Twenty years since September 11: the Tuesday when globalization turned to terrorism

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Terror depends on two factors: someone who wants to impose it and someone who feels it as such. Without one of these two things, terror is something else. An event page. An entry in Wikipedia.

On December 1988, PanAm flight 103 between London and New York exploded in mid-flight, collapsing in the vicinity of the Scottish town of Lockerbie. Up to 243 people died, including 158 Americans. It was the largest attack on the civilian population in the history of the United States and it was soon learned that Libya and its bloodthirsty dictator were behind it. Muammar El Gaddafi.

That attack culminated two intense decades of constant intimidation using civilians as hostages of alleged political conflicts. The hijackings of planes had become popular and, in 1985, Spain had already seen how a suicide bomber detonated an explosive inside the restaurant Rest, next to the Torrejón military base, then owned by the United States. Eighteen people died, eighty-two were injured. Only the ETA attack on the Hipercor in Barcelona two years later claimed more victims in that infamous end of the millennium.

Still, terror failed to change our perspective on the world. All this was seen as a succession of isolated events, easily linked to US foreign policy and his support for the Israeli state. It could touch you, of course, but it was not something that affected your daily routine as local terrorisms did – in the case of Spain, we know, ETA; in Italy, the Red Brigades and the innumerable paramilitary groups of the seventies and eighties; in Germany, that madness called Baader-Meinhof; in Ireland, the IRA… -. They scared us ours. We did not understand that the threat could be anywhere and be capricious in its actions.

All that changed, of course, September 11, 2001. That display of evil changed our way of understanding global terrorism as a specific, almost random issue. That was serious, both for its organization – several coordinated attacks in order to cause the greatest possible number of victims -, its consequences – thousands of deaths, on a scale unimaginable until then – and its presentation. The latter is no small thing: casual or not, the televised unfolding of events before the eyes of the whole world multiplied the frightening effect. Al Qaeda probably didn’t want to mimic a Hollywood blockbuster … but they succeeded.

The threat of a global war

That the world was going to be different, we realized it instantly. Local terrorism followed its own internal logic of each country. He had his own vices and we had learned to read and live with them. This was completely different. This was the beginning of something, a message called to repeat itself from time to time. When, on September 12, a well-known Spanish newspaper headlined with the famous and infamous “The world, in suspense awaiting the response from George Bush“He put in black on white the feeling of uncertainty and the fear that, what had always required purely police intervention, would suddenly become a matter of state.

And the world was watching the american reaction it was because we still did not know who or what could be the object of that reaction. If terrorism managed to infiltrate the doubt of state responsibility, things could get very serious. Fortunately, he did not quite succeed: of course, there has been a war in Afghanistan for twenty years; of course there was an invasion of Iraq in 2003 supposedly related … but there was no breakdown of the international consensus and balance. The murderers became everyone’s enemy.

Suicide bombing of the Twin Towers.

Suicide bombing of the Twin Towers.

It’s easy to say now, but at the time the risk was there. The risk of a poorly measured confrontation between different countries in the form of something akin to a world war. Allies and enemies. Afghanistan could drag Pakistan, which in turn could drag India, whereupon China and Russia as neighboring countries they would have to do something … and thus, the escalation could take us to limits that at least two generations of Western citizens were completely unaware of. It did not happen. That is the good news.

9/11 did not end in September 2001

The bad news is the permanence of global terrorism as a daily danger, displacing and depriving the different local terrorisms of meaning. It is curious that all of them disappeared almost completely in the ten years after the attack on the Twin Towers, after several decades of death and pain with no solution in sight. It is impossible to analyze 9/11 in New York and separate it from the subsequent jihadist terror in Madrid, in London, in Brussels, in Paris or in Barcelona. That was the call to the barbarians to throw themselves against the walls, and there they continue, colliding violently every time they have the chance.

Police device after the attack on the satirical magazine 'Charlie Hebdo'.

Police device after the attack on the satirical magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’.


The writer said Donald Barthelme that fear occurs in the face of the known and anguish in the face of the unknown. He also warned that the latter is much worse. For twenty years, we have lived installed in both things: in the certainty that this will be repeated, on a greater or lesser scale, and in the ignorance of what we can do to avoid it. When we review Lockerbie or we review Rest, it is easy to look for political motives. A fanatical dictator at war with a superpower he cannot otherwise defeat. A protest for the conditions of the Palestinians. What is appropriate.

This was a terrorism that came from the post-war Arab uprisings and that, somehow, worked under the Western parameters of blackmail and reward. Those attacks, those massacres, were looking for something concrete that was not generally achieved in its entirety, but was achieved in the form of partial “peace agreements”. 9/11 and the subsequent attacks are just hate attacks. There is no complaint behind, there is no hint of understanding. They are not even a purely religious issue but rather a cultural one. The violence is not directed towards the symbols of Christianity but towards its extended values ​​in what we call civilization.

We keep waiting for the barbarians

If you remember, this idea of ​​a clash of civilizations became very popular at the time and Samuel Huntington he got fed up selling books. Soon it had to be pointed out that we were not speaking strictly of two civilizations, since these would not take long to find peaceful elements in common, but rather of civilization and barbarism. Civilization and hatred of civilization. The hatred of cities, discos, fun, the very day-to-day gear of a city, a country, a continent, a system. The same hatred that has been displayed over the years for Africa and Asia with the intention of standardizing thought and customs.

9/11 forced civilization to retreat and to deploy military force in turn. By far, that has been the cruelest consequence. 9/11 (and its derivatives) installed us in fear of the other, in constant suspicion. It fenced off our airports, our planes, and our destinations. It became a kind of pandemic before the pandemic and, to some extent, encouraged barbarism to establish itself as a political power, see the Taliban; see, above all, ISIS.

A police car, after the attacks against the towers.

A police car, after the attacks against the towers.

Library of Congress

Everything happens so fast that, when comparing anything with the magnitude of that and remembering the fatalism with which we live it, one thinks “in the end, it was not so bad” and he may be right: there have been no more planes used as arrows , the constructions that make up our vital landscape have not fallen like concrete flans… But there it is good to stop and remember everything that has happened and the fact that the process is still open. When someone asks, “How did 9/11 change the world?” you must accept that the answers are partial and incomplete. 9/11 keeps changing the world every minute. In their own way.

The “here we are” of Osama Bin Laden It was not intended for a short-term resolution but the opposite: a reminder for decades and decades. A phantom threat that makes us feel deadly wherever we are. That we are aware of the terror and cannot border it. Assume that, anywhere, even on the terrace of Le Carillon or in the club’s ballroom Pulse, there may be someone willing to kill us. Live with it because there is no alternative, but live in fear.

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