The Fallout Beyond America

What are the global implications of the attacks on New York and Washington?

September 18, 2001

What are the global implications of the attacks on New York and Washington?

Among the victims were foreign tourists, of course. New York is a tourist mecca — and the World Trade Center’s magnificent observation deck used to be its prime attraction.

But this is only part of the story. The World Trade Center housed the U.S. offices of numerous foreign companies, including some from China, Thailand, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia and countries in Latin America. All told, there were a total of over 100 companies and foreign government agencies from some 35 countries around the world.

There were also immigrants from every corner of the globe working for the U.S. businesses housed in the two 110-story towers. India has announced that some 2,000 of its nationals worked in the complex — and Pakistan, a Muslim country, over 500. Some 100 Russian nationals are still missing, as are a similar number of Mexican, Japanese and British citizens. There were some 25 Irish-born victims and plenty of New York firefighters who died in the rubble of the collapsing buildings had Irish last names.

In all, citizens of over 50 countries are listed among the missing. On that fateful morning of September 11, 2001, last telephone calls from the doomed towers went out to family and friends 10,000 miles away. Traders in London heard cries of anguish through open microphones on their trading floor. New York’s tragedy has reverberated around the world.

The nearly unanimous expressions of support coming to the United States from abroad are motivated not merely by the horror and outrage of world leaders. Many countries’ own citizens have been directly affected by the tragedy.

And while bodies are still being dug out from the rubble and identified, shockwaves from the disaster are starting to spread even more widely. Stock markets in Asia and Japan plunged. Global commercial activity has been dented. And if the United States enters a recession as a result of the terrorist attack, hundreds of thousands of people around the world will be thrown out of work.

A Washington Post poll found in the aftermath of the attack that some 43% of Americans believe that they will be personally “more suspicious” of people who look like they are of Arab descent. Indeed, even though physical attacks against Arabs and other Muslims have been extremely rare, in the streets of New York Arab-looking people have a hounded look on their faces.

In mid-town Manhattan, Arab-run groceries stand empty even during lunch hour. There is no organized boycott, of course, but people apparently feel uncomfortable shopping at Arab-owned businesses. People behind the counter are exaggeratedly polite — almost obsequious — toward their few customers.

The fact is that this first global terrorist attack has been directed against us all. Some Arabs suffered directly, and there are plenty of Muslims among the missing in the World Trade Center bombing. Others lost their businesses in the area. Another, larger group will be severely impacted by the economic downturn — just like the rest of Asia, Europe and Africa.

New York City was chosen as a terrorist target precisely because it is a symbol of the modern world. It is a world in which people are, first and foremost, people — husbands, fathers, sons, professionals — and not Muslims or Jews, blacks or whites.

If we start singling people out because of their religion, race or national origin, we will be doing precisely what the terrorists wanted us to do. It’s an attack directed against our planet — and the only response is to unite in the face of common danger.