Friday, September 11, 2015

September 11, 2001

I wrote this a couple of  years ago about 9/11. It still applies.
In this case the cliché is actually true. It was a perfect day in DC. Temperatures were pleasant, the sun was shining and the summer's humidity was no more as I left for work.
Another true cliché: the world changed forever on my commute that day. My office at the time was a block away from the White House. Once we realized what was going on and with not all planes accounted for, it seemed the attacks were getting closer after the Pentagon was hit across the river. It's not a great feeling when you think you're a target.
I am grateful that nothing happened to us. I am still amazed at the miraculous escape of every single one of Sabia's colleagues from the Twin Towers mainly because their boss blatantly disregarded all orders to stay put and chased everyone out. Two friends saw the second plane hit and ultimately the collapse of both buildings. They were supposed to start work in the WTC a day later or so and one had been on top one of the buildings one or two days before. I bought every special edition of every publication available a couple of days later but after 14 years, I cannot bring myself to look at the pictures, nor have I ever watched the Gedeon and Jules Naudet documentary.
It took me days to figure out what all if this meant. Paranoia set in. At some point I was convinced we were monitored because of the Pakistani branch of the family. One day a blue van pulled up in our drive way and took pictures. Within hindsight, that may have been a realtor but it just sounds so much cooler to say you suspect the CIA is sniffing you out. 
I still don't wear flip flops on trains in case I need to run and I often ask myself whether that bicycle helmet I carry with me may come in handy one day.
Self-righteous anger turned into self-loathing the day I saw a man in Middle-Eastern garb enter my metro train. I used to think of deserts, flat bread and olive oil. This day, all I could see in him was a Muslim. What is even more frustrating is that I also start trying to find the nearest exit sign in a movie theater if young bearded men are present. It is not pretty to find out how easily you can become prejudiced.
While I don’t subscribe to a doomsday view of the world, the events that day re-enforced that nothing can ever be certain. Not the way you live nor who you think you are. For the years between 1990 and 2001, people had thought that peace was at hand with the end of the Cold War. That was particularly true for me as a German. My country had been re-unified and the former “allied forces” had mostly withdrawn their military contingents. And now, all certainty had gone and we in the West discovered new enemies.
My generation is just one link away from the holocaust. My dad grew up within 20 miles from Auschwitz. I am a product of the post WWII education in Germany where they completely drummed out any form of militarism, patriotism and any belief in authorities. They warned us “beware of the beginnings”, meaning watch out when it starts again and some authority comes up with new enemies to fight.
I guess what I am trying to say is that despite all the real threat, we need to distinguish between the real and the imagined. The imagined is what’s dangerous and it feeds on fear.


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