9/11: 20 Years Later, a New World

Sept. 11, 2001 is a break line, a frozen moment in history, an instant zero. It marked the end of a certain carefree attitude and the emergence of security-obsessed societies. But the saddest part is the gaze of these Afghans, devastated by the imminent return of violence.

Such instants are rare. Those instants when suddenly the world synchronizes, when its attention focuses on a single, very precise point, at the very same time. Those few minutes when time and history tip over into another dimension. We think of the first step taken on the moon on July 20, 1969 for the lucky ones who then had a television or a radio set.

In New York, in Paris, London, Kabul, Baghdad, Moscow or Beijing, Sept. 11, 2001 was one of those instants. Whatever their convictions, expectations or circumstances, everyone understood that an unprecedented moment was taking place before their eyes. An event that was beyond them, whose scope and consequence no one at the time could measure. Beyond the fear, the amazement, the consciousness numbed by the enormity of the images and what they meant — thousands of dead “live” on their TV screens — they all knew that nothing would ever be the same, that the course of life was going to change. Life was going to change for New York, this vibrant metropolis, beacon and symbol of an American dream fantasized about the world over. For Americans, of course, brutally faced with the fact that their soil was no longer the ultimate shelter. For the country’s allies too, and for Afghans, Iraqis and then the entire planet.

Beyond raw emotions, Sept. 11, 2001 is a break line, a frozen moment in history, an instant zero. The end of before and the beginning of after. Even if, at the time, our unconscious already sensed a change of direction — it was brutal, with weapons and wars in Afghanistan, then in Iraq — but it was also more subtle, even insidious. Our societies have radically changed. They are more security-obsessed, under more surveillance, more tense and more distrustful.

Sept. 11, 2001 marked the end of a certain carefree attitude, the end of a world where an abandoned package in a train station meant only that an absent-minded guy had run like crazy to catch his train, forgetting his gift for his grandmother. A world where it was possible to board a plane carrying a magic ball filled with artificial snow, without almost stripping naked. A world also where our tastes and colors, our contacts and relationships were not known to all, without any filters. Where this increased surveillance and mistrust didn’t automatically unleash a torrent of false conspiracy theories, of more or less insane suspicions.

The saddest part is elsewhere. It lies in the gaze of these Afghans, devastated by the imminent, promised, almost inevitable return of violence. It lies in the eyes of these scarred, wounded veterans whose mission, which shattered their lives, suddenly seems irrelevant. It also lies in the eyes of this young generation of people, those who were born shortly before or after Sept. 11, 2001. For them, the world shaped by this day is what they know as normalcy.

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