Sam Spokony, Foreign Correspondent
Ten years after the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania that have in many ways defined the 21 century, the grieving still spans far beyond American shores — and most heavily within this nation’s former motherland, now one of its closest allies. On Sunday, the United Kingdom mourned and remembered its 67 citizens who perished on September 11, 2001 with a series of major memorial events in London, marked by an emotional service at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The 11am service, which followed a smaller, private gathering held at Grosvenor Square (and was itself followed by an evening concert held on the same field), was attended by high ranking officials of both countries, relatives of those who died and flocks of locals and tourists seeking a spiritual outlet on one of the most monumentally symbolic dates of this generation. Notable American speakers included Ambassador Louis B. Susman and Courtney Cowart, a survivor of the attacks who had served at Trinity Church Wall Street, located one block from the World Trade Center.
In a written reflection read towards the start of the service, Cowart recalled images of horror and the trials of immediate recovery at Ground Zero — but dwelt more heavily on the difficulty many New Yorkers had with coming to terms with the image of a new enemy, one so misleading that it led many to target those of the wrong faith.
“I remember seeing a Sikh man on the subway, who had been profiled as a terrorist simply because of the turban on his head, braving that intense hostility,” she said. “He approached a young mother, bent down and placed a dollar bill in her baby’s fist. When he stepped off the train, every one of us burst into tears.”
The constantly evolving conflict between Western and Islamic culture — which often ends up doing societal harm to many nonviolent Muslims due to their vastly less common extremist counterparts — is one still strongly felt in the UK. Cowart ended her remarks by declaring that we “always choose the acts we create,” but, in a sermon afterward, St. Paul’s Reverend Mark Oakley still solemnly noted that London residents would have to focus in order to tune out opposing demonstrations planned within the city center that night (by the jihad-friendly Muslims Against Crusaders and the predominantly white, nationalist English Defense League).
But a communal spirit of the bereaved, at least at that early point in the day, largely overshadowed these concerns as attendees remembered the great loss but recognized the triumphs of compassion that subsequently grew from the ashes. The proceedings ended with readings of prayers meant to honor all victims of modern-day terrorist attacks, and flags of the UK, America, the British Firefighters’ Memorial Standard and the US Marines stood on display throughout the service — all side-by-side.
“It think it goes back a long way, to when there was a significant join between our two countries,” said Chief Fire Officer Russell Pearson, of Surrey Fire and Rescue. “We feel very protective of the United States, and we’ve got to make sure those bonds are still in place.”
“I was at university studying for a business degree on that day,” he added, “and I still remember it as if it were yesterday.”