Every generation has a few historical events that shape its culture, political and economic situation, and undeniably its attitudes and norms. My parents’ generation- the Baby Boomers- remember JFK’s assassination and the anti-authority movement spurred by the Vietnam War protests. They remember where they were and who they were with when they heard the news. They remember how the nation and they personally reacted to the news. They remember the lingering aftermath of the events. They remember the decades of consequences of that one single event.
My generation- the Millennials- is still young. But without a doubt, September 11, 2001 is such a milestone. It changed the way mainstream media portrays terrorism; it revealed the major kinks in the armor that blankets American society; it transformed the way the rest of the world viewed America and the West. It demonstrated that in spite of all the political correctness we have been taught in school and by society, we are all, to various degrees, Hobbesian in our thoughts and characters. The Leviathan was merely dormant.
I don’t- and cannot-speak for all Millennials, but personally, there are three singular events that have shaped my worldview: 1) 9/11; 2) Nairobi Westgate Mall Attack; and 3) Israel’s Operation Protective Edge (OPE) on Gaza.
I was 10 years and one week old when 9/11 happened. I had yet to completely grasp the meaning of death, but I did know that innocents died, and if there was one thing that got my blood boiling, it was innocents dying. For me, that was an act of cowardice, killing unsuspecting civilians. 9/11 became my first lesson in vengeance on an international stage and in a fear of the tyranny of the majority (the Patriot Act). Simultaneously, it was the first time since immigrating to the States exactly a year prior that I felt like I belonged to the American community. That I am American.
The Nairobi attack and OPE have affected me much more profoundly and differently. In that 11-year gap, I have grown up. I have lived and worked in abject places around the world and have seen and heard things people should never ever experience. I have gotten more comfortable with solitude. I am starting to reflect rather than bury emotions. Both events have been fiercely personal. I lost friends and my sense of “home” in the Nairobi attack. Today, I have friends still trapped in Gaza. I have lost parts of my naivete and innocence. I have become much more cynical and wary.
Yet simultaneously, I cannot but help also feeling optimistic about the future and determined to continue my personal crusade of changing the world for the better, as cliché as it sounds. The Nairobi attack and especially OPE have given me hope that there are people who are on the same journey as me and that it is possible to change deeply-entrenched beliefs. If only we work smart and hard, we can better the world. Psychologists believe that terrorist events and violence usually turn people more inward, insular, and pessimistic. But I am not. After the initial period of shock, anger, frustration, and helplessness, I am more optimistic about the future. Perhaps it is my generation, a generation of oxymorons but ultimately an optimistic one which is taught to dream big and believes that we have the power to accomplish our goals. We are nothing but independent. If we are now 37% pro-Palestinian from the previous 9% pro-Palestinian without much external push, we are flexing our ability to think and assess situations by ourselves. It is in this optimism and confidence that I continue to push forward and act rather than react.