Remembering 9/11: Can Liberia’s Ebola Crisis Compare?

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Today, September 11, Americans and people all around the world will commemorate the 2,977 innocent lives that were lost 13 years ago, in what has gone down in history as one of the most daring and unusual terrorists attacks ever. The tragedy not only changed the lives of the people directly affected by the attacks but also that of future, yet-to-be born generations. However, can this be compared to the Ebola Crisis where thousands of people have succumbed to this deadly disease?

The Ebola virus has not only caused tragedy and changed the lives of people affected, but it has also drastically affected our life style. Liberians are so used to greeting each other by touch – a hand shake here, an embrace there, even a kiss. Where we used to share cups, bowls and spoons; beds, clothes and shoes; we now think thrice about potential threats of infection from our closest friends and relatives. Instead, we wash hands religiously at every door post, keep a distance beyond arm’s length and sometimes bow to greet each other like the Chinese. Some women have even put their male partners “on dryer” – a moratorium on sexual activity until the Ebola Season is over. And many men have admitted that, fearing for their own lives, they have decided to “abide by the rules of the game” – fidelity.

There are also direct and indirect psychological effects: where members of households and families are infected with Ebola, the dichotomy of care vs. neglect persists, because of the fear of infection being transmitted. Where armed government forces go shooting at unarmed people contesting an imposed quarantine; or where family revenue streams get dried up because of epidemic-preventive regulations imposed by government or private employers; it gets really disturbing and forces people to find new ways to adapt to the situation. Then, there is the sight of dead bodies lying all over, in the streets; and the depression of thinking you could be next and the stigma it leaves you with.

And as people around the world remember this day in history, LIB life asked some of your reflections on that time vis-à-vis the current Ebola crisis in Liberia. Can that terrible day at all be compared to that of our deadly crisis we’re facing? Here’s what some of you said:

Nvasekie Konneh, poet and author:

“Though both September 11 and the current Ebola crisis are disastrous, but we have to understand the difference. September 11 was a manmade disaster with a clear political agenda on the part of the perpetrators. The Ebola crisis in our sub-region is a natural disaster that can be compared to Hurricane Katrina, which affected the U.S. State of Louisiana. With both Katrina and Ebola being natural disasters, the question is how did the US manage its disaster and how we are managing ours? The US was in far better position to deal with theirs.  For us, it’s different ball game altogether because we are a poor country and we have no technical capability to combat this disease. We are living by the mercy of God and those whose help we are seeking to combat the disease”.

On the other hand, Mrs. Maisha “Mama” Shabu, from Shabuta Cultural Arts Center had a total different perspective about September 11 and the Ebola crisis in Liberia. She blamed both governments for being careless in handling their respective crises and accused them of dishonesty and sending out the wrong message to their citizens.  “Both the Liberian government and the American government had, for many years, cultivated distrust in significant segments of their populations before September 11 and before this Ebola crisis occurred, respectively. They both continued to send out confused and unreasonable descriptions of events as the disasters unfolded and in the aftermath or, in the case of Liberia, as the disastrous events continued. The people of both nations were, therefore, thrown into hysteria and many innocent lives were and are being lost. The American government then used the Sept 11 tragedy as a cause to institute oppressive international restrictions on the whole world’s nations, especially international travel. It is now horrifying to see the same American government using the Ebola crisis in Liberia to again institute their hegemony in West Africa by pushing to send American troops to ‘handle’ the situation. And, again, the people will bear the brunt of a foreign nation, on the ground, controlling their lives.”

Stanford Peabody, Journalist: “I was in America during the September 11 attacks. I worked at Wells Fargo in downtown Minneapolis. It was a one-time strike, the enemy was identified and the US went after the enemy with all its might. I am currently in Liberia. Ebola is waging a psychological and biological war on West Africa. It intimidates, divides, sickens and then kills. It hides and strikes and people are ashamed when it attacks so they hide the weapon and become weapons themselves. Unless people are assured that there is a place to get treatment, a place that is caring and not a place that you can get Ebola, there will continue to be deaths instead of treatment.

“The attack [on the USA] was a one-time incident that killed 2966. The total deaths from Ebola are about to pass that mark. Besides, the deaths at 911 were random. Ebola wipes away entire families from households, villages and towns and people are scared to visit their sick relatives and there are stories of relatives left to die while the healthy run away. What can be so dehumanizing and terrible? A bomb?”

Meanwhile not everybody believes that Liberia’s Ebola crisis can in any way be compared to that of the U.S. September 11 attack.

Israel Newberry, a Rotary Peace Activist, seems to disagree because, according to his explanation, Ebola is attacking several countries whereas the terrorist attack was on America only.  

“Whenever you leave the zones of Ebola not being infected, you have a sense of safety.  But for the U.S. citizens, they feel very much unsafe in other countries where they are known as U.S. citizens. They were attacked by terrorists everywhere. Not like Ebola at all.”

The debate could go on and on, we are sure.  Like Stanford said in the case of 9/11, the culprit, a known enemy, was identified and America went after them. However, this is Liberia’s first experience with Ebola, an enemy whose symptoms are difficult to identify.

And while it is true that Liberia needs all the help she can get to eradicate this disease from our nation, it does not mean that our people are willing or want to be controlled by foreign nations. All Liberia needs, at this time, is a helping hand.

For those who have so far survived both 9/11 and the Ebola epidemic and are still alive to witness the Ebola epidemic unfolding, these are experiences that will forever be remembered.

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