Remembering 9/11

Do you remember where you were when …?

This is a question you will have been asked or you are going to be asked at some point in the future.

It might relate to a personal or family event: where were you when you got engaged? Where were you when you received your first university offer?

It might relate to a happy moment: where were you when England won the World Cup?

Equally, it might be a sad moment: do you remember where you were when you heard that Princess Diana had died?

It could be a key historical event: people of my parents’ generation will know where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated. Older people still might remember VE Day and the end of World War Two.

Very occasionally, it might be a moment that changed the direction of world events.

I sometimes forget that few of you were even born on the 11th of September 2001 and I can barely believe that tomorrow marks the 18th anniversary of those tragic events in America.

It has become a cliche to say that 9/11 started out like any other day in New York City. Not unlike today – bright and unseasonably warm.

I can certainly remember where I was that day. With the attacks taking place in the morning in America, I was teaching Politics that afternoon when a colleague came into my room and suggested I get the television on.

I also remember the sense of disbelief as events unfolded, especially in the staff room where one colleague had a partner away in New York City on business and couldn’t make contact with him. Thankfully, he was safe and sound, unlike almost 3000 other people that day.

The collapse of the World Trade Center began what has become known as the War on Terror. 9/11 created ripples that have reached as far-flung places as Afghanistan, Iraq, London, Madrid, Bali, Mombasa, Paris and Manchester.

It is, of course, impossible to justify the barbaric actions of Al-Qaeda. Their perversion of traditional Islam – a religion that values peace as much as any other – is disowned by the overwhelming majority of Muslims world-wide.

One of the saddest consequences has been the deterioration in relations and trust between different ethnic and religious groups around the world.

We seem to be experiencing a period of intolerance. In the UK, we are documenting the existence of Islamophobia at exactly the same time as a rise in anti-Semitism. In July, a man was jailed in Exeter for attempting to burn down a synagogue. Jewish schools practise lock-down procedures regularly as a matter of course. Whilst our governing party has been accused of Islamophobia, the official opposition is accused of anti-Semitism.

A poignant piece was written in The Yorkshire Post last month about the return of racist abuse at Elland Road, home of Leeds United. Those of us of a certain generation remember when this was common-place, but mistakenly believed that it was long-gone.

The intolerance extends beyond race and religion. LGBT activists routinely attract abuse. One of the most desperate photos of the summer was that of two women who were harassed and attacked on a London bus by a group of homophobic men.

I am the last person to defend our current crop of politicians. Indeed, some of the more mendacious have stoked the flames of xenophobia. The pool of talent is as shallow as it has ever been. But this doesn’t justify the level of abuse that our MPs receive, including regular death-threats.

When did our society start being so unkind to itself? Why do we look at another human being and consider them inferior on the basis of their race, religion, gender, sexuality or physical ability?

At Fulneck, we are a community comprising people of all faiths and none, of many nationalities, people of differing sexual identity and people with various educational and physical needs and gifts. And we exist as one. Of that, I am more proud than anything else.

I can’t tell you what to think, who to support or how to vote. But I can demand that any choices you make begin with kindness at their heart.

Our thought for the day comes from the words of Nelson Mandela:

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

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