CUTTACK, INDIA. 9/11 – the mention of these two numbers together reminds people across the world about the skyline of Manhattan engulfed with smoke billowing from the Twin Towers following the terrorist attack on World Trade Center, New York City. The superpower was tattered at the hands of terrorism. The impact wasn’t limited to loss of human lives, or the economic loss but scarred the environment too. Thousands of flights to and from Afghanistan, thousands of gallons of fuel burnt, and millions of bullets fired over twenty years contributed to a lot of carbon emissions. Even after two decades, the aftereffects are still looming in 2021. The date etched a permanent memory in the pages of history. Nevertheless, call it a premonition of one of the greatest leaders of all time, the words of caution conveyed on 9/11/1893. Does it ring any bell? Perhaps, only for the next generations to connect the dots.
About 128 years ago, when the reckless industrialisation and arms race were yet to begin and the world was a century away from flash floods and global warming, Swami Vivekananda’s historic speech at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 hinted at it. Remembering it, Narendra Modi, Prime Minister, India, tweeted
“Recalling Swami Vivekananda’s iconic 1893 speech at Chicago, which beautifully demonstrated the salience of Indian culture. The spirit of his speech has the potential to create a more just, prosperous, and inclusive planet.”
His speech filled with wisdom made everyone spellbound. In this historic speech, he addressed the audience as ‘Brothers and Sisters of America’ and cited the simple yet most significant rules one must follow in life. Through his speech, he highlighted the importance of being patriotic, respecting all religions, and the inevitability to be acquainted with science. The learned man explained the most complex issues lucidly by interlacing nature with the symbiotic co-existence of religions. In his words:
“The seed is put in the ground, and earth and air and water are placed around it. Does the seed become the earth, or the air, or the water? No. It becomes a plant. It develops after the law of its own growth, assimilates the air, the earth, and the water, converts them into plant substance, and grows into a plant. Similar is the case with religion. The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.”
One hundred eight years later, when on 9th September, the terror attack on the Twin Towers jolted the world, wasn’t Vivekananda’s speech an aide-mémoire to introspect what could have been avoided?
In his iconic speech, Swami Vivekananda spoke in length about how it envisions a world of peace and living in harmony with one another and nature in Bhagavad Gita.
Excerpts from the speech where he quotes Gita:
‘Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to Me.’ He further added, “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time has come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”
Fast forward to 9/11/2021; how far have we as global citizens imbibed these pearls of wisdom? Researches are still on about the impact after two decades of the terror attack. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2019, the toll of 9/11 includes the continued impact of accumulated health effects among those who were directly exposed to either the air pollution or re-suspended material that resulted from the collapse of the two WTC towers.
Dr A M Mannion, in his research, Environmental Impact of War and Terrorism, had revealed many shocking facts. According to his study, the immediate and direct implications of war and terrorism are apparent. The effects on landscapes can be as devastating as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions as buildings collapse, and craters develop. He further said, “Terrorist attacks have also altered urban landscapes. No reminder is needed of the devastating effect of the loss of New York’s World Trade Centre in September 2001; New York’s skyline and cityscape will never be the same again.”
Today, as humanity mourns across the globe, the question remains unanswered, how prudent we have become over the years. Are we building a sustainable planet sans the threat of terror attacks?