Yesterday, my ten-year-old cousin asked me a question that got me thinking : “What did those guys who were flying the planes that hit the twin towers get out of the whole thing?”
I floundered like a headless chicken while trying to answer this. How was I going to explain the entire situation to a kid who was born into a WTC-less world? I had always assumed that the attacks had a profound effect on every person on the planet, regardless of nationality, and would continue to have a similar effect on the generations to follow. I was a 11-year-old when 9/11 occurred, but I clearly remember the sense of helplessness and sadness that filled the adults in the room with me, while we sat in front of the television watching the stately towers come crumbling down. And we were sitting all the way in India, I can’t even imagine what must have gone on in the US at that time.
So anyway, back to the question. I eventually told him that the guys who planned the attacks were a group of people (and I took care to stress that just because they belonged to a certain religion does not give us the liberty to generalise their beliefs to all people of the same religion) who were unhappy with the US, their policies and their way of life and felt that this was the best way to make their unhappiness known to the world at large. This bunch of people were probably told that they would be regarded as heroes for their cause after their deaths, and this probably meant enough for them to go ahead with these attacks.
This was the simplest answer I could give him, and I hope it’s the one closest to the truth.
This has definitely been one of the most difficult things I have had to do in a long while because I never want to be that person who encourages religious stereotypes. However, I now realize that there are (and will be) entire generations to come who will know the 9/11 saga only as a part of history, and perhaps this will dull the pain, as time has done with so many other events (which *I* know only as a part of history). The onus of helping future generations move on, and move on in a positive way, is on us – the people who have to answer these questions and re-tell these events. Because it is so important for us to choose our words correctly – what we say is how they will perceive the events, it will shape their attitudes to so many people, things and experiences. We have the power to foster harmful stereotypes and incorrect generalisations, as well as the power to make sure that these very same things don’t continue, so that these generations can learn from the mistakes we made.
Now I sound like an idealist. But I hope you get what I am saying!
And also, how would YOU have answered my cousin’s question?