No matter where we live, there are some feelings we all share as human beings. The 9/11 attacks horrified people everywhere. They were a turning point in history, a point of departure for a new understanding of international relationships. It was a day that helped make us aware that we are all part of a global community.
With the 10th anniversary of the tragedy coming, I thought it might be valuable to explore the perspectives of my fellow journalists from different countries. We are the 2011 World Press Institute Fellows, a group of newspaper, television and magazine writers from around the world, currently visiting the United States. Perhaps we can give Americans an idea of how the United States is perceived in our home countries, and how the 9/11 attacks affected those perceptions.
When I talked to my colleagues about 9/11, I noticed we all remember exactly where we were when we first saw the dramatic TV footage. Many of them immediately faced the challenge of reporting to their readers and viewers a story that was inconceivable and unintelligible. We all agree that it was one of the most shocking news stories in history.
Andra Miron, a journalist from Romania, said when she first saw the images she thought someone was shooting a movie or a commercial in America. Alexandre Rodrigues, from Brazil, who at that moment was working for the newspaper O Globo, remembered his colleagues' disconcerted reaction while watching TV in the newsroom. He recalled that his boss decided to run an extra edition of the paper for the afternoon. Benon Oluka, from Uganda, said that when he saw the images on the news he knew that what had happened would change everything forever.
I was working as a radio producer in Argentina. When we saw the images on television we first believed it was a plane crash, an accident. It dawned on us only slowly that this was a terrorist attack.
Americans need to know about how the rest of the world has perceived the catastrophe.
Namrata Acharya, from India, said that in her country terrorism was more common, but that the attack was unbelievable because everyone thought America was safe. She believes that it will not happen again. Andra said that the perception in her country was similar; her fellow Romanians also thought the United States was the most secure country in the world. She believes the attack was rooted in the Middle East conflict.
On the other hand, Ethar El-Katatney, from Egypt, thinks that while the attacks were not justified, they should not have been a complete surprise. It's not uncommon to find people who see the United States as arrogant, something extremists would want to punish. She told me that many people in Egypt felt that the United States deserved the attacks. Tiara Lin Meilian, from China, said that a high percentage of the Chinese population had no sympathy for the victims, either.
On hearing that, I felt deeply concerned about the regression of the human race. The world tends to judge the United States as self-centered; but I really wonder if there is a country that makes its decisions in order to preserve the interests of other countries. Ultimately, I think that humanity has failed if people cannot distinguish between wrong state policies and an innocent society whose government pursues those policies.
Some of my colleagues suggested that 9/11 changed the geopolitical and spiritual environment of the planet. Eija Vallranta, from Finland, Andra from Romania and Namrata from India pointed to the strict security checks in airports as an example.
Benon added that sometimes in Uganda people say that it is easier to go to heaven than to travel to the United States. Alexandre from Brazil is convinced that fear increased everywhere after the attacks, making it more difficult to trust other people. Siobhan Heanue, from Australia, believes that the attacks forced people to contemplate the vulnerability of Western nations. Now they must confront the idea of other groups of people violently opposed to their entire way of life.
It was also interesting to find out how complicated the atmosphere became for Muslims after the 2001 calamity. Two of the journalists I interviewed say everything has changed for them when they visit Western countries.
Ethar from Egypt says she is constantly suffering discrimination, with many people judging who she is based on how she looks. Even as a journalist, she blames the media for creating stereotypes which persuade society to believe that Muslims are enemies and always guilty.
Waqar Gillani, from Pakistan, said that being a Muslim now is very different from 10 years ago. He says Islam is a peaceful religion, and the terrorists have misinterpreted the Quran in their attempts to impose their religion all over the globe. He believes that we are witnessing a political war with religious motives.
I wanted to ask my colleagues one final thing: What would they want to ask, if they had the opportunity to interview relatives of the 9/11 victims?
Some want to know if the relatives are satisfied now that Osama bin Laden is dead. Some are interested in finding out if the relatives still support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I asked, all of them paused for several seconds; I assume they all understand that no matter your world experience, it's still hard to deal with the pain of 9/11.
Ten years later, the world is watching America. The World Trade Center attacks were perceived from different points of view all over the globe, and personally I am convinced that we still have a lot to share and learn as an international community. All in all, and hoping that a 9/11 never happens again, I feel that this is an appropriate moment to quote the Rev. Martin Luther King: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
Natalia Montagna is a television news anchor and producer in Argentina. She has been visiting Minnesota and other parts of the United States as a World Press Institute fellow.