2 min read
The Legacy of 9/11: A Personal Account on the 20th Anniversary and the Message of Its Tragic Attacks

Yeshaya Gedzelman

Tuesday September 11th, 2001 was a Tuesday, which felt like any other ordinary work day, until it wasn't. The illusions of normalcy were shattered when flight 11 crashed into the North Tower in a shower of fire, smoke and debris. Within the hour, the South Tower was hit by another commercial jet, removing any doubt that the horrific spectacle unfolding on television in front of the world's eyes, was a tragic accident. As the towers burned with hundreds of people trapped above the impact zone, a third hijacked airliner hit the Pentagon. A few minutes after, the South Tower collapsed, followed a half hour later by the North Tower, sending nearby onlookers running for their lives to avoid the tsunami of concrete and dust being released. 

For many around the world, the events of 9/11 were unquestionably shocking and led to the advent of a new era in transportation security measures and a heightened threat perception of radical Islamic terrorism. For those living in the NY/NJ area, the effect of the attacks felt far more personal and traumatizing. For months after that day, it was surreal and heartbreaking to see the gaping void at ground zero, where the Twin Towers were supposed to be. 

I grew up in a small city in New Jersey called Passaic about 9 miles outside of Manhattan. I have few memories of seeing the towers in person, but I distinctly remember going into the city one August afternoon, and seeing the towers about a kilometre away, a memory that stands out surprisingly clearly, given my age and the time that has elapsed. On that fateful day of September 11th, I had just started first grade and was my first class of the day, when I remember hearing the fire alarm. Naturally, I thought it was another fire drill. After the alarm had shut off, we remained standing outside on the curb, which was strange, because we always returned to class at the end of every drill. We were then sent home without any explanation and, like every other 6 year old, we were elated at the free vacation day and completely unaware of the circumstances that caused it. 

Unbeknownst to me, my father was getting a live view of the horrors unfolding. He worked in the financial district a few blocks away and every day took the ferry across the river to the World Financial Center. Halfway across the river, he heard something resembling a sonic boom and looked out to see the North Tower on fire. Shortly after, the ferry docked and he joined the crowd close to the base of the building watching the tragedy, in shock. All of the sudden, he heard people yelling "Another one, Another one!", as he turned to see the South Tower erupt in flames. Almost immediately after, he was able to get on one of the last ferries leaving Manhattan before transport was halted, later arriving home to a very relieved and thankful family. 

Unfortunately, not everyone was so fortunate. About 3,000 innocent people were killed in one of the darkest days in American history and arguably its most famous terror attack. However, despite the trauma wrought on that day, 9/11 wasn't only defined by its exhibition of the worst impulses and evil of humanity, but also featured incredible stories of inspiring nobility and courage demonstrated by the first responders and citizens towards one another. 

In the days and months following 9/11, there was a deep national feeling of anguish and sorrow, but also a tremendous anger to those who had perpetrated the attacks or their perceived ideological allies, leading to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since both efforts are now widely seen as a colossal failure, is it fair to say that America hasn't achieved the revenge it sought, following the attacks? 

America hasn't achieved a conclusive military victory against radical Islamic Jihad. In fact it is inherently impossible to have a millitary victory against an ideology. The nature of the jihadist threat is that, as long as it exists as an attractive idea to fundamentalist Muslims, it can be acted upon in the future. 

Muslims who feel disenfranchised from Western culture and ideas are more likely to be vulnerable to the allures of jihadism. These kinds of ideologies thrive on divisive political and religious rhetoric and claims of mistreatment by the West. In the wake of 9/11, it is crucial the West doesn't alienate moderate Muslims and that there is continued condemnation by Muslims of radical jihadists, not only on human terms but through religious arguments as well. While the aftermath of 9/11 may not have produced the conclusive military victory that many Americans longed for, its victory will be found in the rejection of ideas that divide Americans and people by race, religion, or creed and in the Freedom Tower that stands as a reminder that while America was bent on 9/11, it was far from broken.

* The email will not be published on the website.