9/11: A Brick In A Bedsheet17 Jan 2002
Visiting the States last month, it was quickly apparent that the effect of 9/11 on ordinary people was much deeper than I had imagined. In Germany life had indeed stopped for a time, but in the meantime had started again. In the States life hadn't yet really started. The feeling seemed to be fanned by the media, not only the news shows in series of artificial anniversaries (3 months since 9/11, 100 days since 9/11), but even talk shows, where the main topic seemed to be always dealing with the mental (or the economic) aftermath.
A friend of mine gave a good analogy, although she was talking about the death of her father. The traumatic event was like a black hole in her memory, which she visualized like a brick in a bedsheet. In her memory, time was sucked into the funnel created by that brick, so that events that happened just before the traumatic event seemed decades away.
For me, 9/11 did not change my world. Maybe it's because international politics was my minor in college, or maybe it's because I'm realistic, cynical, or maybe just sick. But after the shock and horror was gone, my view of the world had not changed. Such an event was possible.
Maybe it's because my adopted country has had its own bout of terrorism, and security is more a way of life. The Schleyer kidnapping and the 'hot autumn' of 1977 was certainly a traumatic point in (West) Germany, but it was terrorism from inside, and the shock to the German establishment was that it no longer knew or even recognized its own children. It wasn't so much the violence.
Maybe it's because Germany has had much experience with sudden sweeping change the past century. Losing two wars, mass destruction and occupation, totalitarianism, division, democratization, reunification. During the Cold War, it was matter-of-factly assumed that World War III would begin in Germany. For some Germans, the Euro is now the 6th currency in their lifetime (6 if you count black market cigarettes just after the war). The US experienced nothing like any of that. Pearl Harbor, perhaps.
Or maybe it's because Islam is massively present in Germany. Muslims make up nearly 10% of the population. For my first job in Germany, I went back to what I had done in college. I was ashift manager for McDonald's. I worked with staffs that were overwhelmingly Muslim (Turkish and Iranian), and I became somewhat acquainted with Islam on a everyday level. I'm no expert, but I do know what Ramadan is.
Two blocks from the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof is a street that looks like Little Istanbul. There is the very mosque where the perpetrators of 9/11 first spawned their plan. I have wondered, if they wanted to attack the West, why didn't they strike in Hamburg, where they already were? They were already in a rich developed nation. Why did they take the time and trouble to go to the US? Maybe they already knew what I just realized: that the United States was much more vulnerable, and that the impact of an attack there would be much deeper. Like a black hole in time, like a brick in a bedsheet.