No return to normal


The immediate aftermath of 9/11 produced a phrase that quickly became a cliche: "the new normal." It was a tacit acknowledgement that we would never return to the status quo that existed before that brilliant September morning, when four hijacked airliners came careening out of the sky.

An irony of 9/11 is that hours after it happened, the feat of commandeering an airliner and plowing it into an American landmark, was unlikely ever to recur. Even before the airport screening and the reinforced cockpit doors, no aircrew would ever comply with the demands of hijackers, if indeed they had not already been torn to pieces by the passengers.

Grudgingly, Americans, and much of the rest of the world, accepted intrusive passenger screening, plodding through checkpoints shoeless and beltless, and, in this latest scare, surrendering their toiletries. Despite the reservations of civil-liberties groups, most of the nation also accepts intrusive government surveillance and eavesdropping as the price of security.

Americans were also jolted out of a comfortable insularity that day. We learned that followers of a twisted brand of Islam had a deep and abiding hatred of us, and that 9/11 had been a long time in the planning. Our enemies _ and what average citizen before that day had heard of al Qaeda? _ believed that Westerners, and especially Americans, were feckless, materialistic and ultimately cowards. A little American bloodshed, they believed, and the United States would abandon the Mideast to a new militant order of Islam, the caliphate.

They were wrong. Their Taliban patrons in Afghanistan were quickly overthrown, to be replaced by a rickety democratic government that, whatever its failings, is far better than what went before. Since then, the terrorists can claim a handful of homegrown threats against innocents _ the Spanish railway bombings, the London subway bombings _ but they have been repeatedly thwarted in anything close to the magnitude of another 9/11.

Sadly, we have squandered the great outpouring of world good will that followed 9/11, when even the French proclaimed in solidarity, "We are all Americans now." Somehow, for what seemed like legitimate reasons at the time, the war on terror detoured into Iraq and the Washington visionaries’ goal of reshaping the Mideast has been reduced to fashioning a government that can simply stand on its own.

The jihadists’ aim of driving the United States from the Mideast has now made it such that we may never be able to leave. All may be new, but it is not normal.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)