It was September 11, 2001, I was in my room, waiting for my husband to get out of the shower so we could have our coffee and head to the newspaper building. Franc Commerce, where we worked. As always, she had called the GloboNews channel, a habit of those who tried to stay tuned in to the news.
I went to the balcony, looked up, and from the 15th floor I was surprised by the blue sky, despite the fires that had stained it with gray the day before. For a minute I looked down at a stretch of Padre Anchieta Street, already busy in the early morning. Everything normal. When I went back inside and looked at the TV screen, I saw the image of a sky also very blue as a background to something horrible. A plane crashed into one of the Twin Towers, to the north, which I identified from having been there years before, when I first went to New York.
For a few seconds there was no explanation for what was happening. Then a confused female voice spoke in Off about possible accident. All over the world, those watching the tragic scene barely had time to recover from the shock, as minutes later everyone would watch live the crash of another plane hitting the South Tower.
I looked at the piece of furniture on which the television sat and saw that the clock said 9:10. My husband had already changed and I summarized what had happened. He noted: “This is a terrorist act.” We head to the newspaper, both stunned. In the elevator, we found neighbors who already knew what had happened and were equally perplexed. When we arrived, all the employees commented on the fact, adding two more terrible facts. As we made the ten-block ride from home to the newspaper, a third plane had hit the Pentagon and a fourth, a rural area of Pennsylvania.
In the newsroom, the TV reported that the first tower had been hit at 8:45 am; the second at 9:03 am; the Pentagon at 9:37 am; the Pennsylvania farm at 10:37. In this final attack, passengers managed to face the kidnappers, who intended to hit the Capitol (Congress seat), and thus managed to divert them from their target, paying with their lives for the heroic gesture. It was a coordinated action, it was clear.
The Twin Towers collapsed. The South Tower fell at 9:59 am, after burning for 56 minutes in a fire caused by the impact of United Airlines Flight 175. The North Tower collapsed at 10:28 am, having burned for approximately 102 minutes. When it collapsed, debris fell near the Word Trade Center, damaging another building and igniting fires that burned for hours.
Billions around the world watched that horror of bodies plummeting from the tops of buildings, flames licking both buildings, thick clouds of toxic smoke, the panic of people trying to be rescued by talking on cellphones to firefighters, firefighters themselves running to rescue whoever was in nearby areas. It was a vision of hell, with images worthy of reports from the Apocalypse.
At the same time that the world was wondering about those responsible, FBI agents began to reveal that there were 19 jihadists, mostly from Saudi Arabia, who had boarded just before 8:00 am at airports in Boston, Washington and Newark, carrying knives, so allowed if the blade was less than 10 cm. With them and hand bombs, they subdued pilots and onboard crews, taking command of the aircraft. They would die smiling, because according to Muhammad, whoever dies in the name of God will find twenty virgins in heaven waiting for him to live in the best of paradises. Fanaticism is like that. It blinds to reality and cancels out even the most potent impulse of life in us.
President George Bush, who was in an elementary school talking to children, was warned and quickly took control of the situation. The tragedy left nearly three thousand dead. After the national mourning began the hunt for the leader of the terrorist group, Osama Bin Laden, who died ten years later, in May 2011, in Pakistan. The president was then Barack Obama.
Those who in 2001 were old enough to understand reality will remember that September 11th, after which the world changed. This phrase I heard from writer and psychologist Vanessa Maranha, then a reporter at Business. When I met her in the afternoon of that day, in the midst of the heavy atmosphere that prevailed over everyone, she told me: “The world will not be the same from today”. And it wasn’t.
By the way, the Taliban, that dark one, is back in Afghanistan, also exactly twenty years later. The struggle against obscurantism, censorship, machismo, exclusion, violence, the dismantling of the secular state, and especially against fanaticism, has not ended.
Fanaticism, which could be succinctly translated as the total lack of condition to see reality, persists in many places in the world where authoritarianism has given rise to eggs in the nests of snakes. Sometimes he wears new clothes, but he is the old enemy if ever. “Aim and see you,” our great Guimarães Rosa would say.