On September 11, 2001, at about 11 A.M., I walked over to my computer and typed the sentence: “Now, we are all Israelis.”It always begins with the Jews. Osama Bin Laden called the assault on America “blessed attacks” against the “infidel…the new Christian-Jewish crusade.” He explained that the twin towers had fallen because of American support for Israel.
War–and a new kind of anti-Semitism–had been declared.
I was not a direct victim on 9/11. I was at home, transfixed before the TV set, watching it live as it continued to happen, and I did not move from my spot. I knew that when I got up, nothing would ever be the same again. I would no longer feel safe in my native city or country or in the world. I would no longer be able to assume that life as I’d known it, with all its illusions, would continue. How could it?
At 8:45 A.M. and at 9:03 A.M. two planes (American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines flight 175) hijacked by Islamic terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center. AT 9:17 A.M. the Federal Aviation Administration shut down all New York City airports and, for the first time in history, all American airports. At 9:30 A.M. President Bush announced that the country had been attacked by terrorists. At 9:43 A.M. a third hijacked plane (American Airlines flight 77) crashed into the Pentagon. At 9:45 A.M. the White House was evacuated. At 10:05 A.M. the south tower collapsed. At 10:10 A.M. a section of the Pentagon collapsed and a fourth hijacked plane (American Airlines flight 93) crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. At 10:13 A.M. the United Nations was evacuated. At 10:28 A.M. the north tower collapsed. At 10:54 A.M. Israel evacuated all Israeli diplomatic missions to the United States. At 12:04 P.M. the Los Angeles airport was evacuated and closed. And at 1:27 P.M. the city of Washington declared a state of emergency.
The twin towers had burst into flames and were tumbling down; firefighters and police officers rushed in. People with horrified eyes and covered with white soot burst out of the building; a tornado of debris whooshed after them as they kept on running. Incredibly tiny people were holding hands as they jumped to their deaths from high floors, and still the towers continued to burn and melt and fall. In my mind, they are falling still, out of heaven, into hell. Falling into eternal memory.
At 4:25 P.M. the American Stock Exchange, the New York Stock Exchange, and the NASDAQ announced that they would remain closed on September 12th. By late afternoon the wind began to carry bits and pieces of charred paper, smoky scraps of metal, and bits of unidentifiable debris into my (old) neighborhood in Park Slope, less than two miles from Ground Zero, and the air smelled of scorched souls, acrid and agonizing. It was a sickening combination of industrial fuels, hate, and human cries; it burned my throat and my eyes and my mind. I will never forget it. Nor will I forget the small impromptu shrine that instantly and instinctively arose nearby: flowers, candles, an American flag, a small umbrella to shield this makeshift memorial from the elements—I paid my respects there almost every day for more than a year.
The firehouse on Union Street was located two blocks from where I lived. They lost twelve firefighters out of twenty-five on that day. For months afterward, the firehouse was ablaze with lit candles and flowers. Wordlessly, tearfully, people brought baked goods and left small donations; bagpipes pierced the Brooklyn air with sonorous grief in funeral after funeral for these suddenly missing firefighters.
They will never come back, not one of them, and we will never see their like again. I survive them, we all do. In their place and for their sakes we must find the courage to stand up to evil as best we can. From now on, we will be pleading their case–and the case of all civilians everywhere who are now hostage to terror.
9/11 has continued for a long time. It is still happening. It is not over yet.
9/11 was a direct hit on democracy, modernity, religious pluralism, and women’s rights. When Islamofascist terrorists are attacking my country, my culture, and my people, I choose to oppose them. Americans must understand that a new kind of war has been declared upon our civilization and we must find effective ways of stopping those who wish to destroy Western civilization and individual freedom.
Do I dare to defend America from its critics who simplistically charge it with racism, capitalism, imperialism? Yes, with pleasure, I so dare. As imperfect as American democracy might be, what we have achieved here would constitute a revolution in any Arab or Muslim country
Friends: I wrote the above in 2002 and published it in 2003 at the very beginning of my book The New Anti-Semitism. I needed to create a verbal snapshot of that day, a memorial marking that moment in time when the Death Artists tore all asunder, ripped a huge and gaping hole into the fabric of our civilization.
Since then, so many people have lost so much: Some have lost their lives and their dearest relatives; many rescuers have lost their health. I have a friend who believes that New Yorkers have gotten sicker more often since 9/11. (Imagine what Israelis must feel–some of whom have personally survived pogroms, the Holocaust, five wars of self-defense, and then the equivalent of 9/11 every month for a few years. These frequent attacks stopped only after Israel built the Security Fence aka the “Apartheid” Wall.)
9/11 has changed our lives as travelers. Now, we all have to wait on long lines at the airport, remove our shoes, have our small bottles of water confiscated. I do not hear people cursing Richard Reid, the Shoe Bomber, (he’s the reason we have to take off our shoes) or the three London terrorists who were just convicted of belonging to an Islamist cell and plotting to smuggle explosives in soft drink bottles on board aircraft flying from London to America. (They’re the reason we cannot bring any liquids on board with us).
I do hear Americans cursing America for the excesses of Abu Ghraib; the alleged “torture” and the absence of lawyering at Gitmo for enemy combatants; the suspicion shown towards Arabs, Muslims, and Middle Easterners at airports which, in their view, amounts to a high civil rights crime. I do have Muslim friends who are stopped too frequently and questioned too closely at airports but what else can America do? All the terrorists who have attacked America, both here and abroad, are Arabs and Muslims–Islamists if you insist, because this distinction allows us to believe that there are many “good” Muslims with whom we may work.
I no longer live in Brooklyn, I’m back in Manhattan. Now, when I pass the ground upon which the Twin Towers stood, I usually look away. But sometimes, I gaze, silently, as sadness washes over me but the sadness strengthens my resolve never to forget, never to forgive, and to never give up.