A year ago today I was sitting in Charles De Gaulle airport in France. I’d just spent a week climbing in the forests surrounding Fontainebleau and I was waiting with one of my friends for our flight back to England. I was tired, suntanned and looking forward to getting back and washing all my kit. Then I got a text message from my brother.
It said: “You’ll never believe what’s happened”.
I replied with: “What?”.
He said: “Terrorism in America on a massive scale”.
Me: “Yeah right”.
Him: “They flew a plane into the World Trade Centre. It’s incredible”.
Me: “That’s not funny”.
Him: “I’m not joking”.
Then our flight call came, I switched my phone off and thought nothing more of it. My brother and I joke around over text messages so I just assumed he was winding me up. But as soon as our plane landed and we were waiting to get off I saw a girl switch her phone on and get a text message. She read it and said “Oh that’s not funny”. At which point I realised that my brother wasn’t joking.
My friend went to get the car from the car park and when he picked me up he had the radio and said something like “the world’s gone mad”. And we listened in silence to people being interviewed about what was happening. The shock, fear and madness in their voices was quite terrible to hear.
When I got home 20 minutes later I put Sky News on and was presented with the picture of the Twin Towers on fire and the endless replays of the planes hitting them. It was, as you know, a terrible atrocity and many people just couldn’t believe that sort of thing could happen for real. It’s okay to see it on a film. After all, it’s just a film. It’s not real life. But if I’m honest about it I wasn’t that surprised that something on that scale could happen. If I look inside my own heart I know that deep down there is darkness. There is nothing blacker than the heart of man and any person – no matter how good natured – is capable of evil. If you don’t have darkness how do you recognise the light?
But there’s no argument. It was a terrible crime and innocent people paid with their lives. There can be no excuse to kill and in a modern civilised society it is inexcusable. So 12 months on, what’s changed? I’m not sure that a lot has on a world stage. Certainly a lot of Americans have realised that there is a world outside the USA and that their government’s foreign policy can have dire consequences when it goes wrong. A lot of people who used to feel safe in a civilised world realise that it just takes a handful of fanatics to break down those walls of protection, and they’ll never feel the same way again. But on a world stage it was small potatoes. It sounds callous, but I’m afraid it’s true.
A great many more people have died from the actions of evil men in recent years. I could mention Chechnya, Rwanda and Bosnia to name but a few. There are millions of people dying from AIDS, famine and war throughout the Third World and their suffering continues. But modern civilised people have a short attention span and once something’s been on the news for a few days they lose interest in it. For example, had President Bush decided to invade Iraq 12 months ago I’m pretty sure he’d have had great public and international support for the move in the wake of the WTC. But a year on the American public are not so keen. And I’m not keen either. We’re fickle creatures. I think that sometimes people forget that outside of CNN broadcasts, Fox News specials and BBC reports there is a real world out there with real people who are suffering terribly.
Maybe by going and looking at ground zero people can realise that things they see on TV are real. Terrible things do happen to good people. And maybe the next time people are put out of their homes by dictators, or genocide is committed on innocents and we see it on the news, then maybe we’ll take a bit more interest in their plight rather than changing the channel to something more palatable. It’s a big nasty world out there. And you can’t change it by closing your eyes and pretending it’s not there. If September 11th 2001 has done anything, it’s opened people’s eyes.