Every so often, the rhythm of the global pendulum is reset by a singular event. The first Rubicon moment to etch onto my still-developing hippocampus came on 11th September 2001, when 19 al-Qaeda militants carried out a series of coordinated attacks against America’s strategic central nervous system, striking at the heart of the country’s national symbols and its values.
Many of you will remember where you were that day. I was five years old, bouncing into a late-afternoon class where we were instructed by an anxious teacher to form a prayer circle, a ritual usually preserved for mornings. Though sensing something wasn’t right, I was too innocent to conceive of a world diametrically opposed to everything we were taught within those four walls. That night, however, I gawped as news broadcasts looped pictures of black smoke billowing out of the twin towers before their desperate collapse – a 21st century kairos which would come to usher in a wholly new historical epoch.
It was a mere eight months after that day when I was lucky enough to go on holiday to America. While there, in a supermarket, my parents spoke with another family who recalled their horror at witnessing the attacks on home soil. In a surreal display of transatlantic unity – and, looking back, what amounted to my first experience of the so-called special relationship – they each expressed gratitude for our visit to their country and offered up their place in the queue.
“We’re in for a long struggle. It’s a tough war,” President Bush would go on to say later that month in remarks made in the White House Rose Garden. Indeed, what quickly followed the kumbaya moment 20 years ago – a global outpouring of solidarity against terrorism as well as a star-spangled resurgence in patriotism at home – was a cocktail of paranoia and anger, giving license to heightened domestic surveillance enshrined in the Patriot Act, a cause célèbre which blurred the boundaries of national security interests. This cocktail also gave way to a protracted war on terror, occupying the in-tray of four presidents and taking the lives of thousands more.
Anniversaries play an incredibly powerful role in society, helping to sustain – and regulate our relationship with – collectivised memories. For policymakers, they’re also essential for maintaining a sense of national identity. The September 11 attacks are rapidly shifting beyond public memory into history now and, for the post-9/11 generation whose relationship with the attacks is less well-defined, the continued memorialisation of that day will be integral for sustaining not only future generations’ awareness of the attacks, but their faith in the direction of domestic and foreign policy.
And so, on the 20th anniversary of America’s deadliest terrorist attack – and the beginnings of the West’s war on terror – Europe awaits the fallout of a humanitarian crisis that’s set to displace millions fleeing the second iteration of an authoritarian Taliban government.
Unsurprisingly, Liverpool’s leadership was quick to announce the city’s readiness to assist in the relocation of vulnerable Afghan citizens to the city. Despite much of our politics suffering from polarisation and nativism, we all saw how the city quickly unified around a common cause. Conversations surrounding our country’s obligation to help served to remind me how fortunate we are to be born within a certain set of borders; from our position of privilege, we must continue to act with compassion and understanding.
As you pick up a considerably thicker issue of Bido Lito!, I hope you share in my belief that compassion is found in many of the stories, voices and organisations that feature in the pink pages. It can be found within the walls of Bridge2, an organisation working closely with the city’s refugee and asylum seeker community. It can be found in Zuzu’s patient journey of self-care and a realisation of one’s own talents. Likewise, it can be found in Louisa Roach’s quiet dissent and her fight for more welcoming spaces. In those moments when our personal and collective rhythms are reset, it’s essential to seek it out and keep hold of it.