Grow­ing up, or forced to?

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis - Jen­nifer Lipman

IT WAS Tues­day af­ter­noon and school was out. It had been an odd day. We’d had some kind of ‘skills work­shop’, with the pos­i­tive out­come that I had no home­work. My sis­ter drove us home, mu­sic blar­ing. As we pulled up, my mum was on the doorstep, a con­cerned ex­pres­sion on her face. “They’ve hit the Twin Tow­ers,” she said. should have been more shocked. I was, later, when I’d watched the loop­ing footage of the build­ings col­laps­ing, or peo­ple jump­ing from burn­ing floors with­out a hope of sur­vival. I woke up even more to what had hap­pened the fol­low­ing month when I vis­ited New York for the first time and saw smok­ing metal be­ing trans­ported away from Ground Zero and miss­ing per­son posters star­ing hope­lessly across the city.

But I was 14, more in­ter­ested in who was at num­ber one in the charts than the num­ber one news story. I didn’t have any con­text for what had just hap­pened.

I knew about ter­ror­ism but mostly in the con­text of Israel, where the Sec­ond Init­fada had been wag­ing for a year. But Israel was the ex­cep­tion, the only place I went or knew peo­ple where such things were real.

New York – Amer­ica – was an ex­cit­ing place I wanted to visit, not some­where de­spised by the non-West­ern world. War hap­pened in other places. News only oc­curred in iso­lated events and re­ally ter­ri­ble things were con­signed to his­tory.

For my gen­er­a­tion – the mil­lenials, the kids born in the 1980s - 9/11 was a turn­ing point. Be­fore, our worlds were largely about hope; we’d only ex­pe­ri­enced peace. Wide-scale tragedy was famine or earth­quakes. Things hap­pened be­cause of nat­u­ral disas­ter or poverty, not the de­lib­er­ate ac­tions of man.

Af­ter the first plane, that changed. We came of age in an era of un­cer­tainty and pes­simism, and de­vel­oped our views in a cli­mate of fear and po­lar­i­sa­tion.

There were peo­ple who hated us – us and not other peo­ple far away; quite a few, it turned out. A few years ear­lier, I’d seen proPales­tinian pro­test­ers chant­ing out­side the ‘Israel 50’ cel­e­bra­tions at Wem­b­ley but I had lit­tle ap­pre­ci­a­tion that Jews out­side Israel could also be tar­gets.

We grew up ac­cus­tomed to posters in sta­tions warn­ing us to re­port aban­doned bags, to be­ing searched at air­ports for a real rea­son and not just by Ben Gu­rion staff. The news bul­letins we woke up to talked of war and ca­su­al­ties in both near and far­away places. Bali, Madrid, then Lon­don be­came syn­ony­mous with bombs and home-grown ex­trem­ists.

It be­came cool to hate Amer­ica. Chips be­came Free­dom Fries. Is­lam, un­til then sim­ply one of the faiths we stud­ied in re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion, be­came me­dia hate-fig­ure and scape­goat.

And where de­bates on sum­mer camp or at school had once cen­tred around sav­ing the whales, join­ing the Euro or an­i­mal test­ing, now we talked about in­vad­ing Iraq, ID cards and WMDs. We learnt about the Viet­nam War in his­tory and found mod­ern par­al­lels.

As a pol­i­tics un­der­grad­u­ate I stud­ied the pre-and post-9/11 worlds as if they were fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent epochs. In sem­i­nars we laugh­ingly dis­missed Fran­cis Fukuyama for pro­claim­ing “the end of his­tory” in 1992; how stupid, we said.

It’s easy to ex­ag­ger­ate. Part of this was sim­ply grow­ing up; you lose child­hood il­lu­sions with age. But with 9/11, hap­pen­ing as it did at the start of 24 hour news and on­line me­dia, we didn’t so much grow up as be forced up.

For my gen­er­a­tion, ev­ery vic­tory and de­feat since 9/11 has been framed around that date and dis­cussed in the Manichean lan­guage of the war on ter­ror.

When news broke of Osama Bin Laden’s death, com­men­ta­tors her­alded the end of an era. It cer­tainly felt like one.

Yet among the cov­er­age were re­ports on the re­ac­tions of pre-teens or, rather, the ab­sence of. Some had a vague aware­ness of the world’s most wanted man. But for most, my gen­er­a­tion’s bo­gey­man was as much a part of their present as Hitler or Stalin. Real, ter­ri­ble, known to be some­one bad. But from an­other life­time.

Septem­ber 11 is the first event I can re­mem­ber where I was when I heard about it. For other gen­er­a­tions, it was VE Day, the Kennedy or Rabin as­sas­si­na­tions or the fall of the Ber­lin Wall. We can only hope that for the next gen­er­a­tion it will be some­thing pos­i­tive.

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