Tag Archives: 9/11

9/11 Memories

I don’t have a thrilling or exciting memory of 9/11. It fact the banality of the what happened to me is almost striking giving the significance of what happened.

I was working for the French bank Société Générale in London at the time. On that day I was out of the office in Knightsbridge at a hotel on a management training course. I remember thinking how useless the course was as I had asked questions of the trainer like ‘how do I improve teamwork when my team is based in 9 different countries on time-zones from Tokyo to New York?’ and the trainer was only qualified to train people who were working directly with their staff. None of the other managers on the training course had to manage anyone in another country, so I just sat there – bored – on a day away from the office.

By the afternoon, a few people were getting text messages to say that something was happening in New York. This was before anyone could access the Internet on phones. It was before wi-fi was available everywhere. We were locked in a training room with only a vague idea that something big was happening outside.

When someone got a text message saying one of the towers was down, our trainer said that we should carry on the course for the full afternoon because our companies had all invested a lot of money and would not want to waste it.

We carried on for a bit longer, but everyone wanted to leave early to find out what was going on. I really had no idea until I got home later in the afternoon and switched on the TV to watch the images of the attacks repeating on a loop.

Our trainer was being conscientious, but he had preferred we sit there talking about how to hire and fire people rather than witnessing one of the major events of the new century.

I had a team working for me in the WTC complex. Not in towers 1 or 2, but across the square from there. I was frantically calling them to find if they were all OK, but the phone lines in New York were overloaded and many cellular radio towers had been destroyed along with the twin towers – so cell phone coverage was very patchy.

I did eventually get through to the guy who ran our technology systems in New York. I had a bizarre conversation as I walked my dog in my local park in lovely evening sunshine and talked to him in New York about how he ran from the office to his home and wife… only a couple of miles, but in complete chaos.

We had very good disaster plans in place. My responsibility was the banks connection to the stock exchange. The next morning we had our systems up and running in another office. We were ready to trade, but the stock exchange had been closed.

It was a day when everything felt paralysed – even for those of us not in the USA. I had never imagined a mainland attack within the USA and the events that were created by that one day are still shaping our history now. It was hard to imagine such iconic buildings were there one morning and 90 minutes later were gone – I had been to the top of those towers several times and enjoyed a beer up there in a space that no longer existed.

For me though, it was a day of strange memories. Meaningless to most, but worth remembering here for my own sake. One day I might not remember the sheer terror in the voices I was talking to in New York that day and the paradox of me throwing a ball for the dog as I talked.

World Trade Center - New York City, New York / ニューヨークシティ (ニューヨーク)

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Bin Laden is dead, but why rejoice?

The US military has killed the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Despite the fact that I am not a hand-wringing liberal staging the occasional ‘bed-in for peace’, I am quite shocked and disgusted by the popular reaction in the US – or at least the popular reaction being shown by the media.

Yes, he was a callous, heartless leader who created a network of terror and sheltered behind Islam as a supposed means of justification for his acts. He was responsible for the death of thousands, so he is hardly a person to be missed, but to throw parties on the street because of his death seems like irrational exuberance.

There is of course the sense of revenge. The American public feeling relief that they finally “got” the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks on the USA a decade ago.

But the numerous deaths, both military and civilians, on both sides of this war don’t deserve this reaction – running into the street and cracking open a Budweiser “because we won the war…”

Ask any of those people, what have you won today? Tough to answer isn’t it?

Unfortunately for those drinking in the street, al-Qaeda is not a traditional enemy in the form of a nation state, organised with a single leader and obeying the strategy and ruling of a government. This is not World War II all over again.

This is a war of ideology. And the death of Bin Laden does not mean that the “war” is over at all, in fact it may even serve to generate more intense hatred of the American values that led us to this place.

It’s too simple to argue that this is about the Muslim v Christian world, or the consumerist society of the west v a more traditional emerging society, or an oil-dependent America v oil-producing states. All these are factors, but at the end of the day when the actions of a nation state (or small group of allies) produce a situation where a group of nations are at war with an ideology, it is a dire place to be – almost an Orwellian cliché.

President Bush created the rhetoric of the “war on terror” and yet how can it ever be won? Should Islam be banned and dismantled because the terrorists all appear to be Muslim? Should nations harbouring terrorists be considered to be at war with the allies? Should every critic of American society be ‘taken out’ because they don’t have the same values in their society as in the US – and their small group of supporting nations?

All these descriptions of Muslim terrorists could equally apply to white supremacists – who happen to be already in the US, and are US citizens, and can arm themselves quite legally utilising the second amendment to the constitution. The war on terror and the demonisation of Islam are quite convenient ways to make this ideological battle simple enough for the evening news bulletin.

I don’t feel sympathy for Bin Laden. He was a killer. But I wish the leaders of the democratic states that profess their desire to fight a “war on terror” could find a better way to do it than through bombing places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Bin Laden turned up in the capital of Pakistan – allegedly a friend in the war on terror – so where does this leave the bombing campaigns of the past decade?

How about spending a few billion on encouraging enforced student exchange programmes? Every US graduate should spend a year at a university far from home, preferably somewhere they can learn about how a different society works just from being engaged with the people. And this would work best if it was reciprocated, so the US welcomed, and funded, foreign students at their own universities.

It may take a decade or more to see some more enlightened attitudes, but then we have just had a decade of bombing the Middle East and what has been the result? Only greater instability and a wider fear of terrorism.

The liberals echo John Lennon by chanting ‘Give peace a chance’ and are mocked by the hawks who feel that the western ideals of democracy and personal freedom need to be spread – almost as a crusade. But regardless of whether hawks or doves are right, the present approach has only created a situation far worse than it was ten or twenty years ago.

We are now two decades on from the Cold war, but attitudes don’t seem to have thawed. Isn’t it time for some radical thinking on foreign policy – particularly from the USA? Or will we just keep on engaging in decades more of ‘regime-change’?
Central Mosque, Abuja