I still don’t know what made me do it. It was late on a cool Tuesday spring evening in Sydney; I had been working sixteen hours straight at my computer, and my head was filled with ten thousand lines of software code. Normally after a such long day, I am able to drop off straight to sleep. But that night, for some reason, I couldn’t. After about a quarter of a hour, I gave up and switched on the TV. I instantly recognized the image: the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Centre. Smoke was pouring out of both structures. Strange, I thought; a fire in both buildings? I hoped everyone had been evacuated, anyway.
What else is on? I flicked the remote. But the next channel was showing the very same images. And the next channel. And the next. All of them. I shook myself out of my software revelry and focussed on the near-hysterical commentary accompanying the pictures. I heard the words hijacking and terrorism, and I recalled that the World Trade Centre had been the target of an attempted terrorist attack some years earlier. What I was witnessing became very clear as the pictures cut away to what was clearly amateur, mobile-phone footage of a jet aircraft flying into one of the towers.
The rest of the evening for me remains a tangled memory. I wondered if World War Three had just started. I got in touch with my sister, who had moved to Texas the previous year; my brother-in-law, a USAF reservist and veteran of the first Gulf War, was expecting to be called up at any moment. It became clear after a few hours that the two (then four) aircraft had been hijacked by some kind of Middle Eastern extremist group.
But at the time, I remember the predominant emotion was grief. That is my main memory of the days that followed, as well. Grief—before anger, vengeance, perplexity, or any other emotion. Grief, that such a thing could happen to our friends. Among the expressions of sympathy and solidarity that reverberated around the world, you might have seen the Sydney Harbour Bridge’s two massive flagpoles flying the Stars and Stripes for a week afterwards. It made me feel better, that at least we were letting America know she had friends in her time of need. My own sympathy card was added to the small mountain of cards and flowers piled in the foyer of the United States consulate in Sydney.
Quite shockingly, a friend of my wife (we’d not yet met) had a son attending a Sydney suburban school with a large Lebanese Muslim population. She reported her son witnessed at school the next day, scenes of wild celebration, cheering and high-fiving amongst the students, most of whom were under ten years of age. This extraordinary reaction becomes explicable when you consider that the imam of the local Lakemba mosque at the time was one Sheikh Taj el-Din Hamid al-Hilaly, the Grand Mufti of Australia. Less than three years later, in a sermon in Arabic at a mosque in Lebanon, he had this to say:
11 September is Allah’s work against oppressors. Some of the things that happen in the world cannot be explained; a civilian airplane whose secrets cannot be explained if we ask its pilot who reached his objective without error, who led your steps? Or if we ask the giant that fell, who humiliated you? Or if we ask the President, who made you cry? Allah is the answer.
Too many words have already been written about this terrible event that changed history for LibertyGibbert to add anything either new or profound. But on this day, ten years hence, it is appropriate that we pause and reflect on how that day changed the world—and changed us. Are we any more or less free as a result? As a frequent air traveller, I know the answer to at least one part of that question. Do we have a better understanding of our society as a result of this outrage? Is there any good, anywhere, that has come out of this?
I don’t intend to dwell today on the many conspiracy theories surrounding that day, and I’d prefer not to foster a discussion about them here—not today, at any rate; it really isn’t appropriate. That’s Captain Sherlock’s side of the street, anyway. Instead, I’d like you to tell us where you were when you first heard the news. And how, if at all, you think the world has changed for the better—we all know only too well how it has changed for the worse—how the road to Liberty has, perhaps as a result, become clearer to us. Has that which did not kill us, indeed made us stronger?