When 9/11 happened, I was living in Uganda.
I was at the house of friends following the events when one of them arrived cheering. We were a multinational, multiracial and multireligious group. We watched live as the second tower got hit and like the rest of the world we watched as both buildings started to crumble down and disappear into the ground. When our friend cheered, most of us simply didn’t get it. He was an exiled Syrian, permanently outraged by the Israeli and Palestinian struggle and the continuous undermining of Palestinian dignity. When we told him that people were dying there, when we expressed our horror and grief, he calmed down but didn’t lose his feeling of being vindicated. At that moment I sensed a rift between us, because all of us had a different sense of what was happening.
Independently of the political and military consequences, the events of that day impacted everybody around the world on a human level. We were all caught in the contradictions and prejudices that bubbled up violently inside us, and suddenly the world turned from being a wonderful place to know and explore into a complex place of fear and anxiety.
That day was the day when people around the world began to regard “the other” not as a marvelous and interesting representation of the joy of living, diversity and knowledge, but as a source of threat and fear of the unknown. The “other” now became a menace: the other of the East, the other of the West.
I know that 9/11 had that effect on me personally. Until then in our group of friends religion was a topic that didn’t matter much. It was just an interesting thing to talk about; politics was a subject for after dinner conversations, race was a spicey mix of hues that made our gatherings of foreigners and nationals in Uganda interesting and vibrant. Suddenly, after that day, all these things became extremely urgent and immediate, not only for my group of friends but for all people around the world. The world started to ask each one of us to declare where we stood. “You are either with me or against me” was the general sentiment which was also a threat, and it ran powerfully on each of side of the evident and seemingly irreconcilable cultural divide of the planet.
I feel that the identity of each of us was shattered at first by that day only to be reinforced later on as we had to have a position about what just happened, about who we were, what we believed in, where we belonged and what our values were. Political correctness was a must at that time and was scrutinized minutely under the microscope. Any diversity of views was stopped in it tracks by the weight of You Are Either With Me Or Against Me. I saw this happening everywhere, and especially among my group of friends in Uganda. Even though we did remained friends, we realized that the bonds of friendship had been weakened because of this.
I believe that even today this is still happening to some extent across the entire world, and the root of it is fear. Fear of the other, fear to judge and be judged. To be categorized or cataloged. We live in times of a modern inquisition, in times of a modern crusade – not necessarily a religious one – where the Powers That Be show us things in terms of black and white while, at the same time, they display themselves in a more crude way with blatant double standards. Nevertheless, the rift is closing with a new generational awareness of a global community. With the globalization of migration, the media, and a sense of human rights, we are now thousands of millions of shades of colors.
I believe that time taught everybody to become more conscious about what it means to belong to a culture. I believe it confronted us all with the options of rejecting, tolerating or embracing “the other”. I think my generation is still struggling with these options, and trying to mend its torn humanity.