Why and How Would You Keep The Memory of 9/11 Alive in the UK?
William Gore (15 years old)
Eton College (Berkshire)
The study of history is the study of the present, the study of the roots and origins of the now. At present, the word central to popular fear is terrorism and for those at the heart of the struggle it is more than a fear but an everyday reality. Just as with the rest of the world, 9/11 is intensely relevant for the UK, firstly for the military’s involvement in crises related to the spread of terrorism but also for the change 9/11 brought in opinion, attitudes and the threat it proclaimed globally. Since 9/11 the UK has suffered the 7/7 terrorist attacks and more recently the Woolwich event has been associated with terrorism. The growing wave of Islamophobia in the UK could undoubtedly be linked to the fear of terrorism caused by 9/11. Organisations like the English Defence League justify themselves by characterising Islam in this kind of light. It is not only the UK that was affected. 9/11 contributed to the strengthening of terrorist organisations in the Middle East and North Africa and further proliferation of Islamophobia throughout the world – look at the religious conflicts in Myanmar or the controversies over airlines’ treatment of Muslim passengers. When an event changes the face of the planet, to forget it is to rob yourself of a tool to understanding the world around you.
But 9/11 was more than just influential, it was a staggering act of violence. These terrorist attacks caused the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Whenever people die, we remember them. As humans, our time is limited but we look to make a lasting impact on the world (indeed this partly motivated the attacks) and to this end our loved ones try to keep us alive in memory and mark our passing with tombstones. But when there is the death of innocents, innocents from all over the world, whose deaths shocked and affected us, we can do more. We can remember the collective, we can be ‘the loved ones’ and keep the memory alive in the context of the event regardless of whether we knew the deceased or if they were from the UK. This level of death transcends those conditions.
Yet as we remember the death and the suffering of 9/11 we must not forget the every-day people who performed heroic acts of kindness and bravery. LeRoy Homer Jr, the pilot who, hearing about the other planes’ crashes, worked with his crew to regain control of his plane. The plane crashed in a field and though he lost his life he saved the lives of those at the intended target. The random people, strangers, who assisted fire-fighters, police and paramedics in removing, identifying and rescuing people from the rubble. The countless other examples of self-sacrifice that took place – the split-second reactions where people sprang not to hate but to action, simply doing what they could to help. There was no race, gender, age or creed for these people: there were just people who needed saving and this also is something we must remember.
There are two kinds of sacrifice there: those who were sacrificed, victims of something by all rights they should have had nothing to do with; and those who sacrificed themselves in an effort to save others – some losing their lives, some quite tangibly risking them. And when we are faced by sacrifice we must ask ourselves what the next step is. We have in front of us an event that has cost thousands of lives and we should remember to give meaning to those sacrifices. We must do this in two ways.
We must not let the significance of the event and the acts of heroism be corrupted by Facebook wisdom and popular hearsay; by radicals presenting it as a victory or the intolerant voices baying for revenge on Islam. We cannot fall into the trap of losing the power of what happened, where the best and the worst aspects of humanity were on display, by presenting it as anything it is not. So, we must remember it to keep the right memory intact.
But also we must make it so an event like it can never happen again. The horror of the act still resides in living memory and that horror is not one we want to ever repeat. In many ways the event has left us with an opportunity to change things. We have seen what comes from intolerance and self-righteousness, from both sides, and now we can make efforts to nip it at the bud. The question was how and why we should keep the memory alive in the UK. Simply put, 9/11 was an attack on the world. The World Trade Centre was an international entity but even further the concept of slaughtering innocents is an attack on humanity of which the UK is a part. And so we should not look at this on some nation-by-nation
basis, calculating how much we should care by the number of dead UK citizens or amount of money being spent fighting terrorism, but view it as something we all need to do – applied in the UK as it would be elsewhere – because intolerance and lack of understanding will be a constant cause of conflict until we stop it.
With this in mind, we can come up with a ‘how’ that achieves this. We create an international organisation with equal representation from all countries in the form of artists, writers and historians. Together, this organisation creates a monument that will be put in every country. It will be a mixture of written work, aural and visual art. Through this, the monument is to reflect the views of the event from many different sides, a universal collage of opinion: the reasoning of the bombers and the growth of anti-West sentiment in the Middle East, the resulting backlash of anti-Islamic opinion in the West, the plight of the victims, the immediate effects on the global stage – these are all example angles that would be taken. With this monument installed all over the world, the international organisation would then set about regulating a compulsory education for students of each country where they learn about the monument and what it stands for – again from each angle. The final message of the monument would be that of integration. Through intolerance and lack of understanding, through the blanket labelling of ‘the West’ or Islam as evil, these situations of terrorism and hatred have come about. It will show that we are at our best, like those at 9/11, when we throw arbitrary lines out of our minds and act together and it will demonstrate that acts of intolerance merely breed more acts of intolerance. Moreover, the very symbolism of having
this monument in every country will act as a unifying factor in bringing people together under common understanding and mutual tolerance. In this way perhaps events like 9/11 could be prevented from ever happening again.
This will not be easy, this will not please everybody. There will be arguments upon arguments of what should be taught and what should be in the monument but, in my opinion, that is the point: dialogue, tolerance, co-operation – this is what we should be working towards. The very act of negotiating what should be in the monument would be part-way achieving some of its objectives in promoting those three things. If we can face problems not as individuals or nations but as a whole, as people with a shared humanity, then we can start to build a world which we can all live in.