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OPINION: 18 years later: the legacy of 9/11

By GHK Lall

It is eighteen years later. For me, over here now in sunstroke Guyana, it is yesterday. That terrible day so long ago has ushered in a few things, which roil over there today, and are yet to climax. Outlooks started to change there and then; inexorably hardened to where things are now. I heard some of them in the immediate aftermath of that fateful September 11.

Among the things I heard were: ‘this country has to look at who it lets in’ and ‘there must be a limit’ and ‘it can’t continue to receive everybody from everywhere.’ And this one that smeared in the face: ‘who can we trust?’ The surprising thing (perhaps, not so surprising after all) was those statements representing intense emotional turmoil originated from professed liberals. If this was coming from the presumably more receptive and open-minded and generous, I asked myself, with a concealed shudder, what was going in the minds, situation rooms, pool halls, Chambers of Commerce, Knights of Columbus sessions, American Legion caucuses, bars, and enclaves from the conversations of conservatives, whether middle-of-the-road, bedrock, rock-ribbed, or red meat. The word ‘nativist’ was yet to take firm and ferocious hold of the American imagination and psyche. It has come into full flower now.

I was in a party at a table, following 9/11, when I heard this beauty from an ordinary appearing, educated, younger muncher: ‘the liberals have delivered this country to the dogs.’ As figures of expressions go, I could not help thinking later that that includes me. Welcome to the Westminster Kennel Club. If this was emerging and openly, with little subtlety, I could only conjure what formed passion, parry, position, and power away from the likes of me.

In the many mornings after that Tuesday, nothing that could be construed as nakedly ontoward was said in my presence. Nothing had to be. But as a lone alien, colorful presence in a pristine environment, the temperature had changed. Colleagues were ever more polite; just a shade too much, a bit more distant in the ebb and flow of exchanges. To this day, I persevere in the belief that there was no oversensitivity; merely the detections of my well-tuned antennae. Even among peers and friends, the jokes assumed a harder edge.

Of course, each new development – menacing and alarming – only intensified the then still muted drumbeat: there must be change. The commercial aircraft that crashed in the Rockaways, the anthrax scares and mysteries, the shoe bomber, the pipe bomber, and the assorted parade of a suspected and detested rogues gallery of terrorists-in-waiting only added to the fevered atmosphere. It was a large gallery: who to trust? Who is really what? Afghanistan and Iraq delivered some vengeance, salvaged some pride, and cooled sentiments. Somewhat and in some places only.

For certainty, there were always severe ongoing issues and studies (along with projections) about immigration (of a certain kind); demographic impacts (minority numbers and corresponding Caucasian decline); political significance (balance and weight of power redistribution); and acceptability of them all. This was in the higher elevations of learning, of sophisticated extrapolations, and grand strategic calculations. If there were publicized concerns there, then where else? And if the 9/11 of eighteen years ago did not serve as the destructive wind that stirred the embers into the raging flames of today, then nothing else could or would.

From the remote outposts of militia territory – Idaho, the Dakotas, and the famed heartland – there were no interests nor patience with such nuances. The mentality and postures were: no minorities, no dirty foreigners, no Jews, no to any more of them. The ways and mores of that unchanging world were irreversibly trapped and locked in those that prevailed centuries ago. There were lots of votes in those places. They were and are a mine waiting to be explored and exploited for exciting gains.

All it took was one extravagant instigator to take those fires and make them flare uncontrollably. It had to be one, who could appeal to the absolute basest impulses and offer them the platform from which to rage and roam unchecked. All of that is here now. In the expected fashion, there is handwringing and generalized lamenting about the monstrosities within at every layer. The biggest, most fearsome, beast is immigration and invasion.

The genuine moderates and centrists (like Guyana) are sidelined and overwhelmed. Their voices and presence rendered puny and ineffectual in the Category 5 blasts that knock over all in their paths. Who is for us? Who can be believed and trusted to be about us? Other than we ourselves?

The physical landscapes of that devastation from almost two decades ago have been reengineered and restored. They stand as testimonies to might and resolve. They are also memorials of what came to past in that time, who was responsible, what burns even more furiously today, and what must be done to make things better.

Twenty-five Guyanese did perish that day; they do not count, not even as collateral damage. It was as if they were not there. It is the rest that matters. And it is the survivors, who must stand firm and prove themselves up to the task at hand that calls for brawn and bravado. Nobody cares about mangling of facts and figures. Or that the large pool of bottom feeding immigrants contribute so much. Or that they go where locals shrink from in revulsion. Or that they are responsible for correspondingly less crime than their hosts. All of that fade into insignificance.

Selected quotas and special priorities are going to have to come. Chain migration will have to go. Cumulatively, a start made for encroaching imbalances to be reversed. It is a different time today. The mob has maneuvered from mounds into mountains that stand in the way of those who are there. And those who long for a chance to go there. Hopeful Guyanese will feel that pain.

This is the palpable legacy, the gathering history of that 9/11. Been there. Heard it. Seen it. Lived it. I learned so much from it.

Mr. GHK Lall is a Guyanese author, columnist and former financial analyst on Wall Street.