Before September 11th, 2001, my concerns were largely professional - I was a consultant on a second engagement with a large energy company. I was making good money, my relationship with my wife was solid, and I was approaching the age of fifty - not yet having the aches and pains of old age, with still a small hope of obtaining remarkable physical fitness.
My world view was similar to that which I hold now, but much less intense - with fewer peaks. Yes, I recognized political differences between people, but my dissatisfaction with the Republican Party had not grown to warrant defection. I perceived other people as being moderate, or moderately liberal or conservative - nothing too extreme. Religion likewise seemed a quaint but harmless affectation. Sure there are some door-to-door proselytizers, but there always have been. It didn't seem offensive. I'm not a Christian, and different religions did not seem either scary or weird. Whether there was a correlation didn't concern me. Islam didn't seem that awful either ... and religious extremists of all stripes were remote concepts, not physical realities.
Before 9-11, I was aware that much of the Middle East did not like us. In the seventies, the Iranian Revolution highlighted some of the underhanded dealings and manipulations that the U.S. had with the rest of the world, but I could see then, and still see today, that influence via proxy is often more effective and less disruptive than direct political, economic or military action in achieving world stability and/or national policy objectives. The term "blowback" hadn't entered my lexicon, but I recognized the concept after the Iran Hostage Crisis. From the Olympic Massacre in Munich in 1972, through various hijackings and bombings, I was forming an impression of the world that included the violence that sometimes accompanies factional struggles. I suppose at their simplest, they are attempts to achieve policy objectives as well - independence from oppressors, oppression of independents, or sometimess mere retribution for perceived or actual wrongs.
September 11th, 2001 was a watershed for most Americans.
After 9-11, I saw what extremism truly is. How insane it is. How insane you must be to be that extreme. I also saw that extremism is just an ideology. Ideology - the superset of world views that include religions, nations, ethic groups, political parties, informal political movements, social movements and the like. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the people in the world aren't out to kill their fellow man or destroy society, although many percent of us have truly weird conceptions that are not grounded in reality.
I see now how wide the range of conceptions, and biases for action, are on any particular topic. Some people kill other people to prevent abortion - a monstrous double standard if there every was one. Some people kill other people who do not believe that same imaginary being because their holy texts - written by human beings - tell them that they will be rewarded in an afterlife.
People kill other people for insane reasons - that became painfully, woefully apparent on 9-11. It has happened throughout recorded history, but on 9-12, I got it. People adopt wholly irrational beliefs, in deities or politics or social conventions, and are willing to revile, persecute and kill people because those beliefs lead them to the conclusion that the world in general, or their world in specific, will be a better place.
The world is not a better place ten years after 9-11. American has spent over a trillion dollars on the war on terror. Our freedoms have diminished. We ceded our liberty for security, and we have truly gained neither. We are now more like performing circus animals than ever before. We sit up on our hind legs like caged lions and tigers. We spin in a circle because the ringmaster wields a chair and a whip, and has trained us to do so.
As rational, independent beings, we should struggle to form our world, not to be formed by it. There is still hope.