I distinctively remember the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 as I was barely weeks into a yearlong youth exchange program in France. As a young teenager, it was my first solo venture abroad and I was full of excitement.
On that day, my host mother left a Post-It note on the television advising of a documentary on wild horses to watch after school. I would not have turned on the television otherwise! Once it concluded, I switched stations and could not believe my eyes as I tuned into news coverage. The images were stunning, haunting and foreboding all at once. A sense of utter horror while touching on so many aspects of the human condition simultaneously.
We closely watched the news broadcasts late into the evening. As a Canadian, I felt profound sadness for my neighbors to the south. I was a youth obviously lacking in-depth knowledge of nefarious non-state state actors, but the name Al-Qaeda was familiar due to a unit on terrorism in my high school law class months prior. Though the extent of the dramatic shift in history to come was unimaginable to a high school student, I knew significant ramifications would follow that momentous day.
A certain social anxiety rose around those from Muslim countries. This was most certainty due to the conflation between Islam and terrorism linked to the motivation of the organizers and perpetrators of those awful attacks. It was then I understood that misperception of groups of people often came from fear and misunderstanding. Accordingly, the following question was, ‘Well, what set of beliefs could compel someone to do such a thing?’
It would be improper of me to say that 9/11 has impacted my life as I only experienced the discussed emotions in the detached capacity of an external viewer. Each year I take the time to watch the televised remembrance ceremonies in solemnity of all those lives lost and to consider the plight of all the poorly first responders hampered by illness.
However, the attacks of September 11 solidified many invaluable truths, at least in my perception. Just like the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there are moments in history that change our understandings of each other and interactions on a global scale. There is a reason why we discuss the ‘post-9/11’ period because it differs from our perception of security prior.
The attacks firmly demonstrated the reach of transnational terrorism and the vast consequences of extremist ideologies when significant resources are in place. The longevity of terrorist organizations —such as al-Qaeda after the attacks— reveals that combatting terror, despite vital resources, sometimes seems like grasping in the dark since halting the spread of an ideology is impossible.
Therefore, a multifaceted approach from sound intelligence analysis, effective cooperation in areas of security and law enforcement, community engagement and knowledgeable policy decisions hopefully reduces the odds of another event and the need to say, ‘Never Forget’ once more.