Sep 2011

Ten years ago, I was in London…

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been told in the last few weeks that “September 11th changed everyone’s lives”.

I’m sorry, but no. At least, not directly.

On the radio last night I heard an interview with an American woman talking about September 11th and how both she and close friend both lost their husbands on that day. I felt genuinely sorry for her. The friend’s husband died in the first tower. Her husband died of a heart attack across town – nothing to do with the attacks. Since that day, she claims she’s heard first, second and third hand accounts of the other man’s death hundreds of times, but barely anyone is interested in her own husband. He’s just not interesting.

And that’s the point – the attacks were a horrific thing, but by no means unique and by no means overshadowing everything else that day.

But “that day changed everyone’s life all across the world”. Really? Do you think so?

On that day, I was in London with a friend of mine when she got the news that she had been infected with HIV. I saw the first tower in smoke on a projector TV in the pub next to the clinic but I just assumed it was a film they were showing. I think I saw the second tower get hit by the second plane, but I was rather distracted by the fact that my friend was trying to slice into her arm with a razor blade, and the fact that I knew her blood was hardly safe right then.

Did that day change my life? Christ yes. Was it the twin towers? No.

I live in the UK where terrorism was simply a part of my life growing up. It seemed like every day someone was blown up, or was shot dead. My grandfather (I later learnt) spent several years on an IRA hitlist and several people he knew died in pretty horrific circumstances. The paramilitary groups of Northern Ireland killed with guns and bombs. They left people horribly mutilated and they forced people to become unwilling suicide bombers by kidnapping family members.

And what did the great people of mainland Britain do? We put security fences up around the military housing and removed the litter bins from shopping centres. And had some tea. And tried to ignore the fact that a lot of the paramilitary money was coming from American pockets.

September 11th didn’t really effect us in the UK. Yes, there were companies where the entire American office vanished over night, but that didn’t effect the average guy in the street. There was a financial effect, but most people didn’t notice it.

What changed things for us was the massive over-reactions by the American and British governments. Rings of steel and iron appeared around things and we were all encouraged to be scared of that odd guy on the street – especially if he wore a tea towel on his head. We’d spent years ignoring the genuine terrorism of a guy who looked just like us and we were now reacting violently against a guy who hadn’t actually attacked us but did look different.

Lets all pick on that kid – he may not have done anything wrong, but he looks different.

So, we welcomed lots of laws that hadn’t been thought through and allowed our governments to do pretty much whatever they pleased in the name of security. We allowed our governments to attack their own people and the people of other countries in what should have been (and frequently were) illegal acts of aggression. We allowed our governments to detain people without charge and treat them in frankly horrific ways. We allowed our very way of life to be changed forever and anyone who suggested that this wasn’t the correct solution was a traitor or a sympathiser.

So, yeah… September 11th changed my life. But it wasn’t the falling of two skyscrapers that did it – it was the opportunistic manipulations by the government that changed my life.

So, today is the 10th anniversary of those original attacks and everywhere people will be standing still in the only true bit of commemoration in a sea of depressing televisual celebration. Thousands (or, more likely, millions) of people will spend the day visiting the attack sites or glued to their TVs watching the event over and over again.

So, today is the day when we discover if Al Qaeda has any strength or abilities left. This is a terrorist organisation that loves symbolism and anniversaries. If they can’t manage to do something spectacular today, then they simply can’t be considered to be a risk to us any more. Yes, you can tell me that “the FBI/CIA/MI5/KFC caught them before they could do anything” but if this huge evil terrorist empire can’t sneak through just one noteworthy incident, they just can’t be taken seriously.

And if that’s true… can I have my country back?

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