event and one that has an enduring story to tell for all of us.
As it is the thing writers always relay before talking about the tragedy, I will briefly recount the circumstances of my own September the 11th.
I was at college while the towers stood burning. They had fallen by the time I returned home. I breezed into the house and headed straight upstairs to listen to music. Before I could get halfway up the stairs, my father shouted from the living room the memorable words – “Have you seen this?”
I went over into the living room and looked at the television. It was a scene of thrilling mayhem unlike anything I had ever seen. To be perfectly honest, I felt rather enlivened by it, childish as my sensibilities were at that point. Everywhere was drama, apocalypse, fire and smoke. People ran in screaming packs from a swelling cloud of dust chasing them over and between the gaps of buildings. Black suited men doused in white particles wandered around like zombies. It was all so strange, so otherworldly.
Every fifteen minutes or so the BBC coverage would feature a brief recap of the days events, including the – now familiar but at first bewildering – footage of the second plane melting into the concrete and glass of the south tower.
“Who did this?” I asked my parents, both of whom were now gathered.
“People from Afghanistan.” my father replied, having been informed by the red ticker running ceaselessly along the bottom of the screen.
“Could it mean war?” I asked, with cute naivety.
“Yes it could” he replied.
Tony Blair’s reaction was repeatedly broadcast, usually straight after the summary of events. He looked tearfully angry and pledged every effort and skill Britain could offer to the United States. Looking back, it was probably a good thing that he was in charge on that day. Despite his numberless infirmities, he eloquently captured the popular reaction and fulfilled rather well the duties of the UK/US brotherhood – a brotherhood that had just become sacred.
After 9/11 I tended to align with the anti-war, anti-American, anti-Israel crowd. I reasoned that since the Middle East had been bombed for decades, attacks the other way were practically inevitable. It only later occurred to me that bombs are dropped for both moral and immoral reasons; that the bombs dropped to protect Kuwait from Saddam, for example, or to protect the Kurds from genocide, or to liberate Europe from Germany and Asia from Japan were moral bombs; imperfect implements of a perfect goodwill, and that, by perfect contrast, the kerosene missiles fired at New York and Washington were tools of malevolence; a massive and important distinction, and one which the Left seems determined to ignore.
Truth be told, I will never forgive Islam for 9/11. I will never forgive it for spoiling the liberalising trend of the nineties and providing in its place an age of war, suspicion and hatred. It ruined more than buildings. It wrecked the dreams of a peaceful, enlightened cosmopolis, a globalised America. Without its handiwork, we could have gone down a very different, much prettier road. Before the Islamic zombie returned, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and religious intolerance were beginning to crumble. They were no longer fashionable. We were beginning to find modern solutions to ancient problems. Then, with one psychotic gesture, we were thrust back into the darkest throes of history.
Never forget. Never forgive.