Ten Years On

Monday, 12 September 2011 00:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler
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It comes as a surprise to realise it’s 10 years since September 11, 2001. The whole world was shocked then and, as I look back now on those dreadful images of the destruction of the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center, I am still shocked, still barely believing.

On the evening of September 11, 2011, Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard headed a delegation of prominent Australians in paying tribute to those who lost their lives in the 9/11 disaster, especially to the heroic emergency service personnel and fire fighters. US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey L. Bleich represented the US and the flags of both nations were raised in solemn tribute.

The commemoration was held in Australia’s capital, Canberra, in the open air beside Lake Burley Griffin and the somber, wintry weather and occasional rain seemed to reflect the mood of the occasion. It was a time of formal speeches, yet the sincerity was palpable and the feeling of solidarity with those grieving in the US and around the world was unmistakable.


Since then, I’ve been looking at pictures of leaders and ordinary people around the world paying tribute to those who lost their lives on 9/11, and the families and loved ones who still grieve for them.

Because Australian time zones are ahead of the US, it was in the pre-dawn dark of September 12, that I heard on my radio the voice of Paul Simon singing The Sounds of Silence at the moving commemoration held in New York City. Then I saw the TV pictures.

Yes, 10 years on, I still feel shock, sadness and compassion for the grieving families of 9/11 victims.

Yet, I have grown used to some of the changes that have occurred in the intervening 10 years. Long ago, I gave up taking nail scissors on airline flights and I pack only tiny sachets of shampoo, if I take it at all. Full body security checks at airports are another practice we have become accustomed to. I accept the need to have security cameras on city street corners and in railway stations.

Because I’m not of Middle Eastern appearance, I don’t run into problems with the security laws – similar to those in Britain – that were passed in the wake of 9/11. But already certain of our leading legal experts are saying that some of these security laws need to be scaled back, that they are infringing basic rights. Whether that will happen or not remains unclear.

The security checks and the laws are said to protect us. They are deemed to be positives and no doubt we should accept them as such. But maybe not without question.

Certainly there were two major negatives in our reaction to 9/11. They were the invasion of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. Both of those have cost the US - and Australia, among other nations - dearly in lives of their service personnel and in tax payer funds. I believe both these wars have led to the radicalisation of many young Muslims and an increase, rather than a decrease, in global terrorism.

In the wake of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC, it’s difficult to say what then President George W. Bush could have done to strike back. However, it seems to me that the manner and extent of his War on Terror has backfired. Perhaps improved intelligence followed by a severe but surgical strike on Al-Qaeda would have worked better and cost much less in lives, money and extremist propaganda.

That, however, is water under the bridge. The challenge now is to mop up those wars as cleanly as possible, to get out with the most dignity we can manage and leave the best options we can for the suffering people of Iraq and Afghanistan. For they are victims of 9/11 too.

Surely we’ve now had enough of grief, violence and sorrow. Let us hope the decade ahead will bring about more healing and much less tension and violence.


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