On September 11, 2001, the 21st century was born.

REMEMBER all the disputes about whether the new millennium actually began on January 1, 2000 or January 1, 2001? Of course either date would have been an arbitrary choice, tracing human evolution from the unreliably-recorded birthday of a great Jewish pacifist. But neither marked anything more significant than the flipping of four numbers on a calendar.

September 11, 2001, however, marked a different sort of watershed. If, as the historian Eric Hobsbawn has suggested, the 20th Century really began with the assassination in Sarajevo that sparked the First World War, it is fair to suggest that, in the impact it is likely to have on the shape of the decades to follow, the 21st Century began with the demolition of the World Trade Center this month.

The terrorists who struck Manhattan on September 11, 2001, took thousands of lives – the toll has being going up daily as I write. More, they destroyed a powerful symbol of America: the tallest buildings in the richest city in the most powerful nation on earth. The twin towers of the World Trade Center housed many major institutions of global capitalism, from finance-management companies to insurance firms, from telecommunications transmitters to an opulent restaurant with an unmatched view of the world. The destruction of the World Trade Center struck a blow not only at those institutions but at the self-confidence that undergirded them, the self-confidence of a social and political system that, without needing to think about it too much, believed it had found the answer to life’s challenges and conquered them all. The outrage of September 11 brought the stark consciousness of physical vulnerability to a land that, despite fighting a dozen major wars in its history, had never had to endure an assault on its own soil in the last 187 years. (The last direct hit by an enemy on the continental United States was the burning of Washington by the British in 1814). If only by bringing home to Americans the end of their insulation from the history and geography that bedevilled the rest of the globe, September 11 changed the world forever.

But the horrifying events of that one day are emblematic of our new century in more ways than one. The defining features of today’s world are the relentless forces of globalisation, the ease of communications and travel, the shrinking of boundaries, the flow of people of all nationalities and colours across the world, the swift pulsing of financial transactions with the press of a button. The plane, the cell phone, the computer, are the symbols of our time. These very forces, which in a more benign moment might have been seen as helping drive the world towards progress and prosperity, are the forces used by the terrorists in their macabre dance of death and destruction. They crossed frontiers easily, co-ordinated their efforts with technological precision, hijacked planes and crashed them into their targets (as their doomed victims made last-minute calls on their cell- phones to their loved ones). This was a 21st Century crime, and it has defined the dangers and the potential of our time as nothing else can.

It has also provoked a reaction in the United States that will, in turn, leave an indelible mark on the new century. The 20th Century was famously dubbed, by Time magazine’s Henry Luce, as “the American century,” but the 21st begins with the U.S. in a state of global economic, political, cultural and military dominance far greater than any world power has ever enjoyed. Washington had been curiously ambivalent about its exercise of that dominance, with many influential figures speaking and acting as if the rest of the planet was irrelevant to America’s existence or to its fabled pursuit of happiness. After September 11, there will be no easy retreat into isolationism, no comfort in the illusion that the problems of the rest of the world need not trouble the United States. Americans now understand viscerally the old cliche of the global village. A fire that starts in a remote thatched hut or dusty tent in one corner of that village can melt the steel girders of the tallest skyscrapers at the other end.

This means the 21st century will be the Century of “one world” as never before, with a consciousness that the tragedies of our time are all global in origin and reach, and that tackling them is also a global responsibility that must be assumed by us all. Interdependence is now the watchword. The terrorist attack was an assault not just on one city but, in its callous indifference to the lives of innocents from 80 countries around the world, an assault on the very bonds of humanity that tie us all together. To respond to it effectively we must be united, and out of the solidarity that the world has demonstrated with the victims of this horror, a unity may emerge across borders that will also mar

Source: The Hindu