What Does ‘Post-9/11 World’ Mean to You?

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It’s September 11th, and I’ve been wondering about that phrase ‘post-9/11 world’. Politicians use it often in referring to how the world changed following the terrorist attacks 6 years ago. I wonder whether they think we all share the same understanding; or do they just want us to think that they share ours? How DID the world change after 9/11? What does that phrase ‘post-9/11 world’ mean to you?

Like many people, I remember exactly what I was doing during the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, and living in a time zone 5 hours ahead, I watched much of the tragedy unfold on live television in the middle of the day. Despite living in the UK, I had business colleagues who lost peers and family members in the attacks. For me, the ‘meaning’ of 9/11 begins with the personal — and especially with the direct human loss of individual lives — and expands outward from there to the broader ramifications for the world and its geopolitical landscape.

In the centre of that meaning, at the personal end of the spectrum, I find feelings about loss (of loved ones), about heroism (of those who rose to the occasion to help their fellow human beings), and about the nuances of human psychology which lead one being to seek the harm of another being, sometimes on a grand scale. As I move outward toward the broader ramifications for the world and its geopolitical landscape, however, it all becomes blurrier and hazier and rather more circumspect. I feel as if I can make observations about events apparently directly related to the attacks, but imbuing those with some sort of meaning, or ordering them with some sort of organising principles, or finding general rule-of-thumb heuristics to help them make sense, seems much more difficult.

I suppose that is why I feel the needle on my skeptic-o-meter wiggling when I hear someone — usually a politician — referring to the “post-9/11 world”. The phrase is typically used to distinguish what we do or believe now from what we did or believed before the event, and very often with a sort of rationalizing flavour to it — e.g., we’re doing this or that now because it is a “post-9/11 world”. We’re limiting civil liberties because we have to, in a “post-9/11 world”; or we’re stepping up our military interventions in other countries because we ought to, in a “post-9/11 world”; or we’re starting to set aside our own system of law and our own judiciary because it’s expedient to do so, in a “post-9/11 world”.

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But it isn’t clear to me that we even share a single concept of the meaning of the phrase ‘post-9/11 world’, let alone share a concept of that meaning that could be used to rationalize or justify much of anything.

All too often, it seems to me, politicians get away with making statements about what we now do or believe in our “post-9/11 world” because they are able to leverage our own individual feelings of respect for what other people experienced as a result of the attacks. It’s almost as if we’ve been persuaded to set aside our capacity for critical thinking when discussing the “post-9/11 world” because of our deep respect for what other people experienced.

Or maybe it’s just that many of us feel, as I do, that the broader geopolitical meaning of the attacks is unclear. So when someone refers indirectly to that meaning in a way that suggests we already ought to know what it is they’re talking about, we hesitate to interrupt the conversation and say “hold on, what exactly do you mean?”.

Either way, I believe we could do more good by challenging and critically examining what ‘post-9/11 world’ really means for us and for our societies than by accepting the promulgated wisdom that would have us believe we all know and agree with whatever it is they’re talking about when the politicians say “post-9/11 world”.

What does ‘post-9/11 world’ mean to you?

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