9/11 TEN YEARS ON
It was a just past 4 in the afternoon when I got a call, being on the outskirts of Kampala enroute back from the airport in Entebbe, that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York, prompting me to abort my drive to where I was heading to and instead went to the Sheraton Kampala Hotel, certain I would see live coverage on the news. Han de Windt, then the General Manager, and Jennifer Zizinga, then the Director of Sales and Marketing, stood together, eyes glued on the TV screen, as the second plane struck and it was then clear that a major terror attack was underway against the United States.
Breaking news followed on the strike against the Pentagon in Washington and soon afterwards, amongst all the confusion of reports, retractions and new reports, confirmation came in that a plane had crashed while presumed hijacked too and flying towards Washington also.
We saw the Twin Towers come down in a cloud of dust resembling a volcanic eruption and no eye stayed dry that moment. Strangers hugged and cried together and the Americans amongst the gathering crowed were commiserated and had drinks bought for them.
Soon afterwards it became clear that Osama Bin Ladens Al Qaida terror network was behind the coordinated attack, which had left the American security agencies reeling, completing what an earlier attempt to bomb the World Trade Centre had not achieved.
The world stood by America in their hour of grief and the Americans were the good guys. A global coalition formed swiftly to support America in any which way necessary and NATO declared the attack on America and attack on the alliance, an unprecedented act.
Within weeks the Taliban regime faced their ultimatum to hand over Bin Laden and his goons or else and the or else it was as bombs and cruise missiles started to rain on Al Qaida bases and Taliban positions, driving them out of Kabul and into the Bora Bora mountains where some of the most intense bombing runs by B52s ever seen were unleashed on the caves suspected to hold Bin Laden and his merry men of terror.
The world stood united behind America for the invasion in Afghanistan as the hunt for extremists and terrorist continued, from the air and from the ground.
And then came Iraq and the global goodwill America generated after 9/11 evaporated as the US and Britain moved towards a war which many then suspected and now know for certain was for all sorts of reasons but not the ones given in the UN. The war mongering of the Bush administration, echoed in Number 10 Downing Street, tore the erstwhile alliance apart and caused lasting rifts amongst allies and with friends of America for counseling caution and restraint.
My own articles, speaking out against the growing trend of going to war with Iraq, published in eTN at the time, created all sorts of hate mail, but I suppose with all the world now knows, about the intent and purpose of the Bush administration to go to war and the disastrous results in Iraq with collateral damage running into allegedly tens of thousands of innocent women, children and elderly, many of those zealots and patriots may well have changed their mind in the meantime and agree with what I said back then.
The Iraq war turned out to be a monstrous mistake and money needed to build American infrastructure and improve their social systems went up in the proverbial smoke of bombs and missiles exploding. The eyes went off the ball in Afghanistan too and todays resurgence of the Taliban is a direct result of not finishing the job when it was possible to do so with much greater ease, while Bush was proudly announcing on a carrier he had flown on to in an act of the best Wild West tradition mission accomplished far from it as we now also know.
I have stayed with eTN as their East Africa and Indian Ocean correspondent since then and as a frequent traveler witnessed the fallout of the post 9/11 security frenzy at airports around the world, the no fly lists when wannabe passengers were told they could not be checked in, the container loads of pocket knives and nail scissors, lighters and leatherman taken off passengers at various security check points, which made our lives as frequent travelers hell, yet purporting to make flying safer.
Is the world safer since or because of the Iraq war not anywhere near it as the many terror attacks since then remind us of. In fact it bred a new generation of war hardened and more sophisticated terrorists and suicide bombers who struck targets across the world with almost impunity, picking their moment with care and inflicting maximum pain and suffering and loss on the innocent.
To this day I have cold anger boil up in me when I see old movies, where the Twin Towers still stand as the Big Apples main landmark. I remember my first visit to the World Trade Centre in 1974 and many times since until that tragic day in September 2001. To this day I mourn the thousands who died in the planes, in the Twin Towers as they came down, those in the Pentagon and the countless brave men and women who have given their lives since then defending ourselves from terror, but also the many victims of terror since that September day around the world.
When the bell tolls in New York on the 09th of September this year, when America falls silent in remembrance 10 years down the line, I will observe my own personal minute of silence and remember what unfolded in front of my eyes a decade ago on the TV screens of the Sheraton Kampala. I will also celebrate the bringing to justice of Bin Laden and many of his henchmen over those 10 years. And I will mourn the innocent lives lost in Iraq too, and those of service men and women from around the world, who were sent to that war to do the bidding of their masters without knowing the true agenda those masters had.
9/11 this year is a special day, reminding us of our hard fought for freedoms and liberties, being able to stand up and oppose what is wrong even if the powers that be spit fire at us democracy is not supposed to be easy for those whom we chose to govern us, something they often forget when they get into office and enjoy their splendid isolation from the electorate for four or five years.
9/11 is also a symbolic day now, a constant reminder of the ongoing fight between good and evil, not between Islam and Christianity, not between East and West but plain and simple between good and evil. When you read this take a moment, say a prayer or if you dont pray, simply remember and honour that day in September 10 years ago and what happened in New York, Washington and in the skies over America.