Sunday, 11 September 2011

Immeasurable horrors

Today is the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre. Inevitably, the TV is full of memorial programs about these dreadful attacks. These programmes have been playing and replaying all week.

Inevitably I remember the day itself. I was in Italy, in Perugia, on a group tour, based in Montefeltro, in Umbria, and we had been driven to Perugia, where we were to visit the major artistic and historical attractions of the city.  Before we had time to commence our programme, our guide received a telephone call telling him of the attack. At that stage there was little information. Just the bare facts of the aeroplanes flying into the Twin Towers. Pending further information, we decided to reassemble in about an hour. I went with friends to a cafe, where we found the staff and customers watching the TV. I asked in Italian, for information, saying we had been told that there had been an attack, and we were told this was so. We were taken downstairs, where there was another TV, and the proprietor, kindly recognising that most of us could not understand Italian, put the TV on to BBC TV, where we watched the TV footage. We knew the world would never be the same again.

Late that night, back at our accommodation, I watched the Italian TV, doing my best to understand what had happened. There were technical discussions as to how the towers had collapsed. Next morning, we had only Italian papers to read, and I had quickly to learn words I had never had previous occasion to understand. It was some days before I realised what had happened to Flight 93.

I don't want to keep watching the historical footage, to see the images of people flinging themselves from the towers, to their certain deaths. We can overindulge in horror and grief. Nothing will ever obliterate the shock of the horrific and appalling images of aeroplanes deliberately flying into buildings, bursting into flames and trapping and incinerating those within, and killing and destroying so many innocent victims. But we have to remember that all over the world innocent people have suffered and died. Of such tragedies we know little or nothing. It does not mean that the suffering and grief was less. What I do know is that there is an infinite capacity to inflict violence and suffering on ordinary people, in the pursuit of higher and broader aims. We justify what 'our side' does, and condemn what the 'other side' does. Who can say where it all starts, and how it all ends?

Hating those who have wronged us, and wreaking violence in retribution is easy. It is far more difficult to say, along with the Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish,   I Shall Not Hate. What a truly noble spirit is his. I cannot say that his is the only way, nor that global and wider concerns and actions should be avoided. But retribution cannot be the only solution. As we remember the dead, the innocent victims of ten years ago, and those who have died since, we must cling to a belief in the human capacity for good, for tolerance and for forgiveness. And do our uttermost towards reconciliation and peace.


molly said...

Even a hardened criminal, I like to think, was once somebody's innocent baby. How the people who perpetrated those horrors got from that innocence to planning so much harm for so many blameless people is hard to comprehend. I agree with you. we all need to work on getting along and emphasizing our similarities rather than looking for revenge.

Pam said...

Well said, Persi.

I too think about babies - Hitler was once a sweet baby, presumably.

Meggie said...

I think it is a mother's way, to try to think of the baby who once was. Like you, I cannot bear to watch the horror replayed. I remember the initial news with searing clarity.