Monday, September 11, 2006

5 years on

I was listening to the radio this afternoon and there was a special programme commemorating the 9/11 attacks. There was a comment from a British woman who had lost her son in the attacks that I thought summed up some of my views on that terrible day. In particular what struck a chord was that her very personal suffering was so public because of the way her son had been killed. His death was in the public domain and she said that it was incredibly difficult having to see those pictures of the fateful attack on the World Trade Centre over and over again on the TV.

Fortunately I was not affected on a personal level by the 9/11 attacks, I had no friends or family that suffered directly as a result. However, I was at the time and remain to this day, deeply horrified by those pictures of the two planes striking the towers of the World Trade Centre. It is an image that I will remember to my dying day. At the time I said that I never wanted to see those images again and nothing has changed my view since. The whole event felt surreal and even looking back from the safe-distance of 5 years there is still a numbness about what happened. It felt on that afternoon so much like a Hollywood film yet it was reality of the worst possible kind. I think in some ways it was a cautionary tale for us all that we have become so desensitised to death and violence because we see it so often in films and TV, that when something on this scale happens, we still see it as a movie. The lines between reality and fiction became dangerously blurred on 9/11.

When I consider my own behaviour, I am somewhat disgusted. I remember being told about the attacks by a colleague at work and my first reaction was one of disbelief, that this was some cruel and mean joke. It soon became apparent that it was not a joke. I remember walking home from work, a sense of curious excitement and dread. I regret those feelings now. The shopping centre was almost deserted, except for huddles of people gathered around the window of Radio Rentals, which was showing on every TV screen in the shop the moment of impact as one of the planes hit the World Trade Centre Towers and then later one of the towers collapsing. I stood there for some minutes, transfixed and disbelieving. This was not real. It still doesn't feel real. Although terrorism has been a fact of life for many years, I had never seen anything on this scale, something so unimaginably terrifying.

As soon as I got home I called my parents. I think it was as much a need to be reassured that there was still sanity in this world and to hear the voice of someone familiar, as it was to discuss what had been happening. I don't remember the conversation now.

That evening was a strange and surreal one. I recall that there was blanket news coverage on the BBC, and the pictures of the devastating attacks that afternoon were played over and over again. Perhaps consciously, maybe unwillingly, I like so many others became a voyeur of unimaginable terror and death. How could I sit there and watch pictures of thousands of people being killed? Was it to try and make sense of it? What could I do from such a distance that would have any meaning? Or was it repugnant but instinctive curiosity, the same urge that drives us to look at a car accident as we pass on the opposite carriageway? I don't know.

What I do know is that 9/11 was an event that changed many things. It is not an understatement to say that it changed the world. In those immediate few days and weeks afterwards, the world felt suddenly very alien and dangerous. Largely I think that climate of fear was manipulated by both our government and Bush to latterly support the supposed 'War on Terror.'

As I said at the beginning I have no desire to see those images from 9/11 again, any more than I have a wish to see any of the films that may be made about the events of that day. It is not because I want to ignore or deny what happened. On the contrary, I want it to feel as raw and inexplicable as it was for me at the time. I don't want the meaning of those terrible hours undermined, which they are becoming by the constant regurgitating of those fateful images. Moreover and I deeply feel this, the moment of those attacks are personal moments. People like the lady on the radio this afternoon lost those closest and dearest to them. They should be allowed to grieve in private, to have that moment of loss to themselves, not constantly poured over and discussed by the likes of me. Let us now show them the dignity that they were denied at the time.

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