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Attack on the World Trade Centre

Sept 11

Added Sept 11, 2003

This is a brief piece written on Sept 13, 2001 and published in the Ottawa Citizen.

Sometimes the world you know slips away from the range of your vision and a terrible, alternate reality materializes in front of your eyes, displacing the familiar and the known with a strange and unwelcome universe. A sense of mental slippage, a sliding away of all established comfort and assurance accompanied the images of massive passenger airliners slamming their enormous bulk with bullet like velocity into the twin towers that overlooked New York city. As the rescue operations mounted and as the news and images of people fleeing the towers unrolled, there was still some slight possibility of absorbing and dealing with the tragedy. But then the twin towers collapsed, one after another, subsiding slowly into dust and rubble like a colossus fallen in battle, buckling under dreadful wounds. At that moment the known world faded from view and an alternate universe of terrible possibility emerged. 

As the towers crumbled it was as if reason itself sank and subsided, obscured by the smoke and dust of the ruins. With the disintegration of the towers came a horror, a numbness, a dismantling of the mental capacity to register the material and human scope of the disaster. My wife was in tears, my children were stunned by the images - all of us were silent. What was there to say at a time like this unless it be words that would bring relief to the injured and comfort to the bereaved? Any other talk would be mere speculation, uninformed opinion, insensitive jabber.

We have been stunned into tears and silence by world events many times in the preceding years - but never, in recent times, has such an intense human-created calamity been visited on North American soil. Before this, we wept when we saw the images of endless lines of Iraqi civilian refugees fleeing on foot over mountains after they were left to Saddam's "mercy" following the first Gulf War. We wept when the rebels in the southern marshes of Iraq were set upon by Saddam. We wept at the half-million children dead as a result of sanctions against Iraq. We wept at the dreadful massacres and devastations carried out against Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. We wept at the plight of Afghan's swept away before the (American supported) Taliban's merciless advance. We wept for calamity upon calamity.

Those were long drawn out sufferings taking months and years to unfold, reworking the victims lives, their minds, their humanity as they struggled to survive in, and adapt to, a world where people can visit such misfortune on one another, where power and 'interests' repeatedly eclipse compassion, humanity, and justice.

In a way, we have become accustomed to tears - reluctant witnesses to unnecessary suffering -  while we ourselves (in North America) have blessedly been spared such suffering. But now, with frightening suddenness, ballistic speed, and fearful brutality, suffering has come "here" - with such force that hearts are crushed by the horror of this human-inflicted tragedy.

Human emotion can only cope with so much before the mind starts to seek out ways to divert suffering, to alleviate it, to end it, to correct it, to avenge it, to seek out and target the source of the suffering. It is at that moment that terrible potential emerges. Reality passes through a threshold of perception from which there may never be a clean return to the past. Reason itself tragically sinks and subsides into the dust of the ruins. Anger, like a missile with damaged radar, erratically but determinedly seeks out a target.

Suffering is a potent fuel, and like others, the political engine of the United States now has an abundance of that unfortunate energy source. In such a situation the potential for political manipulation is great. In a climate of hurt, injury, and outrage, the impulse for revenge can obscure moral principles and justice. But however much one may wish it to be otherwise, vengeance does not equal justice. Justice calls to impartiality, fidelity, and the upholding of all rights and dues even if against one's own interests or desires. In this world it is a scarce commodity.

We are sliding swiftly towards an indeterminate future charged with multiple potentials, multiple possibilities. Peaceful and nightmarish outcomes exist as contingencies, unrealized until we choose the path of travel and thereby select the desired destiny.

As the United States seeks out and deals with the perpetrators of this crime, it could follow no nobler advice than that given by president James Garfield, when he said; "For vengeance I would do nothing. This nation is too great to look for mere revenge". Let punishment fall upon the guilty, but let it fall discriminatingly, with justice, and not tainted with the spectre of power, political interests, or revenge. To seek justice and equity in world affairs is a momentous and difficult undertaking, a great task for a nation that seeks a great destiny. To seek vengeance or war, to use this tragedy as an excuse for achieving a political or strategic agenda, is a short and easy road to filling the world with many more whose lives are shaped by grief and tears, and whose hearts are wrapped in a veil of suffering.

- Irshaad Hussain

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