9/11 reminds of still unfinished business
Upon the recent anniversary of 9/11 a few days ago, I sat down to place my thoughts on paper.
We can all recall our own 9/11 stories and moments — those of us who were counted among the living then and old enough to discern what was happening before our very own eyes.
Here are mine:
Twenty years ago today, I had just returned home via New York City from South Africa. I landed in NYC on September 9, 2001 and then departed for Bermuda the next day.I had just returned home from attending a conference as a delegate to the United Nations-sponsored “World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and other Intolerances”, held in Durban.
It was there where I was joined by Eva Hodgson, who like myself was in Durban at the invitation of Roosevelt Brown (Pauulu Kamarakafego) who at the time was the head of the Pan African Movement. We all were there to represent that movement, which filled me with such pride knowing its history, its centrality to our diaspora and its role in the struggle against racial oppression in all of its forms.
As I had not unpacked the night before upon arriving home, on that morning, which was now September 11, I began to do so while admiring a beautifully coloured ostrich egg that I had brought back with me. I then received that call from a family member who urged me to turn on the TV, only to find the image of one of the towers of the World Trade Centre smoking and on fire. I imagine that there where billions of those calls taking place right at that same moment.
Within minutes, I would see the second tower being slammed into by the second aircraft and the real horror of it all began to hit home, as it did with hundreds of millions around the globe. This, in a city which I recognised as my second home, having lived there during the 1970s, and a place where I had completed high school and attended university. My family on both sides also had a significant presence there. They still do today, scattered as they are throughout the “city of wonders”.
The world we had left only hours earlier in Durban, South Africa, where we challenged the Western powers on the demand for reparations and racial justice — and where we were regaled by the speeches of Fidel Castro and President Thabo Mbeki — seemed like so very long ago in the midst of what we were witnessing now.
The great hope and optimism that we had quickly began to recede ...
A very different narrative had arrived to rivet the world’s attention and still does to this very day to some extent, as the recent events in Afghanistan have amply demonstrated.
But perhaps other concerns, especially as it relates to environmental and, yes, racial justice can also be aired and engaged in ways that we have not seen in decades as a global movement of young people once again — in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder — powerfully reminded us of this still unfinished business.
• Rolfe Commissiong was the Progressive Labour Party MP for Pembroke South East (Constituency 21) between December 2012 and August 2020, and the former chairman of the joint select committee considering the establishment of a living wage