Back in 2004, when a NYFD chief reminded the 9/11 Commission that it was never in "anyone's consciousness" that the Twin Towers would fall, he underscored a terrible truth. After 9/11, we entered the Age of the Unthinkable. Seared into our collective consciousness is that the Twin Towers could and did fall. So could the U.S. Capitol, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Superdome. Our children know that which we as children never before imagined -- passenger planes may become guided missiles, and skyscrapers may turn into smoking, twisted rubble. This age of Islamic jihad against the West has indeed expanded our consciousness.
Or has it? Did these previously unthinkable acts of violence and mass murder sharpen our thinking, make us vigilant and more protective of our constitutional liberties under attack?
There was a time when I actually thought this was so. Re-reading my first column written after 9/11 today, one dozen 9/11s later, I find that it forecasts a new era of black and white, good and evil -- a new relationship with countries that were "with us or against us." I guess I have always been a lousy prognosticator. Still, that was the message coming out of the Bush White House early on.
My old column continues: "When an honest-to-goodness battle is joined, there can be no more middle ground. We simply have to know where our friends are -- as well as our enemies. Not that their whereabouts are secret. Long before the smoke had thinned to reveal the scope of the carnage in the United States, there was revelry in the Middle East, from Beirut to East Jerusalem, from Cairo to Baghdad."
I was, of course, talking about the Islamic world - the font of jihad to spread sharia to create a global caliphate. That simple catechism I would learn in the months ahead. Two weeks later, however, while I was still working my way through a copy of the Koran and, luckily found, a copy of Ibn Warraq's "Why I Am Not a Muslim," both of which I bought on 9/12/01, it was clear the mood in Washington was already different. The American flags that had instantly spread, flew and bristled in those early days were still everywhere, but "with us or against us" was gone. What was taking shape was something more like: "Who is 'us'?" Whatever that means.
In another column, one written on 9/28/01, I still pondered the need to impose mental order on the recent, unthinkable events, and the need to brace for another.