Today I thought I would share with you how I experienced 9/11 2001. Not that I was anywhere near or inside the twin towers, the Pentagon, or in a plane that day: But I landed in Dallas Fort-Worth on a business trip on 9/10 around 7 pm local time. As I was lining up in the queue for immigration and visa control I remember looking around and glancing at a small poster with a portrait of a bearded man who, until the very next morning, would remain relatively unknown from most of the people in the western world: Osama Ben Laden. The portrait bore the mention “Dead or Alive” with a reward written under it. I also remember thinking that it was funny they hadn’t caught him, as I tried to picture this then mysterious figure riding on a donkey over the windy and dry mountains of Afghanistan, an AK-47 on his lap.
When I woke up the next morning, the tragedy was happening or was about to happen. I had set my alarm not very early as I was trying to cope with jet-lag. But the next thing I knew, while eating my breakfast and watching the news, was the vision of the first plane crashing into one of the WTC towers. For 5 minutes I wonder what kind of a pilot could have been that bad in order to crash his plane into such a building, but then the news slowly sunk in. In fact they did take longer to imprint. I was still going for casual business meetings around noon when parking next to one of my appointments’ office, I saw him stuffing large bags into his own car. When asking him what he was doing he replied to us (my colleague and I) that he was to leave the city for at least a week with his family, “because what just happened is the beginning of WW3 and we don’t even know if Dallas is a safe place to be in right now”.
I ended up staying over a month in Dallas, the airlines were grounded anyway. I remember the first days after the tragedy when military trucks were parked all over the Dallas-Fort Worth area; when civilians were walking and driving around armed, the mass hysteria and the absolute shock people were in. I remember friends and strangers alike weeping, praying, talking. I wasn’t in Manhattan on 9/11, but I remember how it felt in America during that time, not to mention the calls from family and friends in France who were wondering whether it was even safe to stay in Paris.
Yet what keeps flashing into my mind are the images of the planes hitting the towers looping on TV screens everywhere. For about 8 or 9 years, that memory was hurting me, although I had no relatives there thankfully. Why would I not be equally hurt by other tragedies you might say? I guess I am, but I don’t know anyone who’s not affected in different ways by different tragedies. I guess it was New-York City, I guess it was America. Then last year my girlfriend and I visited New York City for several days. I insisted on going to Ground Zero. I was both disappointed and relieved. Disappointed because there’s no real memorial besides a phony commercial “museum” displaying pictures of the victims and the tragedy, and relieved because today Ground Zero is not exactly that horrible and painful cavity staining the lower side of Manhattan: it’s alive and buzzing with the irritating sounds of construction, concrete moulding and workers yelling at anyone coming to close and “not minding their business”. So there I stood, next to Ground Zero, wondering if all this had been a dream. I was looking at a construction site of a parking and a subway station extension. It’s hardly a memorial for me. But I was relieved, because as more concrete and pillars were erected, life was starting back: Regular people, dubious traders, firemen, families, cops, journalists, fashion victims, tourists would soon be crowding that place. And there we went away, back in a subway train running AC at maximum during that insufferablly warm summer day in Manhattan.
Since 9/11, many things have happened. The world has changed; mistakes have been made, good deeds have been done too. The President of the United States has changed as well, and now a majority of U.S citizens question the war in Afghanistan. Just like 9/11 could have been avoided with better intelligence and swifter reaction ahead of the tragedy (but, as the saying goes, if my aunt had balls she would be my uncle), the war in Afghanistan could yield better results if it had not been overshadowed by the idiotic war in Iraq and if better strategies had been devised. All this calls for a more demanding democracy, in America and elsewhere. More demanding for its citizens, who have to get involved much more than what they do today, more demanding for its government, that has to stop bending to every special interest that comes in with deceptive tactics, elaborate carrots and sticks; more demanding to ourselves in general, who have to constantly remind ourselves to stand up to our values and never forget the victims, the fallen angels, and the suffering people all around the world.