September 11, 2018
Phil Johnson, Ph.D.
Again, it’s the anniversary of 9/11. The 17th anniversary to be exact. It is sobering to think of how many years have already passed since the horrific events of 9/11 when Muslim terrorists hijacked commercial airplanes and attacked New York City and Washington, D.C. Nearly 3000 people were murdered that day.
It seems like only yesterday when we were oblivious to the idea of a “war on terror,” and yet, many of today’s high school students were not even alive when this world-changing event occurred. They’ve never known a world that wasn’t colored by an Islamic ideology that wanted to destroy our way of life.
In the last seventeen years, we’ve experienced endless wars, three different U.S. presidents, massive cultural shifts, more global terror attacks targeting subways, trains, airports, concert halls, cafes, embassies, magazine publishers, people walking on the street, and sporting facilities. In the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of even more diabolical terrorist organizations, like ISIS and the Shia Militias of Iran. Now the Taliban is back and thriving in Afghanistan. Of course, since 2015, the world has staggered again with the unprecedented migrant crisis that has allowed millions of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East to swarm into Europe and other nations.
It is not the same world. And every now and again, we need to take a look back, take stock of what has been and what is. We need to assess the damage, get a clear picture of where we are and where we’re headed. Most importantly, we need clarity as to how we will invest the time that God allows us to have on this planet. While you ponder that – let’s take a look at how the world has changed since September 11, 2001.
1.) Believe it or not, prior to 9/11, people without an airline ticket could go with you to your gate and see you off on your journey. You could also wait at the gate for your loved ones to return. Now you’re lucky if your best friend slows down enough to let you jump out on the curb as he passes the airport.
2.) Before 9/11, flying didn’t require taking off shoes and belts and other articles of clothing. You also didn’t have to be groped or probed by a stranger prior to the privilege of flying on an airplane. No, those activities used to at least require that someone buy you dinner first.
3.) Most Americans had never heard the name Osama bin Laden. We didn’t know about the Taliban, al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood or what a fatwa was. We certainly didn’t know the difference between a Shiite and Sunni Muslim. Now these words are all too familiar, just like the words jihad, Shariah Law, infidel, beheadings and “tolerance and cultural sensitivity.” Those last two seem to be a terms that apply only to the rest of us normal folk.
4.) Government surveillance has mushroomed! Post 9/11, there has been a huge increase in cell phone and internet surveillance. The government tracks people. Just face it – you have no secrets and it’s too late to get “off the grid.” And private companies track you online to target you for advertisements. The big social media giants like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter now have the power to observe you, judge the content that you post, judge the “quality” and “correctness” of your free speech and kick you off their platforms if they don’t like the way you think.
5.) The Arab Spring. In the years after 9/11, the Middle East began to express their discontent with their dictatorial leaders. A Tunisian man set himself on fire and the Arab Spring was ignited across the region. The great hope of overthrowing authoritarian regimes sprinted through spring, past autumn and settled on an Arab winter. Having worked in the Middle East during most of the Arab Spring, I can tell you, generally speaking, it didn’t work out so well. Nations like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are in chaos. Egypt ended up right back where it started, with the military in control. (And some pretty nasty terrorists in the Sinai.) Lebanon is controlled by Iranian proxies. Libya is a nightmare. Tunisia might be the best example of an Arab Spring success, but then again, they also provide lots of terrorists for the “global cause” as well.
6.) An increase in conspiracy theories. Well, it’s not like people don’t enjoy a good conspiracy theory once in a while – but since 9/11, almost everything has been suspect. Some people just assume that whatever appears to have happened, must NOT be the truth of what happened. There is a huge trust deficit. Conspiracy theories help some people sort out a world that no longer makes sense. When things seem more confusing and obtuse than usual, they can simply blame it on shadowy figures in far off places who are controlling the levers of the world. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m sure there are things going on in the shadows of power that the average citizen doesn’t know about. And we would be wise to keep alert and ask smart questions. But there is not a conspiracy behind every corner and under every stone. Just under some of the stones. 🙂
So as we go through yet another anniversary commemorating an American tragedy, use the day to contemplate on what matters and what doesn’t. Spend some time reviewing what’s really important and what’s trivial. Since none of us has any guarantee of time, you might want to reassess priorities and see if you’re choosing extraordinary things over simply the good things. May this day of remembering also be a day of realigning priorities and values. As we remember those whose lives were unexpectedly cut short, let us redeem the time by living purposefully, generously and urgently.