Volume 81, Number 14 | September 1 - 7, 2011
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An imperfect 10: How 9/11 showed us a new reality
By MICAH HALPERN
Seldom in history can we look at a single moment and say with complete and unwavering conviction that because of the events that transpired during those specific moments on that particular day, history was transformed. Seldom can we pinpoint the specific event that transformed our future.
The world is a different place today because of the acts of willful and mass destruction that shattered the early morning of an otherwise insignificant Tuesday 10 years ago.
As much as the world was affected and is now changed, the powerful United States of America, her financial and cultural center, New York City, and her seat of military power, the Pentagon, were even more profoundly affected and have, as a result, been dramatically transformed.
The unthinkable occurred. The unimaginable became real. Fantasy turned into cruel reality.
The horror we, citizens of a free and democratic world, are still reeling from as a result of the atrocity called 9/11 is not just about the sheer numbing number of dead and injured. There have been larger atrocities. It is not just about the fact that the United States was the target. That, too, had happened nearly a decade earlier when the same World Trade Center towers were targeted by the same al Qaeda terrorist organization in an unsuccessful successful attempt to bring down the building that housed the business center of the world.
For the United States and for the West this was a jarring wake-up call.
Americans could not understand why they were chosen to be the targets, why they, the great defenders, had become the victims of attack. It has taken a long time to internalize the message. The United States, the symbolic Big Brother of the Western World, was targeted for what the West represents — not for any specific actions it took or did not take. The Western world represents ideas that are so deeply antithetical to the mindset and teachings of the Islamic terrorist that the terrorist has only one way in which to respond — by attempting to destroy the West. And the United States represents the West in all of its incarnations. In the eyes of the terrorist the United States is the most acclaimed representative of the world of the heretic, the Western world.
Before 9/11 Americans were blithely and innocently unaware about how they were perceived and what they represented to the non-Western world. Proud and chauvinistic, Americans could not even imagine that a large part of the world did not share their convictions about freedoms and democracy. People, even people who were knowledgeable of and familiar with world events, had never heard of Osama Bin Laden or of al Qaeda. Terror happened in other parts of the world; other countries and populations were targets of terror, not them, not superpower Americans.
Ten years ago Americans felt that the values of freedom, women’s equality, equality among all races, agreeing to disagree on issues of religion, and recognizing that differences make for a more exciting dynamic and productive society, were universally held. Ten years later, Americans still hold true to those beliefs. But now, they understand that their own Western beliefs are not universally held. They know that they must fight for their beliefs and they are up for the challenge.
The terrorists struck at what they considered to be the heart and nerve center of the West — Wall St. They saw their attack as a great victory and as a lethal blow to the U.S. and the West. The blow was painful, but it was not lethal, it was not the death blow al Qaeda has intended.
The United States had always understood that a certain modicum of terror was acceptable. It was considered the cost of doing business. Until 9/11. Today, U.S. policy has shifted into a no-tolerance policy, a policy of seek and destroy. Trillions of dollars have been dedicated to finding the new enemy, the Islamic terrorist. Wars are being fought and countries have been invaded all in order to get a handle on the elusive enemy, the enemy that has no borders and respects no borders.
There have been successes and there have been many near success. There would never have been a worldwide approach to confronting terror had the Western world not been awakened as it was on 9/11. Terror would have simply been one of those unfortunate world events the Israelis deal with on a regular basis and the Europeans deal with every once in a while.
But 9/11 changed us all. It awakened Westerners to a new reality.
Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World Through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson).