The Others of 9/11

A Black Hole is defined, in lay terms, as a piece of space with a gravitational field so fierce that no matter can escape. Since airborne terrorists attacked New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, the world has been pulled toward a metaphoric Black Hole, one created by the terrorists but fed by enraged Americans focused on security at the expense of human dignity, privacy, “rights,” governance, and decency. For a dozen years now this Black Hole has threatened to devour much of what matters in our world, from economics to the arts, from the environment to far too many lives.

On that day in 2001 I was sent by my former editor at Time to the Vancouver International Airport, to interview air travellers stranded in Canada by the closure of United States airspace. I remember being almost overwhelmed by the emotions of scores of people I talked to, by their unanimous expressions of sorrow, their camaraderie with Americans, by their shock. Later that week I wrote a newspaper column inspired by that camaraderie, but dedicated to those who lay outside its warmth: the Others.

On today’s anniversary of 9/11, with years of futile and retaliatory bloodshed behind us, in a new world defined by  paranoid surveillance and enraged schisms, I found myself nostalgic for that too-brief, long-vanished warm camaraderie between most peoples. I found myself acutely aware of how easy it is for all of us, including Americans who happen to be on the wrong side of their own security apparatus, to become an Other. I find the Black Hole terrifying.

(That column, in Commentary, can be accessed with a $1 day pass for the entire site, or by subscription.)