Growing up in the shadow of terrorism



Claire Thomson
Views Editor

9/11 is my earliest memory. I remember minor family occasions and my mother telling me to shout Happy Millennium! into what I’m sure would now be a comically large video camera. But my first concrete memory of the outside world intruding upon my cosy family bubble is 9/11. I remember coming home from school in a gingham dress, sitting cross legged on a grey Aztec patterned rug in front of the television and watching the planes hit the towers over and over again.

When I was preparing to apply to university and thought I wanted to study Politics (thank you, Glasgow for allowing me to change my degree four times) I searched for personal statements written about the subject. I found databases clearly designed with the obsessive seventeen year old in mind full of statements organised according to subject, year, and accepted/rejected. I searched for successful Politics statements from the previous year, 2012.

Over half of them mentioned 9/11 and of these about half within their opening sentence. They said that growing up in a post 9/11 world sparked their interest in politics; they wanted to understand global politics and the tangled web of diplomacy underpinning the unstable world order. Of course Politics applicants who upload their personal statements to The Student Room are a very small sample of our generation, but I do think it’s telling that so many young people chose to mention the impact of terrorism on their worldview, and their lives.

My peers and I aren’t the ones most affected by terrorism – very far from it. Our homes have not been destroyed by “retaliatory” drone strikes. None of my friends have lost a parent to a suicide bomber who targeted ordinary commuters. Nobody I know has gone to a concert and not made it home. Perhaps the only real impacts of terrorism on my privileged life have been an armed guard getting in the way of my photo of the Eiffel Tower and an hour spent waiting in the immigration queue at an American airport, a wait I’m certain would have been much longer had I not been white and in possession of a burgundy passport.

I do however believe that spending our childhoods in the shadows of absent towers, buses and underground trains and now our young adulthoods in the shadow of the Bataclan, Atatürk Boulevard and now Zavantem Airport has had a more profound impact than perhaps we realise.

Our generation is often criticised for airing our ‘grief’ for those lost in such atrocities on social media. The more profound our Tweet or the quicker we cover a selfie with a faint French flag, the more heartfelt we believe our shallow response to be. But what I think those who sneer at such publicly flaunted sadness fail to see is the fear behind every Snapchat of a candlelit vigil in George Square. As instantly as a Belgian flag can be Instagrammed, another attack could strike. As quickly as a photo of a bloody Paris terrace can circulate online, Paris can become London, London can become Glasgow.

It took 102 minutes for two of the most iconic symbols of the western world to crumble. In less than two hours the world changed irrevocably. Instantaneous change has defined our childhoods and will continue to define our adulthoods. In an age of 24/7 news, a media that doesn’t sleep and the means to immediately communicate with anybody anywhere in the world, grieving and above all, living slowly is not an option. Our sadness is as fleeting as this world demands it to be, and that’s no bad thing.

It is the wish of those who commit such atrocities in the name of a religion which preaches peace that we slow down, that we change our pace and style of lives in fear. Of course it is natural to be fearful and it’s healthy to express this fear and sadness in a manner in which you are comfortable. It just so happens to be that for many 20 somethings, that manner happens to be a Tweet or a flag Instagrammed in solidarity. In the same way we express our happiness or publicly celebrate an achievement on the Internet, we do it instantly.

If we are to slow down and to change our lives, the murderers who attacked Belgium, France, Turkey, California, Libya, Egypt and Indonesia have won. If we are to spend days worrying about the possibility of an attack closer to home, our lives will come to be defined by terrorism even more than UCAS personal statements reveal they already have been. We need to continue to work, to fly, to go to concerts, to travel on underground trains. We need to share our successes and our sadness instantly and without apology – we need to continue to live.