I know, I know. We media airheads do love an anniversary. It's the easiest "peg" on which to hang a story. And a news item that looks back and tracks a well-known event is easy to prepare, far easier than an inquiry into something previously unknown. But surely as 11 September 2002 heaves into sight, we can be forgiven for a good long look back, if only to see if there's anything to learn from history. Are we forever destined to repeat our mistakes? I hope not.
Twelve months of living dangerously, and reporting the unthinkable, began innocuously enough for me. I was in Delhi to edit television stories about the Maoists and an interview with Prime Minister Deuba. We had spent an entire day at television's equivalent of the coalface and it was teatime. I was sitting in the tiny closet that passes for a kitchen at the Delhi bureau of Britain's proudest institution, as some of us are moved to call the BBC from time to time-especially when a short-sighted government cuts funding to the World Service. As the BBC tea brewed, a Scottish video editor on loan to the bureau burst through the door. He was laughing-I remember this distinctly, unaware at this early stage of what was unfolding. "All yur woork's gawn fer naught," he said in thickest Glaswegian, "Soom booger's just flown his wee plane intae the World Trade Center."
I wandered-none too urgently, I admit-out to the newsroom to watch the horror unfold; the impact of the second plane, live on television, the news of other hijacks, other crashes, the riveting and heart stopping implosion of the gleaming towers, the unforgettable look on the face of George Bush Jr as he was told the news. From Delhi to Dubai, Washington to Beijing, the world switched on its televisions and surfed the dreadful images of "Nine Eleven". We heard the endless speculation of clueless commentators (myself soon to join their ranks) and were shown disgusting canards like the infamous video of one or two Palestinians celebrating America's pain, presented by inference-at the time-as the Muslim world's reaction to events.
In fact, people from every one of Samuel Huntington's 'civilisations'-Hindus, Christians, Chinese-felt very mixed emotions at seeing the Superpower humbled so. Everyone was horrified, saddened, filled with fear. Yet any number of times, even in the immediate aftermath of the tragedies of New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, the phrases "serves them right" or "now they know what we go through" crept into discussions, along with expressions of shock and grief. The justifiably angry rhetoric from Washington went on, unaware of the world's conflicting yet equally sincerely held views. Musharaff, Chirac, Vajpayee and Blair, all-properly-extended the hand of friendship to America. Dissenting voices aside, we were all Americans for a while.
No longer I'm afraid. Iraq is not al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein is no Bin Laden. The world may have changed forever on 11 September, 2001 but the ability of imperial powers to be seen to be very, very wrong has not. So, a year on, as we all take stock and ask whether the war on terror is being won. Other, more qualified commentators can trade insights on that question, but I have one observation. Never mind 15,000 lb bunker-buster bombs, high tech laser guidance systems and vast invasion flotilla. America was humbled; thousands of innocents died; a symbol of might and prosperity was destroyed on live television by a hoard of quiet, intense fanatics armed only with box cutters and the willingness to sacrifice their own lives for a cause, however insane or evil. We will never erase that from the history books. Their twisted "achievement" stands as a singular example of both evil and triumph, admittedly only by their insane definition.
We can agonise for decades-and we will-over why they felt alienated, what fuels hatred against a nation that responds with generosity far more often than it makes war. This is for those well-qualified commentators to reflect upon, as well as the rest of us. But one starkly frightening face remains, however you respond emotionally to al-Qaeda or the hijackers of last 11 September. They will strike again.
Count on it.