This week marked the 19th anniversary of the day that the Twin Towers fell and 9/11 kickstarted the long and still-ongoing war on terror. As America recovered from the shock of one of the most prolific terror attacks to have ever taken place, the survivors and those left behind by the 9/11 rescuers who lost their lives vowed to "Never forget."
Since then, the site has become a place of solemn reflection, a symbol of rebirth. Slowly, the new World Trade Centre complex took shape over the last 19 years. Some USD 25 billion later, the new World Trade Centre stood in defiance to the tragedy that had marked the place before. The new complex was similar yet different to the one that stood before. For one, it was decided that the new complex would no longer be limited to use as a finance and business centre. For another, the main tower was built with a bombproof base. All the same, the new construction still honours and remembers its grim past. At the heart of the main tower are two reflecting pools that mark the original location of the towers. Four-sided waterfalls drain into these pools and the names of those who were lost were etched into the bronze borders itself. But the grandest monument to the victims is the one that looms over the New York skyline, the completed One World Trade Centre, the main tower of the complex and the tallest building in the US. Dubbed the 'Freedom Tower', One World Trade Centre has been dubbed as lacklustre and generally lacking by many critics but there is a general agreement that the tower fits its purpose. It serves as a symbol of New York's resilience and it serves as a minimalistic memorial to those who were lost.
Even given its importance, much like other commemorations or large scale events, this year the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was planned as a far more subdued affair due to the pandemic. Not only were most in-person commemoration ceremonies cancelled, the iconic double beams of light that have been used to evoke the image of the fallen towers were also nearly cancelled for safety concerns before being restored amidst widespread uproar. Naturally, as much as logic dictates that safety protocols gain precedence during a pandemic, the new arrangements for televised and distanced commemoration bring home a distressing fact: that the commitment to "Never forget" is fading every year and that the world is moving on. While the pandemic has brought unavoidable restrictions and changes this year, it is also an equally unavoidable fact that time does slowly mend wounds. Already, 9/11 victim families are losing hope in authorities and foundations involved, wondering how long the commemoration would continue and whether its message would be lost over time.
It would be easy (if insensitive) to see 9/11 as an American tragedy, just as it would be easy to see something like 26/11 as an Indian tragedy. But such characterisation fails to acknowledge the point of continued commemorations of such tragedies. They are not simply markers of human tragedy or monuments to human resilience, they are reminders. These commemorations remind the world at large that the circumstances that lead to these tragedies continue unabated to this day. They let the world know that regardless of how far it thinks it has come, it has not come far enough. Such tragedies belong to no one nation, they are the world's tragedies and it is the world that must 'never forget' or risk repeating such tragedies in one form or another.