Yesterday, Nine Years Ago
I was quite willing to let other people talk about the anniversary before I did. I just had a resistance akin to pain to talk about it until now.
In 1971, I won a travel scholarship from Alpha Kappa Alpha to go on a trip to seven Eastern cities with about 35 other young women of high school age, plus chaperones. Of course, one of the cities was New York, and it was my first visit ever. I recall the tour bus going downtown and going by the World Trade Center, as the first two buildings had been completed that July. The towers were massive. Massive. Massive, large and new against a blue and cloudy sky. Bigger than the Empire State Building we had visited, and had seen the panoramic view of the city from the roof. One kept on going on and on beyond my eyesight and the height of the scenic bus windows, and then the sunshine must have got in the way, and I sat back against the seat.
And that is all I remember of it.
In 2001, I was in upstate New York during the last leg of a journey that took me across the country, going from writing residency to writing residency to jump start my novel. I was going to be teaching at a local college; in fact, I had gotten dressed that day to attend the faculty meetings before classes began. I was listening to NPR, and getting ready to go out the door, when the station switched to, of all news outlets, the BBC, that had the story of the attack.
That’s when I turned off the radio and clicked on the television set. At that time, I normally did not watch “the image” until later in the day. And what I saw so horrified me. This was no movie. All the networks were fastened on the catastrophe unfolding in the city that was about 100 miles away, and where not a few writers that had attended the last residency lived.
I didn’t know anyone where I resided; everyone that I knew was still asleep in California–that is, it was past nine in the morning in New York, but past six in the morning in the Bay Area. All I could do was shout and wring my hands and weep and circle round in front of the television. And when the first tower began to teeter and pitch into the streets below, I recall screaming repeatedly, “They’re not out of the building yet, they’re not all out of the building!”
No one could get down to the ground floor and out of a building that massive within fifteen or twenty minutes. Not with all those people in the equivalent of a small town. Not even using the elevators.
Finally, I had to compose myself. I had to leave for the meeting, and by this time I was about two hours late. I drove myself to the college and then found the main entrance being blocked off and local cops all around. Somehow–I don’t remember how–I was allowed to park at a certain point on campus going in the same direction, and I started walking up the drive. Then, a woman faculty member came up on foot in the opposite direction, saw me and told me that everything was shutting down, and that everyone was going home because of the tragedy.
So I went back home and I was like everyone else in the country: glued to the set, averting my eyes at the humanity throwing themselves out of windows rather than be burnt alive, and doing something aimless trying not to have to look; hoping within hope for survivors in the rubble, chasing every rumor into the light of reality. Until I couldn’t watch TV any more.
In the next 48 hours, I managed to e-mail some of the writers that I had met asking for news, hoping that they were okay. More than one was happy that I had asked how they were. A couple were reporting that New York City–Manhattan–seemed stricken, lost, with many walking wounded going to school, going to work; they were merely going through the motions and feeling hollowed out.
I had only visited the city several weeks before to see an agent, and the city had been alive, bustling, hurtling towards September, still the center of the world. It amazes me about that time because people were going about their lives with a sense of normality, and no one had a clue what was going to happen in three weeks time. Some people who are progressives knew something was going to happen and were trying to put the word out. There had been a general terrorist alert announced for Europe and the United States that made the evening news, but that was sitting on the back burner of everyone’s minds. No one knew, except perhaps the Bush inner circle, but they weren’t paying attention anyway.
The feeling of numbness felt by New Yorkers made me think of how people might have been after the Blitz in Britain or the B-29 nighttime Tokyo bombings during the Pacific War, or after Dresden was taken out by B-17s in one night during the Second World War, or in Lebanon during the war between the Palestinians and Israel in the early 1980s, or during the First Iraq War when hundreds of shell-shocked Iraqi soldiers surrendered to Americans after being strafed and bombed almost without rest for days. We had been bombed.
There was a rumor that one of the hijacked planes had circled over a strategic area close to where I lived before making its run towards one of the towers. That area included a military base and a nuclear power plant. I shudder to think if the terrorists had decided to complete their deadly mission not in Manhattan but within 30 miles from where I lived. Say that the plane had dived into the power plant. And it had hit pay dirt and the facility had caught fire and exploded.
It would have been worse than Three Mile Island or Chernobyl.
I may not have been here. And if I were, I would probably be dying of cancer if I hadn’t been evacuated quick enough.
I cannot get over that that we didn’t go to war against or sanction Saudi Arabia, our supposed ally, whose absolute monarchy supplied their political opponents with their own oil money to suppress dissent and to divert their energies towards subverting our foreign policy. I cannot get over the fact that after how many years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, we still haven’t found Osama bin Laden and prosecuted him after Bush allowed him and Ayman al Zawahiri to advantageously find shelter in a zone between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Maybe it was because of the ties the Bush family had with the bin Ladens, who dealt in construction and oil.
I am still pissed off that thousands of Americans will not be able to come home from Iraq and Afghanistan whole because they are in the ground. That many more are walking wounded here in their country, that they are not getting enough health and psychiatric care; that cases of divorce and instances of homeless vets still occur after their return to American soil; and that atrocities committed by some of our own troops against Iraqis or Afghans continue to be revealed.
I am angry that we have poured out all this treasure of human lives and money all for naught. And in the light of such failure, and in the current economic situation, and not having access to the answers that I have found for myself, other Americans have looked for scapegoats and refused to delineate one Muslim from another. They’d rather rely on jingoism, nationalism, racism, rumor, character assassination, innuendo and best of all, fear of the unknown. It’s the easy way out.
And why in hell has the mainstream media sought to puff these kinds of lunatics, some even coming all the way from Europe to spread their anti-Muslim hate, and give their extremist views an airing? They are stirring up the wrong kinds of people. People’s lives have been threatened, and people’s property has already been torched. Do they want to see blood? Because after that, it’s really on. Are the media such whores for ratings during the slow summer months that they would deliberately ratchet up anger and tensions about things that are non-issues compared to what is really important? People are tripping over terms like sharia (Muslim law) without really knowing what they are, and that even among Muslim scholars there are differences of opinion about its imposition.
And lastly, I am angered that the actions of only 19 young men has led many Americans to think that all 1.5 billion Muslims, either Shi’a or Sunni, are terrorists. That some now consider Muslim Americans as a race when they come from many nations, even Europe. And that they cannot build mosques or community centers here without a froofraw being raised about whether they are sponsoring terrorism in our midst, even though the first mosque in America was built in–of all places–Ross, North Dakota. From what I hear, citizens in Sheboygan, WI are upset that Americans are building a mosque in that fairly rural, quiet community. It feels just like the early Sixties when Americans were flipping out over Mike Wallace’s reports about Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad’s Black Muslims.
These people, these immigrants, new citizens and American children want nothing more than to be a part of this country, and to see themselves as creating history here, as the young American Muslim men who trekked to 30 important American mosques this summer. And we feed into al Qaeda’s agenda when we make Muslims other than what they are, Americans. If some young Muslims hotheads think that they can be part of the terrorists’ dream, I’m sure that the FBI and the Justice Department can make them see stars–and reality–with a quickness. And why would youth prefer death rather than life is still beyond my comprehension. There ain’t no coming back from beyond that door.
I am so fed up with this racism. Especially, this season of racism. Can you all dig me on this?
Like the brother in New York–a carpenter helping with the reconstruction of the WTC–who was mistaken for being Muslim because he was wearing an Under Armour cap said, they don’t know shit.
I’m not only fed up at the racism against my own people,many of whom were Muslims when they were grabbed, enslaved, and brought to this country 400 years ago. I am fed up for other people of color as well–be they Latinos, Muslims-because what happens to them for damn sure doesn’t keep me at ease from being visited by the same reactionary, nativist elements.
I’ve said before that much of this know-nothing behavior has to do with the changing view of what is an American. It used to be that the standard view of Americans–both inside and outside of the United States–was that they were majority European white descendants who were native-born and spoke English. No longer. By 2050, white Americans will be a minority in their own country. The standard view of Americans will have changed to brown-skinned, multiracial, and speaking both Spanish and English.
The terrorists, then, will have turned into US. Not convenient outsiders or foreigners. And this flips certain people out, too.
Finally, I asked a rhetorical question a week or so ago, who weeps for those Muslims who died with nearly 3,000 other Americans during the terrorist attack?
This is a partial list of those Muslim Americans and residents of the United States who were considered “collateral damage” by the young killers on September 11, 2001. I haven’t been able to find a conclusive list. Certain Americans can talk a mean streak about who died in the Twin Towers–the Universe bless them and may they all be reborn to better human lives–but they were also people of color, blacks, office workers, restaurant servers, managers, vendors, dishwashers, secretaries, sales cashiers, waiters, Catholics, atheists, Protestants and Muslims. And if one cannot weep for Muslims’lost lives on that day, and for their families that are also bereft at this time of year, then one needs to really step back and ask his- or herself why?
It’s better to heal than to hurt.
Shabbir Ahmad (45 years old; Windows on the World; leaves wife and 3 children)
Tariq Amanullah (40 years old; Fiduciary Trust Co.; ICNA website team member; leaves wife and 2 children)
Touri Bolourchi (69 years old; United Airlines #175; a retired nurse from Tehran)
Salauddin Ahmad Chaudhury
Abdul K. Chowdhury (30 years old; Cantor Fitzgerald)
Mohammad S. Chowdhury (39 years old; Windows on the World; leaves wife and child born 2 days after the attack)
Jamal Legesse Desantis
Ramzi Attallah Douani (35 years old; Marsh & McLennan)
Syed Fatha (54 years old; Pitney Bowes)
Mohammad Hamdani (50 years old)
Salman Hamdani (NYPD Cadet)
Aisha Harris (21 years old; General Telecom)
Shakila Hoque (Marsh & McLennan)
Mohammad Shah Jahan (Marsh & McLennan)
Mohammed Jawarta (MAS security)
Arslan Khan Khakwani
Qasim Ali Khan
Sarah Khan (32 years old; Cantor Fitzgerald)
Taimour Khan (29 years old; Karr Futures)
Nurul Hoque Miah (36 years old)
Mubarak Mohammad (23 years old)
Boyie Mohammed (Carr Futures)
Ehtesham U. Raja (28 years old)
Ameenia Rasool (33 years old)
Rahma Salie & unborn child (28 years old; American Airlines #11; wife of Michael Theodoridis; 7 months pregnant)
Khalid Shahid (25 years old; Cantor Fitzgerald; engaged to be married in November)
Mohammed Shajahan (44 years old; Marsh & McLennan)
Naseema Simjee (Franklin Resources Inc.’s Fiduciary Trust)
Robert Elias Talhami (40 years old; Cantor Fitzgerald)
Michael Theodoridis (32 years old; American Airlines #11; husband of Rahma Salie)