(From 10 years ago today)

I remember it as if it were yesterday: Sitting right at the top of the World Trade Center, in the Windows on the World restaurant, sipping champagne. It was November last year, a crisp, cold day but the sun was shining and I was looking down on the business centre of the world. It was a strange feeling, drinking champers while everyone below in the 100-odd stories and the high-rise buildings around were making the world’s economies go round.

On Tuesday, all that changed. Since Tuesday afternoon, I have been glued to CNN. It feels obsessive but I can’t help it. I wonder if continuous watching and absorbing will help reality sink in. So far, it hasn’t worked.

On Tuesday evening, I made a makeshift bed in my den and sat up all night watching TV. My daughter, who’s four, can’t understand why this happened. It’s not surprising. Experts ten times her age can’t understand either. I tried explaining to her that the twin towers of the WTC had collapsed, that bad men had taken control of two airplanes and had deliberately crashed into the buildings. “How can someone be that bad?” she asked. Swallowing the huge lump in my throat, I had to admit I didn’t know.

Watching the events unfold movie-like on my wide screen TV, I confess to missing my days in newspapers. I feel guilty, but being out of the information loop and relying on the television news to share with me the future of our world, was an uncomfortable feeling.

The most shocking scenes, in my opinion, were not the explosions or the plumes of smoke and debris chasing innocent bystanders along the streets of New York. Nor were they of the rescue workers, encrusted with dust and the ashes of the world’s most powerful district. While that dust and those ashes will wash away, the horrific memories of Tuesday will be under their skin forever.  And it wasn’t the poignant picture of the abandoned and torn rag doll, shown time and again on the news.

For me, the most awful scenes were those of jubilation and celebration on the streets of the Middle East: children, as young as seven or eight, cheering and clapping; women young and old, mothers and grandmothers, screeching their joy that the most powerful of nations had been brought to its knees by the most atrocious event in recent history.

What kind of leader can evoke this passion, this hysteria, and this delight at the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children?

I don’t believe this is now about blame, nor about making scapegoats of the intelligence services or the security forces at the airports. It’s not even about blaming the kamikaze pilots whose beliefs drove them to murder and suicide.

It’s about leadership, true leadership that will guide the angry and vengeful people of America; guide the experts to find the key culprit; lead by example with courage in the face of true evil and respect for the dead and their families; and demonstrate that demanding an eye for an eye won’t resolve this situation.

The strength will be in not retaliating, in having the courage to stand in the face of demands for blood, for revenge for their deaths in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. What good would that do?

This week I prayed for the first time in many moons. I prayed for the dead, whose last minutes on this earth must have been agonising. I prayed for their families. I prayed for the heroes, the rescue workers whose spirit and passion to sacrifice themselves to save life is so contradictory to the suicide pilots who were prepared to sacrifice their own lives and those of others. I prayed that my little girl wouldn’t experience war. And I prayed that the world’s leaders will lead in the truest sense of the word.