WHERE was I on Sept. 11, 2001?
The tragedies that seized the American people that Tuesday morning transformed the life we knew before the terrorist group Al-Qaeda launched its coordinated attacks. Almost three thousand people died and more than 25,000 people were injured, with lifelong repercussions on their health, as a result of those four attacks.
Since then, 9/11, as the day became framed by pundits in the news, has become a touchpoint that enjoins those who lived through that time to reflect on its continuing significance.
There is a responsibility not just to remember but also to put 9/11 in the context of recent history.
A generation of 19-year-old youths, born in the same year as 9/11 transpired, may turn to Google, the favorite cure-all for cluelessness. Or she may read the Wikipedia entry on 9/11, made curious by a reference dropped in a movie or a novel.
Parents, teachers and other citizens must seize these “teachable moments” for steering the young towards 9/11 as a historical event, a social issue, a touchpoint of our humanity.
Disasters alter society in unimagined but not irredeemable ways. Isolation, anxiety and hate crimes did not unsettle our complacency only during the pandemic of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
Post-9/11 fears and biases fed the stereotyping, harassment, and hate crimes committed against Muslims and Asians, with the worst violations against human rights carried out by the state-conducted global War on Terror and borderless campaigns against terrorism.
As a weapon effectively wielded to attack the despised Others, critics and enemies, as well as to command blind obedience to authoritarian interpretations of law and order, the narratives against terror and disaster continue to circulate in our midst, even permeating our consciousness.
We are all vulnerable to the veiling of our perceptions, more so those who were born after 9/11 and do not see the interconnections of history and contemporary society.
The mortality count of the War on Drugs, the community lockdowns to supposedly control community transmission of Covid-19 without adequate assistance of communities driven to the margins of survival by economic deprivations, the Anti-Terrorism Law that detains a suspect for 14-24 days without charges except for the authorities’ suspicion of the “serious threat” posed to the public — how many of us turn a blind eye to the violations of others because we cannot unsee the images of the terrorists crashing the planes into the Twin Towers on 9/11?
Yet, 9/11 is also about stories of sacrifice, bravery, heroism. Ordinary people doing their work under extraordinary conditions. When firefighters and police officers rushed into the gutted Twin Towers and perished along with the citizens they were trying to rescue when the buildings collapsed less than two hours after the planes struck, other New Yorkers were not deterred from rushing to take their place in the line of fire, still attempting to rescue and give succor at great personal cost.
Frontliners are the heroes saving lives, communities, sanities under this pandemic. Yet, the narrative of antagonism, punishment and self-preservation is unknown to Anton Velasco, who lives with his sons in a pedicab he shares with seven dogs they rescued from the streets of Metro Manila.
For the past five years, the widower earns about P200 a day from collecting and selling junk. “Okay naman kami,” Velasco said to Henry Atuelan of ABS-CBN News, who reported his story on Sept. 8. Velasco does not want to beg.
Every day, Velasco drives around his sons and rescued AsPin (Asong Pinoy) in search of a better life. That is no mean dream for those who know how the pandemic suffocates, isolates and diminishes persons.
Inspiring other citizens for his dignity, resilience, and empathy for all sentient beings in the worst of times, Velasco is a true survivor, embodying the best legacy from 9/11.