Nineteen years ago today, I was working at a building complex across the street from the World Trade Center. I was supposed to go to a meeting at my company’s WTC offices, but I decided I’d participate by phone instead. That was a stroke of luck, because that morning, 19 men — 15 of them from Saudi Arabia, one from Egypt, one from Lebanon, and two from the United Arab Emirates — hijacked four U.S. passenger planes to carry out terrorist attacks planned by Osama bin Laden. As we all know, two jets were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The fourth plane was brought down by heroic passengers in a field in Pennsylvania before it could get to its D.C. target. Nearly 3,000 people died that day; first responders and survivors are still dying from the after-effects of the attacks.
The 9/11 deaths resulted in a U.S.-led October 2001 attack on a country that wasn’t home to any of the hijackers — Afghanistan, where the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime was providing refuge to bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the militant organization he founded. The Taliban and bin Laden were forced to regroup in Pakistan, where bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in 2011. The Taliban, however, survived. In fact, the Council on Foreign Relations said this year that the Taliban appears to be “stronger now than at any point in recent memory,” noting that the “Taliban has withstood counterinsurgency operations from three U.S. administrations in a war that has killed more than 2,400 Americans and 1,100 NATO troops. More than 43,000 civilians have died, and an estimated 45,000 Afghan troops and police officers were killed just in the past five years.”
This February, as Trump downplayed the severity of the looming COVID-19 pandemic, he signed a so-called peace agreement with the Taliban, under which the U.S. would withdraw its approximately 12,000 remaining troops provided the Taliban kept al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups out of areas in its control. What have the Trump regime’s negotiations with bin Laden’s protectors amounted to? Apparently, we’re supposed to be excited that the Taliban is in peace talks with Afghanistan, but Brookings says al-Qaeda is more entrenched in Taliban territories than ever. And on the very eve of the September 11th anniversary, “the Afghan government – under pressure from [Trump’s] administration – reluctantly released high-value Taliban prisoners who were allegedly involved in killing American troops,” according to the Washington Post.
In 2001, when I stood on the street and watched desperate people leap to their deaths from the top of the burning World Trade Center buildings, I literally couldn’t believe my eyes. A death toll of 3,000 came to symbolize the worst kind of catastrophe — one that must be acknowledged by any reasonable person, or so I thought until the U.S. COVID-19 death toll passed 3,000 in March. Now, more than 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. Trump’s priorities are the stock market and polls. The headline and subhed from the Intercept seen below neatly sum up the hypocrisy and lack of empathy evidenced by Trump, America’s billionaire ruling class, and a significant portion of our population:
“I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people” is another memorable headline — one from a June 2017 Huffington Post piece by Kayla Chadwick. It sticks in my head as firmly as the number 3,000 did, and I reflect on it often as statistics tracking human suffering tick ever higher. Thankfully, there are also large numbers of us who don’t need to be persuaded to feel. If you’re lacking that kind of compassionate community and the hopefulness that comes with comradeship, I urge you to seek that out in the activism world. (Yes, even you introverts. If I can do it, I have faith that you can too.) Mask up or Zoom in to make new and meaningful connections. I’ll get you started:
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