On Sept. 11 2001, I was at home about 6,000 miles away from New York City, finishing up my fifth-grade homework when my mom received a phone call, screamed and ran to the television to watch the news. As I joined her in watching the iconic towers of New York City crumble to the ground, I was horrified, but not horrified enough. For what I presumed to be just another disturbing piece of news of the world outside my own was really an event that was going to send waves of destruction, misunderstanding and fear all over the world. It was going to change the lives of billions of people forever, including me.
I have lived all my life in Kuwait, and the geographic location of the country — bordered by Saudi Arabia and Iraq — was never as significant as it became after Sept. 11. There have been several times over the past years when it’s been interesting to watch the play of emotions on people’s faces when I tell them where I’m from and the religion I was born into. Some people are fascinated while others are judgmental — the former being a little naïve and the latter being completely shallow and annoying.
A couple years ago, I flew to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York from Kuwait and was detained by security for an hour. The officer told me security officials were looking for “someone with my name” and escorted me to a small, scary room where I sat terrified for 60 minutes before they handed back my passport and told me I was free to go. Yes, I have noticed an obvious bias in the Western world against me, and I don’t know who to blame.
But the things I have had to deal with are petty and negligible compared to what millions of others have had to go through. These are the people who have lived in the middle of war for the past 10 years. They have lost their homes, their families, their nation and even their lives for something many of them don’t even fully understand. The tragedy of Sept. 11 resulted in a death toll of almost 3,000 Americans, and the wars that have followed 9/11 in the last 10 years have taken the lives of more than a million people.
This Sept. 11, the media flooded the world with memories of 9/11 and made many relive the experience. As Americans’ grief resurfaced, it brought with it once again the feelings of anger and revenge. But this time a new and strong voice of regret and doubt emerged as well — were we right to wage war as we did? Is all we have done in the past 10 years completely justified?
I’m afraid these questions do not have one clear answer. Trying to imagine the current situation any other way is impossible now. We cannot undo what has happened, nor can we make everything OK just like that. But perhaps we could acknowledge 9/11 as a tragedy involving the death of almost 3,000 American victims and millions who died in the events that followed, including soldiers from more than 20 other countries.
News this past week has focused on little other than the thousands who died in the United States. We should widen the focus and make 9/11 a day when the world mourns the consequences of human action and holds a candlelight vigil for the loss of millions of human lives. It should be a day when not only America, but the entire world unites to fight insecurities and misunderstandings, so in another 10 years this will be history that has altered our lives but doesn’t punish us anymore.
Aida Ali is a senior editorial page editor.