The day the world changed
On the morning or September 11, 2001 one of the guys who works in our building told me, “check it out, one of the twin towers is on fire.” Our building, the Eagle Warehouse, is across the East River from South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan, just south of Brooklyn Bridge—with great views of the World Trade Center. Naturally, I grabbed my automatic 35mm camera (and Homer) and walked out to take a look.
After taking a few pictures, watching for a minute or two, and deciding against getting the video camera, I turned around to head home, not thinking much of it, except that I could see flames with my naked eye, and I did think that was strange. But no one else seemed to be taking notice, so I returned to the normal business of the day. My husband, Nicholas, had just gotten up and I told him what was going on. Naturally, we turned on the news, and eventually went out together to look.
It was just as we were stepping back inside when we heard another explosion—believing now it was a second bomb. We ran down to Fulton Ferry Landing, where a woman was screaming that a military plane had just flown into the World Trade Center. We were horrified, confused. We stayed there watching as the smoke puffed up from the impact, trying to learn more from the few people present, one of whom had his car radio on, and after some moments in a daze, went back inside and turned on the TV. All we knew now was what had happened, and what was going on outside of New York—but not yet that people were jumping out of the towers to escape death by fire, or what was still to happen.
We spent the morning going back and forth between the real and the mediated, so we were outside in a flash as we heard the terrible shriek of metal that signaled the collapse of the first tower. Nicholas dropped to the ground crying: how I envied his catharsis in that moment. I stood in dumbfounded shock as I remember thinking, “they are all gone.” I felt like the swimmer who knows he has been attacked by a shark but doesn’t realize his leg has been eaten. Later in the day, as the cloud of who knew what approached on the wind, our next door neighbor, a doctor at NYU Hospital, screamed for us to get inside and close the windows. She was concerned about poison gas, but the truth turned out to be far more banal yet no less murderous.
Re-programmed Patriotism: 9/11 is 1984
I was at Danspace the night the American bombing raids of Afghanistan began, and against the war from the onset. But it wasn’t until the massive protest on February 15 against the inevitable Iraq war that I understood just how much things had changed. Only two years before, unions, environmental activists, student groups, and others from across the globe came together in Seattle and shut down the WTO. Now, in New York City, we were corralled as we exited the subway. We never made it to the protest but joined thousands of others in cordoned off blocks nearby the U.N. It was a moment of unity, but also a chilling portrait of things to come (additional H.G. Wells reference intentional). I left the subsequent Republican National Convention activism to younger compatriots, as I knew the risks to democracy and freedom were substantially greater.
9/11 made me a crusader
I witnessed the attacks from outside my home across the East River from Lower Manhattan in Brooklyn, near the Fulton Ferry Landing. I also witnessed the way my Muslim neighbors along Atlantic Avenue and in Boerum Hill and Carroll Gardens were vilified en masse by other neighbors, and the reduction of an entire religions and ethnicities into a catch basin called terrorism. I witnessed a raging resurrection of un-American demonization of all Others, which for a moment was undone by the election of Obama, only for him to end up being the epitomization of the hated dark-skinned Islamic Other, the worst Other in the history of all Christendom, lest we forget. Yes, I witnessed this and Bush Papacy’s declaration of Holy War, which only an emperor or a pope or a sultan can declare.
The effect on me, a baptized, confirmed, and lapsed Catholic: I became a crusader for religious freedom, a defender of the Islamic faith as a consequence of my defending the United States Constitution. It is an unusual position for a non-believer, and in truth, my own philosophy is that religion is corrupt and religious leaders adept at tricking themselves into believing whatever they need to believe to continue to wield power and influence. Still, to see this hatred play out in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, the lies and fear-mongering of Fitna and The History Channel, the denial of religious rights of minorities. Does anyone think these strategies will endear or encourage these communities toward assimilation? I see no clash of cultures here, only fear being stoked every day, which serves the new and improved (i.e privatized) military security complex just fine.
The mosque near Ground Zero and the 2010 midterm elections.
There were some terrible hate crimes shortly after 9/11 against Muslims and even Sikhs, but the scourge of religious intolerance at least in New York City had subsided—that is until the mediated controversy over Park 51, the Islamic cultural center planned for lower Manhattan. Frightened, faux-marginalized, extremist American media (and their beloved idol Sarah Palin) decided for 2010 instead of same-sex marriage, or big government, or illegal immigrants, the hottest issue was 9/11, a wound still easy to open. To stoke the flames of voter attention span, equate Islam with terrorism. It was working very well in the Euro zone. The right simply adopted the values of the European right to win this election. The Swiss banned minarets; the French and Belgians banned the veil. A new Islamophobia arrived in America just in time for the mid-term elections. Since Obama killed Osama, things have turned back to the economy, but the Muslim-bashing isn’t over.
I deplore and condemn any suggestions of conspiracy, while adding two thoughts: (1) A data visualisation of the event would invariably have many lines connecting to a large vector entitled OIL. The reporting and NATO involvement with countries associated with the Arab Spring confirm that, despite the political theatrics, or boulderdash, some would call it, on this one in the US Congress. (2) If only the same resources and money had been applied these last ten years toward rebuilding Palestine, instead of destroying Iraq, treading bloody water in Afghanistan and Pakistan, ignoring Israel’s illegal and disproportionate brutalities, and strengthening the hand of Iran, imagine what the post-9/11 world would look like. I don’t want to remember the past. I want to build a better future.