September 11, 2001 is one of those rare dates which you remember exactly where you were. In my case, I was at my in-laws' house in the countryside having a quiet day when suddenly they called us over: come and watch TV, they are showing some shocking images of New York. In fact, one could not believe it; my first thought was that it must have been fake, something out of one of those catastrophic movies. We did not expect it. No one expected it. It was unimaginable... but it happened. We couldn’t peel ourselves away from the screen the rest of the day, horrified as we learned more details about the two planes that hit the Twin Towers and the one that had hit the Pentagon, and we were kept on edge by the fate of United Flight 93, whose passengers finally managed to heroically divert the plane from the target set by the terrorists.
On that day, something broke inside many people: the era of optimism that began in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall was coming to an abrupt end 12 years later. The rather naïve confidence that we were all good in the world lasted a little more than a decade.
Jihadism at the hands of Osama Bin Laden and his followers snapped us out of daydreaming. That fact that Islamism aspired to subject the entire world to it and the fact that its methods included violence and terror was not something new. In fact, a brief review of the history of the expansion of Islam shows that war and violence has gone hand in hand since the very beginning. We knew that this was their way of behaving, that they hated us and wanted to beat us, but we felt that they were far away and could not imagine that they would be able to get to us, much less with the intensity with which they did. It later turned out that the terrorists were not exactly shepherds from the mountains (even if they had found refuge among them on occasion), but had studied at our universities and knew us well.
The attacks of September 11, 2001 suddenly brought us back to reality. History is not over, it is still unfolding and nothing is certain.
Beyond the thousands of casualties and how complicated airports became, the geopolitical consequences of that terrorist attack were enormous. George W. Bush launched the War on Terror that led the United States and its allies to attack the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had harbored Bin Laden, and other countries in the region such as Iraq. There were many years of war, at a great human cost. Al Qaeda, Bin Laden's organization, was virtually destroyed and neither it nor other jihadist groups have been able to pull off another attack with the same magnitude as 9/11 in the West. We have seen over the years how Al Qaeda has been replaced as the main terror group by other jihadist groups, such as the Islamic State, while Biden’s hasty exit from Afghanistan has meant going back to square one, with the Taliban in power.
As we said before, the fall of the Berlin Wall was famously interpreted by Fukuyama as the end of history. Nothing substantial was going to happen anymore, after humanity had reached the stage of maximum progress. At most, there would be some minor skirmish. The attacks on September 11, 2001 suddenly brought us back to reality. History is not over, it is still unfolding and nothing is certain, much less our freedom, which must be won on a daily basis against those who, like the jihadists, want to take it away from us.