Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
Arnold Cassola never seems to run out of energy. The 48-year-old esteemed academic and politician was born in Malta and today lives in Brussels, Belgium, where he serves as Secretary General of the European Federation of Green Parties. On the morning of Sept. 11, he was in his office in the European Parliament. He wrote his essay Oct. 3. It is titled, “One Month Ago; One Month Today.”
I was sitting in my office at the European Parliament, working at the computer on that fatal afternoon of 11th September. E-mail messages entitled “Attack on America” were coming in at certain intervals, but I did not bother to open them, thinking it was the usual daily dose of e-spam I receive. At one point, an e-mail entitled “Second Plane hits America” caught my eye. I opened it, and I read with disbelief. It was sent by a committee member of the Green Party of Malta, Alternattiva Demokratika.
I rushed out into the corridor of the second floor of the “Paul Henri Spaak” building at the European Parliament, with the intention of informing my colleagues. It was at this point that I realized the parliamentary building corridors were deserted and that an eerie silence hung in the air. The only thing that broke this silence was the unusual sound of a TV set blaring at full blast in the corridor. I walked down the corridor in the direction of the loud TV set. The walk ended at the entrance of a colleague’s office, where around fifteen people were huddled in front of a TV set, watching the horrifying images being transmitted live by CNN from New York. Everybody was silent.
We have all seen and gone over in playback the unbelievable scene of the aeroplane being deliberately driven by Mohammed Atta into the 79th or whatever floor of the World Trade Centre Tower; we have all witnessed the shocking collapse of the two highest buildings in NYC, bringing down with them thousands of innocent lives; we have all cried our eyes out at the sight of the dust covered firemen, policemen and relatives desperately searching for survivors amongst the debris, in the desperately impossible hope of finding them alive.
One month has now passed since this film-become-reality actually took place. As I write, American planes are flying over military installations in Kabul, Jalalabad and Kandahar, spraying them with bombs and missiles, whilst British submarines are aiming their cruise missiles toward the Osama Bin Laden terrorist training camps in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan. Other allied planes are parachuting long-needed foodstuffs and medicines amongst the poverty ridden Afghan population.
As I write, the despotic Taliban government defiantly denounces the bombardment as a “terrorist act” and, doubling its dose of defiance, announces that the Holy Jihad is being declared and that Uzbekistan will be the first neighbouring country to feel the brunt of all this. But these threats really fade into the background as I listen to the terrible message being transmitted on all TV channels by the soft spoken man with seemingly gentle manners who in fact acts like a fiend, and goes by the name of Osama Bin Laden. “I swear to God that America will never know what security is until this is granted to the Palestinians and until all Western armies abandon the sacred land of Islam.”
This man has timed his TV sortie with clockwise precision. Just a few minutes after the beginning of the bombing of the Afghan targets, Bin Laden appears on the Arab equivalent of CNN, the “Al-Jazira” TV station based in Qatar, to sit out his venomous hatred for all that can be identified with the USA: “God has directed the steps of a group of Muslims who have destroyed America and we implore God to elevate them to heaven.” And Bin Laden continues: “What America has to endure today is nothing but a fraction of what we Muslims have been enduring for scores of years. Our nation has been subjected to this humiliation for over 80 years; our nation’s sons are killed; its blood flows, its sacred places are ravaged without any reason.”
Osama Bin Laden’s tactic is very clear. Whilst the Bush administration has made it abundantly clear that it is not a war between civilisations, that this is not a war against Islam, but a war against terrorism, Bin Laden, aided by his Taliban protectors, is saying exactly the opposite: “This is a do or die war between the Christian west and Islam.” Of course, his objective is evident. He wants to give a historic and religious justification to what normal human beings would simply term as acts of terrorism.
One month ago, six thousand innocent people lost their lives in a terrible way. Today, the drums of war are beating hard. As I write, the official Taliban radio announces that over twenty civilians have been killed in the first round of bombing. Whether this is true or false is unknown. Yet, the possibility of death in such circumstances is really high. As I write, the Afghan Northern Alliance, until recently led by General Massoud, and now spearheaded by Abdulah Abdullah, is waiting for a second, third wave of bombardments before entering into real action, involving land combat. Abdullah has already decided the Northern Alliance will not attack the capital Kabul: “It is not our priority,” he says. “Militarily, it should not be difficult to capture, but politically we have already decided not to attack it directly. We have other objectives.”
One month ago, six thousand innocent people were brutally killed. How many other innocent people will join them in the coming days because of Osama’s mad ways? Who knows! And will this bombing bring about the end of terrorism once and for all? I simply do not know. What is sure is that thousands have died, others will die and millions will suffer. Indeed, following the tragic events of 11th September, it is evident that the European (and worldwide!) security system will be undergoing great changes. Preventive intelligence; telephone tapping; restricted freedom of movement for migrants and asylum seekers; stricter procedures in the issuing of visas will be some of the major issues on the security agenda. We will all suffer from this and the poorest will be the ones to suffer most!
As usual, it will be the innocent ones who will have to bear the brunt of it all, while some of those who cause suffering to mankind will actually be able to get away with it. In this, history continues to repeat itself.
Will there ever be a war to end all wars? I do not know. Maybe, however, (utopia permitting!) it would be worth the while to seek for the peace that brings about everlasting peace.