Sitting Through A Bad Re-run

Put bluntly, North Americans have been a lucky lot up until now.
Until Sept. 11, we did not have to worry that a flight from Winnipeg to Toronto would be hijacked. We did not have to fear walking past a car that suddenly blows up, or open our mail. We did not have to be afraid to go out with friends to our favourite pizza joint or crowded nightclub in case someone came in with explosives strapped to their chest.
But that’s precisely how millions of other people have been living over the past 30 years since terrorism—in its current form, at least—shocked the world with the murder of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.
High-profile hijackings followed, usually directed at Jewish citizens, including the one that ended with the famous raid at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, and another involving a cruise ship of all things. Planes blew up in the sky, such as that Air India flight off the Irish coast and the Pan Am one over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Innocent people died in bomb blasts in pubs and town squares across England and Ireland. Others while taking the subway in Tokyo. Others still who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in this plot or that.
It’s not that North America has been completely spared over the years. In the ’70s, the Symbionese Liberation Army wreaked some havoc in the U.S., mainly with kidnappings (remember Patty Hearst) and bank robberies. The Unabomber sent death through the mail.
Then there was that first bomb attack at the World Trade Center in New York City, and of course, the terrible bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.
Here in Canada, there was the FLQ crisis of the early ’70s that spawned kidnappings, booby-trapped mailboxes, and at least one murder—and prompted then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to invoke the War Measures Act.
Yet, for all that, terrorism never really hit home here in North America, unlike for those living in Israel or Europe, for instance. That all changed Sept. 11, sure, but there are many who will argue the war on terrorism has started 30 years too late.
Including me.
I’m a product of Europe of the 1970s. Of coming home from school in Brussels to see my dad scratching the Canadian flag sticker off the back of our car after then Prime Minister Joe Clark announced our embassy in Israel would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thereby recognizing Jewish claims to that divided city.
Of knowing friends who got threatening letters in their mailboxes in Brussels, warning them not to venture out downtown on Friday nights (a popular pastime among the foreign high school crowd) during the height of the Iranian hostage crisis and subsequent botched U.S. rescue mission.
Of knowing a classmate who happened to be at Zaventem Airport in Brussels when gunmen inside the terminal opened fire on passengers getting off an El Al flight (fortunately, she was all right). Of frequenting the Grand Place, the main tourist attraction in Brussels, right where the IRA later blew up a stage before a British Army band was to perform on it.
Of seeing signs in London warning to report any unattended packages. Of vacationing on the Spanish Riviera while not knowing, at the time, that Basque separatists had threatened to plant bombs on the beaches to scare away tourists.
Of flying back and forth across the Atlantic.
Yet through it all, we just went on with life (yes, I even was eventually allowed to go downtown again with my friends).
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t be alert, or a little bit afraid. Anyone who says they aren’t in these suddenly uncertain times that no one could have dreamed of back on Sept. 10 is either a bold-faced liar, or an idiot.
On the other hand, going to the mailbox wearing a gas mask is just as silly as refusing to cross a street for fear of being hit by a bus, refusing to get behind the wheel of a car for fear of being in an accident, or turning down a chance to go fishing for fear of drowning.
All of these scenarios are possible, but it’s something we keep safely tucked away in the back of our minds rather than cowering under the bed. Instead, we look both ways, buckle up, and wear life jackets.
Facing the threat of terrorism involves precisely the same thing.
Have our lives been changed by Sept. 11? Yes. Must it mean the end of life as we’ve known and enjoyed? No way.
I know, I’ve been there. I guess I just never figured I’d have to face it again—more than 20 years later—on home soil. It’s a case of deja-vu, or sitting through a re-run of a bad movie. Still, I will, because not living life is no alternative.
Welcome to the trenches. It’s not pleasant, but at least be thankful you’ve been spared this long.

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