Terrorism in America

By , October 15, 2001

October 15, 2001 A month after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I remain somewhat numb and confused, but my outrage is starting to take root.

My outrage is not at the criminals who sought to bring terror to daily American life, but at the Americans who have accepted terror and violence as proper responses.

All around me, a bumper-sticker mentality takes hold: vengeance, retribution, alienation.

My country is now in a second week of bombing attacks on Afghanistan, a country already ruined by two decades of wars driven by outsiders. Panicked Americans worry that every package or envelope may contain anthrax, and every man with brown skin or strange attire may be a terrorist.

In the news, an airline “understands” why pilots refuse to fly with Arab-Americans in the first class cabin: the fear is understandable, they say (prejudice is okay, they imply).

One of my state’s Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein, proposes that no new student visas be issued for six months, barring new foreign students, while new procedures are put in place.  The solution to attacks by those who do not understand us, she suggests, is to close out those who wish to do so.

Are we insane? Why do we respond to senseless violence with more senseless violence? Why do we respond to prejudice with more prejudice? We cannot repel ignorance with more ignorance.

Terror is a clever tool:

  • Terror makes us feel less connected.
  • We feel less safe, so we do not explore new places or new opportunities.
  • We back away.
  • Fear makes us more suspicious of strangers.
  • Our fear makes us leap to conclusions more quickly: this person is not like me, he is Other, he is Like Them, I must avoid him, fear him.
  • Some of us react with prejudice or even anger and violence.
  • Fear separates.
  • Terror divides.

I am not immune. No one is immune to the contagion of terror. But we must resist, we must stand up and refuse to accept this shroud of terror. We must smile, we must go on, we must strive to be fair and true.

And perhaps most important, we must refuse to spread the contagion of terror. Our nation should not rain terror down on Afghanistan, or Iran, or on our own citizens. Our president should not announce on television that a terrorist suspect is “guilty” before there any trial, nor even an indictment.

This is not America. It is the shroud of terror on America. Let us lift it and cast it aside.

My First European Vacation

I was in Paris on September 11, 2001.  It was the last day of my first vacation in seven years, and my first trip overseas.  I left the Musee D’Orsay in late afternoon, then took a Seine river cruise, disembarking at the Eiffel Tower.  I rode the elevators to the top, and took a bunch of photographs, then descended as twilight approached. I made my way back to my hotel.  I planned to be asleep before 9:00 p.m., so I could arise before sunrise.  I would be taking the Chunnel Train back to London (where I spent the first four of my six vacation days) and then make my way to Heathrow for a mid-afternoon departure to return home to California.

I turned on the television as I packed my suitcase, occasionally glancing at news coverage of a tall burning building. Then the new camera’s angle changed, and I realized it was the World Trade Center in New York.  I couldn’t understand the French-language broadcast, so I scanned the dial and found CNN.  I then learned that two commercial airliners had been hijacked and crashed into the twin towers, which collapsed a short time later.  (Paris is six hours ahead of New York, so I picked up the news about 4 hours after the event).

Terrorism had come to America.

The hotel clerk confirmed that my flight was cancelled, and helped me reschedule to depart Sunday morning instead.  He checked to confirm that the Eurostar trains were still running, but with tightened security requiring an earlier arrival at the terminal.

I took the train back to London the next morning, and booked a cheap hotel for four nights.

My first four days in London had been hectic.  I had rushed to see a half-dozen museums, several plays, and an endless array of tourist sites and interesting neighborhoods.  I had taken hundreds of digital snapshots.

The next seven days were nearly opposite: I was relaxed and made few definite plans. I saw more plays, and took many more pictures.  (The exception was a bout of food poisoning that caused me to miss my Saturday morning departure in favor of a visit to a hospital.)

I finally returned home on Wednesday, September 19th.

One Response to “Terrorism in America”

  1. Mark says:

    I’ll honor victims of terrorism today by sharing these links:

    “How to Beat Terrorism: Refuse to Be Terrorized” by Spencer Ackerman

    “[H]ysteria is what the terrorists want.”

    Bin Laden was successful, “not because of what he was, but because of how we reacted to him.”

    “The U.S. has to embrace the reality that terrorism is not anything remotely like the existential threat we make it out to be. We can honor those 2,996 without being permanently haunted by them.”

    “[T]errorism alone cannot do anything to the Constitution. Only Americans can damage the Constitution.”

    “A Moment of Silence” a poem by Emmanuel Ortiz

    Before I begin this poem, I’d like to ask you to join me in a moment of silence in honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001.
    I would also like to ask you to offer up a moment of silence for…

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