Exceptionally, in this article, I will be writing with the first person pronoun.
Most members of Gen Z, probably one of the weakest generations ever, will never understand the importance of 9/11. Though I became a historian, I felt, in my mind, as my parents grew up in their teenage years in the 1960s, a time when the world was officially changing, that my experience, my evolution throughout history was not legit at all. In reality, the more I grow up, the more I take pride in the specificity of my era and generation. Yes. As I have officially left my twenties behind me, I now realise and see that I belong to one generation, here on earth. I belong to one part of history, pop culture and common moments shared in either laughter or pain. 9/11 was the most crucial political moment of our era, yet, the children and pre-teens we were did not understand how we would be the last young witnesses to the future world we are living in: the 2020s.
Contrary to Gen Z whose members were born within the spectrum of social media and globalism, the 1986-1992 group saw the premices of the world we are living in today. We knew a world before the internet, we knew a world before the European common money, we knew a world before the terrorist groups, we knew the old schemes of the old world, yes and we were the ones who saw that change. If the Gen Zees were young teenagers as the war in Syria, Yemen broke off between ten and eight years ago, we saw the early days which led to such decay of the Middle East. Syria, Iraq, Lybia, Yemen were just the consequences of a geopolitical war which took place in September 2001.
Born in 1991, I was ten when the attacks took place. When I got home, my mother was stuck to the TV screen and could not stop repeating how it felt like we were in a movie. The scenes I saw before my eyes were pure chaos and apocalyptic. Let’s not forget that a shy month before, Aaliyah had also died in a plane crash. This event, along with 9/11 did contribute to my fear of flying. The worst part of all of it is that, 9/11 happened at a shocking moment for us all. First of all, we had just entered the new millennium, we were hopeful and happy to see cars fly. Though the late 90s were struck by family tragedies for me, the child and pre-teen I was had hope for the future. The vision of the planes crashing into the towers felt like a dystopian, horror movie accentuated by the screams and tears of the nearby New Yorkers. In my mind, at the time, I was not even familiar with the Twin Towers, I had never seen them before. Yet, three years before, my own father went to New-York and had spent some time there to visit family members. Thank God he didn’t go back in 2001. For many of us, who were my age, we lost our innocence at that moment. And though we were young we felt a change. By then, we understood, that things had turned global. It was no longer Europe from one side, or us the despised Europeans who were not American enough vs the rest of the US. These attacks had joined the European block to that of the US, automatically. Even at school, racist jokes against the Arabs and North African Muslims became frequent, when in the 90s, the policy of race mixing and “vivre ensemble” had gathered people together. Not anymore. Though I share my own problems with the Arab community regarding their anti-blackness, I felt a lot of sadness for them at times, as they began to be blamed for everything.
I unfortunately saw images I should have never seen at the age of 10. It is true, I was already exposed to mature content by the time I was little. Always close to my mother, we used to watch the Young and the Restless from the time I was already three. Later on, at the age of six, I was also exposed to movies about slavery, one specific which hurt me til this day, Quilombo and whose first scene begins with an African slave being tortured to death. I believe, my mother wanted to give me a black consciousness but not at the age I was. Yet, I do not blame her at all for many also tend to forget that violence was always there. Indeed, let’s not forget that in the 1990s, though we were children, we were also exposed to the epidemic of Aids (some of my close family members were affected and died of it though they claimed cancer) but also to the last war of Europe, that of the Balkans. Everytime my mother would turn the TV on, the faces of old Albanian, Bosnian grandmothers crying for help caught my attention. The footage of the burnt or crushed bodies of these Eastern Europeans brutalized by the armies traumatized me, I believe. And the endless repetition of the name Slobodan Milosevic felt like a game to me. But it was later, as a teenager that I understood why such individual would make headlines everyday. 9/11 was not the first violent event to which we had been exposed at all.
Though the images of chaos were being broadcast live 24/7 (remember there was no Instagram, no social media, no nothing besides TV and the newspapers), I was specifically hurt and shocked by the images of the jumpers. At the time the cameras did not shy away from zooming in on those who fell to their deaths. I remember the endless figures, of men, still dressed in tuxedos who fell down, jumped on purpose, so tiny that I thought it could just be debris. It was not even that I was scared. I had been traumatized I believe. And such images which come back every year still haunt me.
About ten years ago, in my very early twenties, I began to look for the videos I watched live in 2001 with my mother. They were already gone. Only a few footage of people trapped at the highest levels who were waving their towels to indicate their presence to the helicopter were just other images I was discovering. What were they doing at the windows? Were they trapped there, were they ready to jump? How could I managed to forget about such details? I only remembered the jumpers.
Though extremely sensitive as a person, I spent many years refraining myself from watching the old footage I could find for fear of noticing another jumper or people trapped at the higher levels.
It’s not just that they jumped, but the cruelty of it all. The barbaric aspect of 9/11 finds echo in the murders of these specific people. These humans woke up on this sunny day, got ready for work, probably kissed their loved ones and never had the opportunity to come home. They found themselves in this position asking themselves if they would rather burn alive in dark rooms with no oxygen or if they would jump out the 110th floor? The sadness I feel when watching the people trapped at the higher spheres can not be explained. Those who were moving their towels asking for help or just wanting to indicate their position had hope until the end, until the towers fell down with them.
We were exposed, helpless to their entire agony.
Yet, the refusal of the American media to show the footage of the jumpers falling to their deaths is an insult to their memory and to us all. America was not just the only country to be affected by 9/11. Our lives as Europeans changed as well and the wars in the Middle East were/are the main consequences.
Why are we so afraid to admit that some Americans had to endure the most horrific and painful death at a time when sadistic individuals, even behind the scenes who haven’t been arrested or even regarded as suspicious, decided to crash their engines into buildings? Why is it so hard to evoke the fact that thousands of them have vanished, after having been pulverised and whose remains, in dust, could be found on random roofs in nearby buildings close to the WTC, some of whom having been found on roofs in Staten Island?
Why can’t we bear to watch the horror right to our eyes?
What is the point of honoring the fallen if one refuses to accept and expose the cruelty and sadism they have been through? The jumpers have been treated like disgusting individuals whose actions had to be banned from an event they were not even responsible for. Unlike the firefighters and policemen who died as heroes saving people, the cruelty of the jumpers takes us back to the unknown and scariest parts of the human experience.
Yet, by erasing them from the footage, they are abandoned twice.
There can be no justice for any victim of 9/11, as long as the total truth does not prevail. The souls of the 3,000 individuals will never rest in peace. Many died when it was not even their time, others felt rage, pain, anger while trapped in the chaotic environment. There can be no peace while the US government refuses to explain it all.
The most problematic part when it comes to the fallen ones comes from the fact that 9/11 left us with so many unanswered questions. What tortures us the most is the idea that they not only suffered a horrific death but worst, many haven’t been identified until this day and the bodies were not even found. American media look away from the jumpers for they have been insulted three times, during and after death. They have been destroyed for more than two decades now as every journalist overseas is trying to keep them away from the common vision. If we take away the jumpers, then there was no impeding deaths, there were no missing, pulverised bodies, there were no jumpers at all. For this, we can only focus on the real heroes, the firefighters and the police.
The fallen ones, jumpers were not disgusting humans who chose suicide. They were murdered in the most sadistic ways and chose control, even in death not letting anybody tell them how to go back to God.
We, as historians and humans, can no longer turn a blind eye to their existence.
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