Fallout from September 11 still drifting over us

By Andrew Stone

On a clear blue morning 10 years ago the world shifted gear.

Terrorists flew aircraft into talismanic American buildings, taking nearly 3000 lives.

The victims included two New Zealanders. One was an American who had become a New Zealand citizen, the other a New Zealander who had moved to the United States.

From the shocking carnage of 9/11, the US and her allies - New Zealand among them - launched the "war on terror".

Lawmakers decided that making the world a safer place required giving security agencies, police and border guards sweeping new powers. The laws have narrowed the way we travel, imposed heavy scrutiny on the people who come to our shores, and let the state intrude into our lives.

The US felt the most painful impact of 9/11, but the damage was not confined to flesh and blood or steel and glass. Democratic ideals have come under assault. Cherished civil liberties have been eroded, suspicion divides the Muslim world and the West and and trust is a casualty.

Such was the monumental disruption of the suicide attacks that the shockwaves can be felt here a decade later. How far they have reached, how much they cost in our sense of security and personal freedom, and how deeply they have shaken our lives is evident in the accounts that follow.

The family

Every year, on the Fourth of July, John and Rosemary Lozowsky share a birthday cake for their only son. It is a sad occasion.

Their son, also named John, was one of two New Zealanders killed in 9/11 attacks. The other was lawyer and father of three Alan Beaven, 48, who died when United Airlines flight 93 crashed near Pittsburgh.

IT consultant John Lozowsky, 45, died when American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the World Trade Centre's North Tower, wiping out the floors between level 93 and 99.

Lozowsky was on the 95th floor, working for insurance giant Marsh and McLennan.

"We don't talk about it too much. It's very sad on his birthday, the 4th of July," Rosemary Lozowsky said from her home in upstate New York.

"We always have a cake and sing happy birthday John."

Though the occasion - Independence Day - is draped in sadness, the couple remember their son as a cheerful, bright soul with boundless energy.

John Lozowsky said: "There wasn't a thing he ever forgot. He never studied before a test. He just went in there and did it. He just didn't try, everything came naturally to him."

Their daughter Diane, 47, who lives near her parents, said she still sorely missed her brother, who was an inspiration as she grew up: "He always pushed me to do better."

Lozowsky lived in New Zealand for 12 years, long enough to become a citizen. A computer whiz, he first worked in Wellington with the National Archives. He shifted to Treasury in 1991 and helped set up its website, becoming the information technology manager at the Ministry of Health.

His dress sense set him apart from other public servants - the American wore shorts and T-shirts most of the year, and rode a bike to the office.

He took some habits back to New York, calling fellow workers "mate", and getting by with a $1000 car which his young son Max helped paint. Max and Alison, Lozowsky's widow, were briefly in Wellington in winter to share memories of John Lozowsky and hold a ceremony with Kiwi friends.

Rosemary Lozowsky said: "He loved New Zealand. The only reason he came back to the States was to make some money. He planned to head back down there." But the grief hasn't gone: "We still miss him."

The soldier

Major Scott Cordwell has completed two missions in Afghanistan with the New Zealand Army.

His first deployment was just two years after 9/11, when the Hazara people - who live in the Bamyan region, where the NZ Provincial Reconstruction Team is based - were relieved to see the back of their Taleban oppressors after US forces invaded.

He returned in two years ago, and was struck by changes on the ground. A level of governance and development had kicked in, a sense of stability was apparent, and women no longer had to wear burqas.

Overall, observes Major Cordwell, "You could see what we had done had made a difference."

An 18-year army veteran, Major Cordwell says that for the most part, New Zealand soldiers deployed in Afghanistan sense a connection between the 9/11 attacks and their tasks with the PRT.

He feels a degree of satisfaction that, at least in the region where hundreds of soldiers have served over the past decade, the lives of Afghanis have improved, due in part to the security PRT troops have maintained.

But other areas of Afghanistan are still troubled, Major Cordwell says, and are likely to remain that way for some time.

"When I was last there things were definitely getting better but there's always going to be elements who don't want the Coalition."

He believes it is important to remain in the troubled country until "when we do leave, things are set up for success".

The 38-year-old, who commands Queen Alexandra's Mounted Rifles, an armoured reconnaissance unit, says he would not hesitate to return to the conflict zone, where three New Zealanders have died. His partner worries about his deployments, but the fact they have no children makes the decision for him at least a bit easier.

"It's always very sad and tragic when you lose one of your own. But soldiers tend to be pretty pragmatic. We need to remember and acknowledge the work these people put in and move forward. It's never easy for the guys."

The human rights advocate

Tim McBride has spent nearly 40 years charting the state's intrusion into our lives. ("A lifetime of lost causes," he was told by a friend on the Bench.) He says that since 9/11, there has been an outpouring of new laws with human rights and privacy implications.

The Terrorism Suppression Act, which created a list of "terrorist entities", was passed in 2002. There are 1409 people on the list, and 361 organisations. Essentially the law bans New Zealanders from funding named groups.

Border security has been toughened, and new checks are run on people travelling here.

In 2004 a new law ensured the state could intercept networks run by telcos and internet providers. Passports have come in for tighter scrutiny, and airport checks have become stringent and intrusive.

Funding for intelligence work has risen. The SIS had 100 staff and a $12 million budget 10 years ago. It now employs 219 people on a budget of $38 million. The police have set up a strategic intelligence unit, posted extra staff to six airports and created liaison posts in Washington and London.

McBride, whose father was a wartime intelligence officer, says he can live with covert agencies. But he considers that New Zealand has gone too far in its embrace of the "war on terror".

"My view is that many agencies saw this an an opportunity to dust off old shopping lists that politicians pre-2001 said were too hot to handle."

The Human Rights Foundation chairman says the debate was framed around a simple "are you for us or against us" with the upshot being the surveillance society.

Does it matter? It most certainly does, asserts McBride. For a start there is the crimping of liberties and freedoms: "I think people are less willing to get involved with causes, with activist community groups. They are less willing to speak out."

He says there is a second, and deeper impact. People cherish, he argues, the right to anonymity, circumstances when we wish to be private, the sense summed up by US Supreme Court associate justice Louis Brandeis, "the right to be let alone".

Says McBride: "What will future generations say - 'how come they were prepared to give up without a fight something that's so precious and deeply connected with human autonomy?'."

The American

"I remember getting ready for work and seeing the video of the airplanes hitting the tower and thinking it was some sort of overly dramatic portrayal of American news," recalls Christina Crews, a Californian who came to New Zealand in 2000.

She felt stunned when she saw people leaping from the towers: "I was sad for a long time."

An education administrator in Palmerston North, Crews had a friend working in the Towers but he missed his train the day the terrorists struck.

"When I finally spoke to him his response was, 'imagine all the people who dragged themselves to their stupid stinking job that day'."

She adds, "As a human being it makes me feel sad that people do terrible things to others and that innocent bystanders bear the brunt."

Crews went back to the US in 2003. She travelled with her baby and was stunned by the security.

"There was a real loss of innocence and American bravado. I haven't been back since."

The mother of two children, Crews remembers feeling both "sad and mad" at the attitude of New Zealanders at the time.

At a meeting a few days after 9/11 a woman approached her and said: "'Well, luckily no Kiwis were killed there.' She said this knowing that I am American. I said, 'no, just a lot of human beings'."

Asked whether she feels safe in New Zealand, having made the country her home, Crews replies: "I guess so, but I used to think that of America."

The Muslims

Rana Ghumkhor is the daughter of Afghani refugees who arrived here in 1987. A post-graduate honours student at Auckland University, she was a 13-year-old schoolgirl when New York was struck. She remembers the playground abuse.

"They knew my family came from Afghanistan and that Western forces were going after the Taleban."

In the schoolyard mind it was as though she had some link to the terrorists in the aircraft.

"My religion has nothing to do with 9/11. The people who carried out the attacks were not Muslim."

The taunts continue.

The day after meeting the Herald Rana, who wears a headscarf, was called a "terrorist."

Tariq Aldiery, 21, grew up here with his Syrian family before moving to the US. He was in Washington DC when America was attacked. He, too, was harassed.

"The first couple of years for us were a tense time in the US. I had friends who were attacked. People would say, 'let's see the bombs, let's see the weapons'."

Back in New Zealand and studying biomedicine at Auckland, he sensed anti-Muslim sentiment eventually receded in the US. He was encouraged by the way some Americans were prepared to stand up for Muslim friends, even at the risk of being branded traitors.

The students say they have not found the same courage in New Zealand. But they agree that Muslims are a newer immigrant group here, and less visible than in America.

The NZ Federation of Islamic Associations estimates there are about 50,000 Muslims, from 52 nations. Three decades ago there were barely 3000.

Hela Rahman, 20, studying law and politics, is the daughter of Iraqi migrants who have settled on the North Shore. The three students, connected through the university's Islamic Society, detect a strain of Islamophobia in New Zealand. They chafe at what they say is targeted border scrutiny, and feel that non-Muslims do not get the same close attention from customs or immigration officials.

They feel the country lags behind other nations in its understanding of Islam and Arab culture but all think they are privileged to have religious freedom.

One special university asset they mention is the Muslim prayer space - a sign, they say, of tolerance and acceptance.

Soil scientist Anwar Ghani, president of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, says a small minority remain resentful towards Muslims here, a legacy of 9/11 when the community was put under strain and had their faith challenged. He looks forward to the day "when we don't have to justify everything which goes on outside New Zealand".

Lawyer Javed Khan, 62, Ghani's predecessor during much of the last decade, says security agencies "keep an eye" on the Muslim community and he wonders if his phone is bugged. He says he is not being paranoid, but realistic.

As president, he says he met SIS officers: "We were keen to ensure that we did not have any individuals who wanted to create trouble."

The legal defender

Ahmed Zaoui, says his lawyer Deborah Manning, was a lucky refugee.

Not that he had it easy, spending two years in prison and five years fighting accusations that he was a terrorist. His good fortune, Manning says, was that he arrived at Auckland in December 2002 when the old Immigration Act applied.

"If he arrived today I don't think he would have got very far," says Manning. The new act, she says, tilts power towards the state and its agencies and away from genuine refugees and their rights.

The 35-year-old barrister has returned to New Zealand from three years in Geneva where she was a legal officer for Alkarama (dignity), a non-government group which promotes human rights in the Arab world.

Manning believes that officials set their mind against Zaoui from the moment he sought asylum. In one document Zaoui was called "a big fish". At Paremoremo, prison officers flanked him in the exercise yard in case an attempt was made to spring him from maximum security.

A level of hysteria was evident, says Manning.

The Zaoui legal team used the law to review secret material. Manning went to Paris and dug out a court judgment against the Algerian, which, she says, differed from the intelligence summary the SIS had drawn from the document. Now, she says, it would be impossible to know whether classified material used to determine someone's future is true or not.

Manning argues that a democratic nation post-9/11 must have checks and balances that make its security agencies and executive accountable. It is not sufficient, she maintains, for a prime minister to brush aside genuine criticisms with bland assertions of confidence in the apparatus of the state.

It's the old story, she says, "absolute power corrupts absolutely".

Where were you on 9/11?

Kiwis tell their stories on the Herald website. Find out more at tiny.cc/06pn5.

- NZ Herald

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