Our world will never be the same.
Weve heard that sentiment countless times since September 11. But it may be some time until we completely comprehend just how much our world has changed.
As I write these words, Kabul has fallen and the Talibans days are numbered. We dont know, however, how long it will take to find or defeat Osama bin Laden. We also don't know how his followers or any enemy of the West will lash back. But they will by biochemical or other means. Even if bin Laden is eventually captured or killed and his mountain fortress toppled, one or 10 or 10,000 will replace him, hidden throughout other impenetrable regions, with access to similar resources of money, arms and chemical weapons. And bin Laden or his followers may unleash some terror on us today or tomorrow, or within a year or five or 10. In the best scenario, the extremists will be marginalized from the mainstream of the Muslim world. But although we can cripple their efforts, we cant easily defeat them, because their numbers are too great, their mission too sacred (to them), their demands too unacceptable (to us), their economic disparity from the West too vast, and their hatred of our secular, modern world too fierce and ingrained.
And their reach, as September 11 showed us, too long. Thats a frightening and saddening thought, one which some have had trouble coping with. For me, whats most difficult is accepting that my young children will likely have to live with this reality their whole lives.
My father, born in Poland in 1925, was one of the few Jews from Europe to come out at the other end of the Holocaust with his life. Thousands of Canadians of that and earlier generations died defending our country. I have always been aware of how fortunate I am to have lived in peaceful times, in one of the safest and most privileged nations in history. But my kids likely wont ever experience that feeling of utter security as they grow older. The terrorists have succeeded in bringing fear to North America. We now share the spectre of real danger long familiar to most on the other side of the world. Welcome to globalization.
Stemming from that danger, another casualty of September 11 will be our civil liberties. We will be forced, as a society, to decide whats more important: our physical safety or our belief in justice and equality. Do we give up the very things were supposed to stand for? Yet if we dont, our enemies will be quick to abuse, violently, our respect for freedom.
The good news is that the great majority of the more than 300 million Canadians and Americans remain out of harms way. And life goes on. Years ago I lived for six months in Israel, and I still have family and friends there. The threat that today may be your last day hovers constantly in the background, yet people keep on with the mundane: they go to work, eat at restaurants, watch TV and take vacations.
As we must. Yes, we need to be concerned and vigilant; we need to try to bridge the political, economic and cultural divides between people. But we also still need to check out magazines, laugh at editorial cartoons and read about banalities like the shenanigans of the Concordia Students Union. Alas, we must do that too.