A terrorist attack goes off in a city in Europe. Any city: Paris, England, Brussels, Munich. It claims a million innocent lives. What is the reaction? Does the world change or does it stay the same? If it does change, in which ways?
How would governments in those places deal with public outrage that would ensue, the fear and mistrust?
Would they react like America did after 9/11, only this time on a much larger scale, the kind that would probably bring about Third World War – meaning that the world would cease to exist the way we know it? And do these outcomes alter our way of life in fundamental ways?
September 11 changed everything. That we don’t even have to reference the year, the event, or the place where it happened and you already know the subject says a whole lot about the extent to which it affected everyone, everywhere – all of us.
Consider this. Without being prompted, you now remove your shoes and belt as you enter the airport and you place your luggage in a scanner. Your family members can’t go beyond this point.
You suspect and frisk yourself before anyone has to do or say anything. But it wasn’t always like this. Loved ones could escort you inside the airport, watch as you boarded and left once the plane set off into the skies.
It is, therefore, not hyperbole to state that the world changed as a result of the attack on the Twin Towers in America in which 3,000 innocent souls perished.
The president at the time, George W. Bush, rallied America.
He rode the outrage of his people to also mobilise the world to recognise American pain, issuing a thinly veiled threat to world leaders that basically signalled to them that they had little choice in the matter, “you are either with us,” Bush said, “or you are against us.”
And choices had consequences. The wrong choice would place a country in the “axis of evil” that would be subjected to the might of the American military. This was no empty threat, as Saddam would soon discover.
Crucially, Bush was urging – by carrot and stick – the world to share in the outrage of the American people.
Indeed, the world has time and again been urged to share in the outrage of similar catastrophe in America and in Western Europe. Terrorism is morally repugnant and when it does occur, every person of conscience should share in the grief of those affected directly. It speaks to a shared humanity.
But is the button of moral outrage subject to being switched on and off? This is a question that those who have been subjected to some of the worst human cruelty ask themselves as they attempt to make sense of what happened to them and how tragedy affected the trajectory of their lives.
The moral imperative against comparing tragedies does not erase this question. Which is why it is possible to tackle without necessarily having to minimise the pain and horror that has befallen anyone.
A genocide survivor, for instance, will be interested in understanding why a morally repugnant crime like genocide does not evoke the kinds of sentiments and attendant moral outrage that often follows acts of terrorism.
Moreover, she’d be concerned with why the hunt for masterminds of genocide is not as concerning as that of masterminds of terror, who are hit with drone missiles; and she may wonder where the drones disappear to when it comes to tracking perpetrators of genocide.
She’d be justified to question why states that sponsor terrorism are invaded or blacklisted and placed under sanctions while those that sponsored the genocide – in which she lost loved ones and herself escaped the machete under miraculous circumstances – are keen on providing protection to those who brought unimaginable suffering upon her; why they are able to exercise double jeopardy against her by denying the cause of her pain, distorting facts of her tragedy, and sabotaging her memory thereby.
She’d be perplexed by a world where suspects of terror are executed on the scene or when they are arrested their human rights are withdrawn. Yet, those who brought terror upon her life roam around in cities of states that sponsored that terror, where they minimise her predicament under the guise of freedom of speech and expression – a pretext for doubling-down emotional harm by repeating ideologies that were once used to justify her violation.
For her, something has gone utterly wrong about the world. She recognises that the conditions of her pain constitute the worst that humanity can descend to. In as much as she wishes no terror against anyone, she knows that genocide is the total emptiness of the human conscience.
That terrorism and genocide are disturbing crimes that target innocent people. That the pre-selection of victims on the basis of a criteria they have no control over adds an extra layer of cruelty that even the savagery of indiscriminate murder does not.
She is cognisant of the moral difference between the intent to stir fear by killing some so that those who remain are induced to alter their way of life and the intent to uproot so that nothing remains; to co-exist with a ‘problem’ or to end it once and for all.
She reads in the papers that families of victims will receive a minimum of $8.8 million per victim as compensation from those who sponsored harm against them. But she still must beg that those who sponsored her suffering acknowledge it and that they give her a full apology.
Imagine it were you.