I remember the day vividly. Just a few minutes shy of 5pm when I was about to leave for work in Muscat, the languid capital of Sultanate of Oman, where I worked as News Editor in Times of Oman, the country’s leading English language broadsheet, I switched on the TV; its volume pressed low. It just so happened that the channel on cue was CNN.
I watched smoke billowing from a skyscraper but since I did not initially pay attention to the tickers at the bottom of the screen, it seemed eerily like a scene out of a movie. I thought as much. Just then, a plane emerged from the middle of the TV screen on the right and rammed into the building. This intrigued me, because the plane looked real — real enough for me to raise the volume and figure out the fuss. It was then that I realised that this was no figment of imagination and the skyscraper which had looked like a spitting image of the World Trade Center was, in fact, just that: South Tower, taking a startling hit.
It took a while to absorb that all this was really happening — that the world’s sole superpower was under attack — a series of incredibly precise missions impossible one after the other (all in a day’s terror work) — beyond the wildest imagination of a Hollywood scriptwriter. Even though it has been 18 years, there is still that aura of disbelief that the mightiest of all nations could be a sitting duck for the while it lasted.
But what is beyond a shadow of doubt is that the deadliest terrorist attacks in history did change the world, for both America and the rest of us on this cinder of a planet.
In 2014, I had occasion to visit the 9/11 Memorial, an experience so profound that it takes you in its sweep. In a way, it symbolises a global communion — remember citizens of more than 90 countries perished in the attacks and the majority of them paid with their lives in the Twin Towers tragedy. Regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, language, or any other distinction, the spirit of humanity weighed heavy and whilst recalling the nerve-racking moments of the tragedy on the day that shook the world, there was an inescapable feeling that may be the world had underestimated the propensity of evil and it took an epic tragedy to draw the realisation and fight back.
TRIBUTE: A flower placed at the 9/11 Memorial in 2014 by the author. Photo by Kamran Rehmat