On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the United States experienced arguably the most traumatic attack on its sovereign territory since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Sunday, December 7, 1941.
People from more than 90 countries including 24 Canadians and 36 from the Caribbean, mainly from Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, were among the 2,819 who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center in the heart of New York City’s financial district.
On that day 10 years ago, the Pentagon in Washington DC was also a target when airplanes commandeered by terrorists on their suicide mission plunged into these important American landmarks.
Canadians in Gander, Nfld., immediately extended their hospitality by taking in Americans who were in flight at the time of the attacks and could not get back into the U.S. with air travel immediately suspended worldwide as a precaution.
Since then, in support of America’s military reaction to the 9/11 attacks, Canada has spent some $25 billion, lost 157 Canadian soldiers and brought home from Afghanistan close to 2000 injured. Among coalition forces only the United Kingdom and the U.S. have lost more soldiers. Close to 2000 American soldiers have been killed with over 3000 seriously injured in Afghanistan alone.
Yet, despite the focus on Afghanistan, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden – the Saudi millionaire widely held as the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks – was killed earlier this year, not there, but in Pakistan.
Close to one million lives, both military and civilian, have been lost in the reaction to 9/11 (both in Afghanistan and in Iraq). America has spent more than US$12 trillion on the war in Afghanistan and the controversial incursion into Iraq.
But as tragic as these losses are, the more lasting effect of that fateful day a decade ago has been the changes that ordinary people living in the U.S., Canada and other Western countries have had to endure as hyper-vigilance is now the watchword.
There’s no crossing the Canada-U.S. border without a valid passport anymore. Cross-border business has also suffered the strain. At airports, no liquids are allowed in our carry-on luggage, removing shoes is standard, and even the youngest infants and the oldest of seniors are sometimes body searched. Then there is now a security scanner that can see through one’s clothing.
What is clear, whether or not we choose to acknowledge it, is that terrorists have achieved some form of victory.
The post-traumatic effect is such that during the earth tremors felt here in Toronto in June last year, some people wondered whether they were feeling the effects of a terrorist bombing. Similarly in 2003, that massive power failure across southern Ontario and much of the northeastern U.S. was at first thought by many to be the result of a terrorist attack.
People of Muslim faith are also being traumatized, feeling targeted as suspect simply for their religion and because of the actions of a few of their co-religionists. This alienation has prompted a small, but nonetheless significant enough number of young idealists within the Muslim faith to take up the fight begun by al-Qaeda by joining anti-Western groups, so-called home grown terrorists. It’s happened a number of times in the U.S., while in this city, a group of young men, the so-called Toronto 18, was arrested in June 2006 on suspicion of plotting a terrorist attack.
Many believe that it is just a matter of time before an attack occurs here. What is needed is commonsense intelligence gathering and a concerted effort to communicate especially with youth so that they feel a part of society and therefore invested in it.