Where were you when…?

Business - September 7th, 2009

by Ian de Stains OBE You know how it goes. Where were you when (insert your choice: Kennedy was assassinated, men landed on the moon, John Lennon was shot, Michael Jackson died)? There are events in world history that make curious place-markers for many people. Most of us who were alive during the period incorporating the four events just mentioned—and there are, of course, others—will know exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news. But I don’t believe—unless you were a relative or a close intimate of the individuals involved—that any of those iconic moments actually changed your life. Fast forward now to September 11, 2001. We all know where we were and what we were doing then. Just say “9/11” and virtually everyone in the developed world will know exactly what you are referring to. And this time, I suggest, no matter how far you were from the epicenter of that atrocious incident—no matter how personally removed—the event and its ramifications have had, and still have, an impact on your life. Early in the morning after I had watched those astonishing TV images of the attacks on the World Trade Center, I took part in a meeting at a Tokyo hotel with a senior visitor from the UK government. Around the table there was shock, of course, but also a chilling sense of a new reality. One of those present said, “Nothing will ever be the same again. We’ve witnessed the end of the world as we’ve known it.” It sounded melodramatic at the time, but it now has the sterling ring of truth. As we approach the anniversary of those appalling events, I find myself conceding the end of the world as I took it to be. I see the extinguishing of innocence and pause at my own naiveté as I reluctantly come to the realization that governments (and individuals) we thought were made of nobler stuff were instead mendacious men of tin; that fear and hatred, ignorance and prejudice are now the determining parameters of how we govern our world. The question is, do we have to settle for this? Are we to be forever in the shadow of terror, bearing in mind that the shadow is what the terrorists want us to fear? Must we accept an increasingly intrusive policing of our private lives by governments and their agencies? The bigger question, of course, must be whether there are governments and leaders who are big enough and brave enough to tackle the issue of terrorism and the underlying causes of it. The bravery will come when someone—anyone—proposes that religion be set aside, for this is the real root cause of the problem. You have people dying in the name of God and people killing in God’s name, and if you happen to believe that God is little more than man’s invention, you begin to wonder where the sense of it is. But isn’t that exactly the point? Ian de Stains is the Executive Director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan.