Five years on a long road

A year ago I visited London with my wife. It was just two months after the attacks that had shaken that creative metropolis and four years after the terrorist attacks in the United States. If the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York had signaled the end of the world as we knew it, the attacks in London showed both how much and how little the world had changed since then. The subway and buses, on which 52 people had died in the attacks, were packed – with Londoners and an equal number of visitors. All were aware that their every move was recorded on a sophisticated electronic surveillance network. They knew also that this security system had not stopped the young British Muslims who had turned themselves into human bombs. And no one forgot the unfortunate Brazilian electrician, Jean Charles de Menezes, who had been executed in cold blood on just such a train, in a criminally lax police operation carried out in the climate of widespread fear that dominated the days after the attacks. Despite all this, the rivers of humanity did not stop flowing through the city. And this was the message of London: The September 11 attacks in America were the lighting of a fuse which, on the one hand, ignited the flame of revolution in the breasts of some fanatical Muslims across the world, and on the other, provoked a reaction from the societies under attack which was often excessive and dangerous. But, caught between the actions of the terrorists and the reactions of states, people continued with their lives, their work, their travels. They had no choice but to conquer their fear and tolerate the excesses in the new security arrangements. Daily life does not allow us the luxury of freezing in fear. This is pretty much what is going on across the world. The al-Qaida attacks against the United States serve as a precedent and a touchstone for the terrifying power that is in the hands of whoever is prepared to sacrifice himself for a cause. This has inspired fanatical Muslims who may not have had any contact with al-Qaida to carry out attacks across the planet – wherever they get the chance. At the same time, the United States, in its efforts to prevent another attack, has succumbed to the temptation to employ measures that are sometimes contrary to the spirit of that great democracy. We have now learned that the security apparatus of the United States has been eavesdropping on the communications and transactions of even American citizens. George W. Bush’s administration has set up secret prisons and is preparing trials of questionable legality. And, unfortunately, it has entangled the United States in a war without cause and with an uncertain outcome in Iraq. This complex new situation comes on top of the great complexities arising from the technological revolution and globalization. That is why today, five years after September 11, 2001, marks an important anniversary. More so because it represents a small station on the course of a journey whose end we cannot see.