Sunday, September 11, 2005

September 11

It’s been four years. It took me sometime to get out of my procrastinating to load up my world processing program so that I would write an entry about what is undoubtedly the single most important world event in my short twenty four year life.

In the past few days, I had struggled to come to terms with how I wanted to express my inner grief about this event, the deep sadness I felt and still feel for that city which has always been part of my imagination first as a child watching Ghostbusters and as an adult thinking of moving to the great metropolis at the center of the world.

In the end, I decided that all the planning and careful choosing of words would be meaningless. I would just let my thoughts flow onto the page. So here I am writing about that late summer day in 2001 when I awoke to the sounds of the radio, my mom fixing my breakfast and hearing her tell me that helicopters had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and the State Department in Washington D.C. had been bombed. The reports were wrong of course, but those were the first things I heard.

I found it strange that I didn’t take the day off or I didn’t reach for the remote to watch the TV. Out here in the west coast, when I awoke at 7:00 am, it was already 10:00 am in New York, and the tragedy had already unfolded to the horror of the world. I still wonder why I finished my breakfast, said my goodbyes that morning and took the bus to campus. On the bus, as I heard whispers and my thoughts began to coalesce in my head and the magnitude of what had happened began to sink in. I began to feel a variety of emotions—Fear, anger, and sadness. When the bus pulled into the campus, I had already known that terrorists had struck at the city I had loved for most of my life.

I walked over to the library and logged into the student computers. Finally, for the first time, a sparse hastily uploaded front page on showed the tragedy in all its horrors. I remember turning to another student next to me, he looked at me and I looked at him and we both said something to each other. I don’t recall the words, but we both understood the significance of what had just happened that morning.

The Twin Towers weren’t so important to me. In fact, I never gave them a second though before September 11th. What they stood for did matter to me. Those two steel towers were for me a symbol of modernity, global economics, peace, and the bright future of a global political and economic system that would benefit everyone. On that day when the twin towers collapsed, so did those dreams. We live in a world that is as dangerous as it was 30 years ago and will continue to be dangerous well into the rest of our lives. The cheery golden age of the 1990s, an exuberant era that saw the end of communism and promise of a global peace, is over. September 11th is the single defining event that changed my political philosophy and outlook. I was once a wishy washy a-political person who subscribed to vague ideas of liberalism and the simplistic propaganda taught in high school history classes about the greatness of western liberal democracies.

September 11th changed all that. It crystallized in my mind the utter uselessness of my youthful idealism, the need to be practical about global politics, the hypocrisy of the competing ideologues on all sides, and the failure of democratic institutions to subdue religious fanaticism. It also made me keenly aware that there are those who hate globalism and the idea of modernity so much that they would kill themselves and others for the cause. It is as if those two planes had struck at the very center of my heart. It certainly woke me up to what was happening around me.

The failure of multi-culturalism as we saw in London where cultural minorities migrate to their little enclaves, live in isolation and incite hate against their host city and host country could not be starker than the success of New York as a melting pot of cultures and of people. For me, New York remains that wonderful place at the center of the world that holds the very promise of what a truly great society this planet could become – A great cosmopolitan civilization that exists in relative peace, and a melting pot where the people living there are first citizens of their locality and second of their ethnicity and religion.

The World Trade Center is a unique entity in human history. Never has a skyscraper in all the history of building tall collapsed. And never has the world experienced a singular event, LIVE in the way the September 11th attacks created. The public deaths of those two towers were a once in a century event for the whole world. For a brief moment during that late summer day, the World Trade Center achieved its ideal. We were all New Yorkers, Americans, humans and citizens of the world. As someone has said, “they were the wonders of the world and we shall never see the likes of them again.”

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