The Endless Aftermath of 9/11
Nine years after the Sept. 11 attacks, we are left to ponder: Who won the war on terror?
I told the students, some of whom were dressed in head-to-toe chador, about how I cried on 9/11, thinking, "We're at war. Right here, right now." I have always been the peacenik, will always be the peacenik, but right after the towers fell, I remember feeling a rush of righteous rage. Bomb them. At that moment, retribution felt like the way to go. In a weird way, I finally felt that I was a part of my country, no longer the outsider decrying war when my president insisted that war is what we must do.
By the time we started waving flags and beating up men in turbans and bombing Kabul -- and, later, Baghdad -- those vengeful feelings had long subsided. And I started to worry what our country would turn into, thanks to 9/11.
It took a minute for those students in Islamabad, the pampered scions of Pakistan's upper crust, to hear me. Really hear me. To understand that my vengeful feelings were just that, feelings, a visceral -- and temporary -- reaction to an extraordinary experience. At first they turned on me, battering me with questions and their own rage: I was American. And "American" equaled President George W. Bush, who'd taken to talking about obliterating the "evil doers" with a single-minded ferocity.
For them, terrorism meant something different than the 9/11 hijackers. Terrorism was something with which they were intimately familiar, from suicide bombings to the war going on in the country next door to them. As millennials, they'd watched their parents, and their country, become increasingly Western and globalized. Way too secular. Rejecting globalism and embracing a more exacting form of Islam was, for many of them, their rebellion.
Somehow, that day, we came to an understanding. They got to see that not all Americans were in lockstep with President Bush, that many of us disagreed with him. That we Americans are not a monolith. That we didn’t wish them ill. And I got to see why many of those 9/11 hijackers weren't poor and disadvantaged at all but from the upper class, much like the students I spoke with that day.
As a left-leaning liberal, I understood on an intellectual level how American policies fostered a festering resentment around the globe. Here, I got to see that anger up close and personal. It was a stark contrast to what I'd encountered in Afghanistan, where I'd been shocked to find Afghans who told me they were thrilled when the U.S. started bombing Kabul. (Anything, they said, was better than the Taliban.)