Twenty years after 9/11, the United States still has a chance to correct what went wrong.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth.

If social media existed at the time, the hashtag #IstandwiththeUnitedStates would have taken over the world and people would have written from every corner of the globe. If 9/11 happened today, it may not have been a trending hashtag. We killed our image in the world by the way we reacted after 9/11. Ask the victims of terror since then.

At the time of 9/11, I lived in Mogadishu, a city nicknamed “ghost city” for its bloody civil war and brutality. This was before 9/11: American music was played at the famous kiosks popping up along the dusty roads and the tin-roofed movie theaters that played American movies turned the 1990s Mogadishu boys into mini Americans, living the American dream by heart.

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and as Americans remember the day, it brings back memories to some of us who lived through daily terrors post-9/11 of friends who died as a result of the global war on terror.

The United States was still a distant place at the time of 9/11. I was a young boy going to the local tin-roofed movie theater, improving my English and dancing in the streets to American music.

While life may have slowly returned to normal in the United States after 9/11, mine changed for the worse. The scream of U.S. military jets over the Somali skies changed the sounds of the American music on the streets. The action-packed Hollywood movies I had seen were changed by bombing and suicide attacks by the local Somali terrorist groups. Now, as I sit here in Maine joining my nation remembering 9/11, I also join the boys and girls who lived in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan who are now adults and carry the scars of real terrors post-9/11.


Many times I grieve in silence over all the loss and harm that happened in the last 20 years. I think about a dear friend I lost to a roadside bomb in 2009, another killed by a radical Islamist group in 2010 for watching soccer and the nomadic family killed in a U.S. drone attack while they herded their goats.

There was terror everywhere. Each year marks a death I remember. I could have been one of them. My life could have ended in an attack either by a radical Islamic group or the U.S. military.

The death that comes from the air or the one that a suicide bomber detonates is the same. We should learn a lesson from this. The United States should not be on the same page as terrorist groups. The United States should be the one that saves the lives of the poor and the vulnerable in the world. The way to do that is not to bomb them, but to help them escape to wherever they choose.

It’s been long enough now that our leaders can rethink the definition of the global war on terror. Dropping bombs from drones in towns in Syria, Yemen or Somalia will not heal the world; it creates more terror.

America should rethink the sounds it brings to the world. The sounds of its music and movies are what people want. The sounds of its military jets are the horrors.

Young men and women of all faiths still love you, America. They wait for the day you are no longer on the news as a military operation. The world can be a different place in 2041, marking 40 years after 9/11. But we have to start that change here and now.

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