9/11

This Sunday was the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks now known simply as “9-11.”

 I remember absolutely everything about that day.  We were putting the finishing touches on the simultaneous release in press conferences in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver of a Sierra Club and Greenpeace report on biotechnology.  I was absorbed at my desk when I noticed that the staff was drifting into the board room. I asked my co-worker Angela what was going on.  She said, “Who knows?  A plane crash or something.  It’s all over the news.”

I left my desk, joined the rest of the team in the board room to watch the cable TV.  As I did, the second plane crashed into the twin towers.  I went back to my desk, picked up the phone and cancelled all the press conferences.  And then I returned to the board room as the towers collapsed.  I phoned to make sure my step son was safe.  His office was a few blocks away from the WTC.  He was uninjured, but devastated, having seen the disaster from his office window. 

I lost the rest of the week watching the horror on television.  I wept and prayed and kept waiting to see the rescue of survivors.  Five days later, my ten year old daughter came into the living room at home and turned off the television.  She told me I had to stop watching. That it was not helping me and no one would be saved.

Since that dreadful day I have come to know the brave Maureen Basnicki whose husband Ken was one of the Canadians killed in the attack.  The Green Party supports her efforts to see passage of legislation to allow the extra-territorial prosecution of terrorists for damages.

Meanwhile, in the last ten years, in the name of “security,” the United States and its allies have spent hundreds of billions in enhanced security and wars against “terror.”  The lives lost include a 100,000 civilians in an illegal war in Iraq, tens of thousands more in Afghanistan.     

We also sacrificed long held values and commitments.  The Geneva Convention.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These documents do not hold up well against Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition, water-boarding. Torture as a defensible government practice.  And now Stephen Harper wants to bring back those Charter-busting provisions of anti-terrorist legislation.  Let’s be done with Habeas corpus, the right to counsel and the right to know the charges against you.

And we have spent in Canada an enormous amount of money.  A recent report estimates that Canada alone has spent $92 billion in the last ten years to improve security (Rideau Institute).

Ironic, isn’t it?  We have bridges that are unsafe to be used.  Shut down in Montreal and Saskatoon.  Too dangerous for cars to continue to drive across – or under.  All our infrastructure could have been made safe with what we spent on “security.”  First Nations communities have water that is unsafe to drink. A fraction of the $92 billion could have improved the lives of so many Canadians. 

In the National Post, columnist Chris Selley wrote what few are willing to say out loud  — that the security expenditures represented “staggering opportunity costs.”  He suggested that “if Western nations had used the money to pay down debt or cut taxes, their citizens would have been considerably better off.” (Sept 9, 2011)

The biggest security threat, the one that imperils our survival as a civilized world, the climate crisis, has worsened year after year as emissions rise.  The wars fought in the name of 9-11 had the uncanny tendency to also involve oil rich countries, with many interesting linkages made in Gore Vidal’s book Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta.  

The climate crisis is recognized by many in the military around the world as a clear and present danger that exceeds that of terrorism by a significant margin. (see Gwynne Dyer’s Climate Wars).  Yet, the security threat posed by greenhouse gas emissions is never mentioned by the Harper government. 

We need balance between sensible precautions against people willing to kill others for crazed political ends  — whether fundamentalists (Jewish, Christian or Muslim) or those bearing deluded grudges. And we need police action, coordinated and global, to find and prosecute people who commit crimes. 

After ten years, it is time to start setting some realistic costs and benefit tests before continuing to pour money into the unending new requirements of the for-profit security industry.

It is time to stop the insanity.  Apparently every country around the world thinks that we cannot risk stopping the increased expenditure of money to fight terrorists.  It has taken over like a mania.  It reminds me of nothing so much as the 1950s red-baiting of the McCarthy era.  To stand against it is to make one subject of suspicion.   Are you “soft on terrorism?” Are you giving aid and comfort to Taliban or Al Qaeda to point out that the ice caps are melting and the farm fields are flooded and we need to address the climate threat more urgently? 

Ten years on, it is time to mourn those who died so cruelly. On September 11 –  and ever since.  Whether from further terrorist actions in Bali or Oslo.  Or from the bombs that fell on Iraq and Afghanistan. 

And ten years on, it is time to say “enough.”

We need reasonable precautions, but we do not need to feed an unreasonable fear that denies us our civil liberties, crowds out more pressing problems and which bankrupts the public purse.

Enough.