But I never really comprehended the full impact of it. Until a few days ago.
By Belmont Lay
Just last week, when the New Nation editors had to sit down and talk about doing a a little tribute piece about where we were and what we were experiencing when 9/11 occurred 10 years ago, it didn’t take a lot out of me to go back in time in my mind to dig up the details.
And this very fact about how much I can still recall surprised me.
I think it says a lot that I can still remember that Sept. 11, 2001 fell on a Tuesday – without having to delve too deeply into my memory.
I was 17, pimply and awkward and I was in the first year of junior college. It was September, which meant I was trying to wrap my head around my economics homework.
News of 9/11 came to me close to midnight when I was discharging my nightly obligation of surfing free-to-air channels while homeworking (broadband Internet then, I must add, was a wet dream that was not fulfilled yet).
Footage on Channel News Asia that night was strangely transfixed on a very tall building in New York, as television viewers were informed that there had been an explosion of sorts.
I knew right then something was up.
Or rather, with my poorly developed instincts and a complete inability to grasp the significance of what was unfolding before me then, I, in fact, failed to guess that some things were soon going to come crashing down.
The following day in class, blurry-eyed and a little disturbed having stayed up until 3 a.m. and still not understanding what exactly happened, our Economics tutor was business-as-usual.
No talking about what happened. No point harping over fallen buildings. We have a year-end exam coming up, remember? Let’s dive in, and draw a curve showing how interest rates affects money supply.
That really annoyed me on two fronts:
1) I know my cat didn’t get killed tragically or my parents weren’t getting a divorce, but wouldn’t two buildings billowing with smoke bright and early one morning as seen on TV mean something traumatic happened and my educator was not going to put things in perspective for me?
2) We weren’t about to get some time off from class. To talk about important things, I presume, such as the state of the world for example, because interest rates and money supply are by far more salient? Ironic, no?
Fast forward to the 10th anniversary Sept. 11 weekend yesterday.
I flipped open our friendly broadsheet, The Straits Times on Saturday and read the commentary by everyone’s favourite public intellectual, Kishore Mahbubani.
Kishore said that the US failed to seize the moment to unite humanity. And then he went on about China and plugged his own books.
His article made my stomach turn.
And then I scanned The Sunday Times and pored through Janadas Devan’s missive.
Janadas shared Kishore’s chastising tone, claiming the US wasted the chance to transform the world because the world was emotionally in tune with America when she was attacked exactly 10 years ago but now the feeling has slipped due to a bunch of missteps.
What incessant rubbish, I thought.
After reading both articles, I am made more annoyed than I was 10 years ago. And I’m getting even more riled because neither wordsmith was putting the 9/11 issue in perspective.
In fact, both supposedly “fair-minded” opinions (do consider the quotation marks around fair-minded as optional) are as flippant as my Economic tutor’s reaction and countenance on Sept. 12.
Here’s why: I find it utterly despicable and odious that so-called public intellectuals and opinion leaders should turn the tables on America and accuse it of having made a hash out of the only chance she had to unite the world – after it suffered the worst attack on its domestic soil where mad terrorists targeted civilians to leverage maximum impact from their atrocities.
Because what you need to know about the significance of Sept. 11 and the perpetrators of such a vulgar and grotesque act of obliteration that disregarded any form of civility or of our coming-of-age modernity is this:
– The perpetrators were not only hijackers of commercial airlines. They were also hijackers of religion, self-appointed death squads whose sole allegiance is (or rather, was) to their leader Osama bin Laden.
– They viciously hate Jews, Christians and Shia Muslims, or in fact, any unbelievers in general.
– What they want to promote is not terrorism. They are not even interested in promoting the cause of the marginalised in their community.
– They are not even keen about speaking out against oppressive US foreign policy.
– They were and still are trying to explicitly relay the message to the world that there is only one rule, which is by a despotic empire, of which Al-Qaeda’s sole purpose is to create a new, world wide Islamic caliphate, with a complete break from all foreign influences in Muslim countries.
So let me beg you, dear reader, to consider applying Occam’s Razor: How hard is it to simply see the religiously fanatical mad men for who they truly are?
How difficult it is to see that there are people who are self-conceited and vicious enough to take it upon themselves to shove their worldview down the throats of other people?
Why should we idly sit by and accept that perhaps, just perhaps, America is at fault because public intellectuals or opinion leaders say so?
Therefore, why sound clever by blaming America?
Look, if Kishore even went so far as to quote a Hong Kong journalist who said that “China owes a huge debt of gratitude to Osama bin Laden” for diverting America’s attention away from China and allowing the Chinese to focus on expanding their economy, then there is even more reason to be worried about the future.
You might be allowed to be hopeful that Al-Qaeda or its surrogates will never eventually achieve what they set out to do because they will collapse under the burden of their own ideology.
But if America is no longer mighty enough to take the fight to fanatics, then Al-Qaeda or its surrogates might just achieve their expansion plans.
Then it is really time to start freaking out because you shouldn’t be expecting China to do its share of protecting any time soon on your behalf, because they never even had their eye on the problem the last 10 years since 9/11.