I woke up on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 at approximately six-fifteen in the morning. I did not wish to be late to work. I wanted to work my four hours, study for my classes, and then later in the evening go home. A few minutes after nine, a news report showed up on CNN Asia that turned into one of the biggest tragedies in American history.
It wasn’t a joke
There, on the monitor, was a picture of an explosion at one of the towers of the World Trade Center. My first reaction was disbelief. “This is a joke, right?” I was told that it was not. When I tried to load up a news web site, any news web site, said sites would not load. I thought that perhaps there was a problem with my computer’s connection, but then when I tried to check my e-mail I saw that the problem wasn’t the connection. The problem was too many people trying to access the news web sites. A visit to slashdot.org confirmed this thought. Someone posted there about the plane crashing into the World Trade Center tower.
“What a horrible accident,” I thought to myself. “I hope that not too many people got hurt.” I found a news report on Yahoo news which simply stated that observers saw a plane hit one of the World Trade Center towers.
Then one of my coworkers sent me an instant message from across the room to tell me that the second tower had been struck by another plane. My face fell as I realized that this could have not been an accident and that we were under attack.
I tried to tell many people in the computer lab what was going on but people seemed to either not care or to perhaps simply not believe that such a horrible thing was happening. One individual stopped me and said, “Are these people aware that our country is under terrorist attack?” “I tried telling them,” I said, “but nobody seems to believe me or care all that much.” From what I could discern, people were mostly preoccupied writing papers or other homework assignments for their various classes that they had later on in the day.
Someone told me one of the twin towers had completely collapsed. News was pouring in from the outside world, where people were watching CNN and listening to the radio – television and radio being two mediums not affected by the size of the audience. One of the towers collapsed. Shortly thereafter the other tower collapsed. The the Twin Towers – one of the most beautiful visions of architecture that anyone has ever conceived – were nothing but a pile of rubble.
My mind flashed back to a day a few weeks prior when I was driving to Hoboken to visit my best friend Matt. As I drove on the Turnpike I looked at the Manhattan skyline and stared at the Twin Towers and thought about how beautiful they were. Words from the Cole Porter songbook filled my heart… “I happen to like New York.” I was, of course, oblivious to the fact that shortly after this drive, complete with admiration for the view of my favorite city in the world, part of the view would be destroyed by a group of beasts. Beasts with no consideration for the wellbeing of the people inside the World Trade Center, for the families of those people, and for the nation at large.
Return to the Crisis
Less than two hours had passed since nine o’clock in the morning, and my coworkers were giving me reports of attacks on the Pentagon and the Washington Mall. They also spoke of a plane which crashed in a rural area in Pennsylvania, but it didn’t seem to mesh well with the other reports. My first guess was that the pilot must have been a brave individual who decided that taking down the plane and killing everyone inside would have been preferable to hitting another area where thousands were likely to be. Perhaps the pilot had heard of the other two attacks somehow.
I found out shortly thereafter that my school was canceling classes for the rest of the day due to concerns about traffic and I thought that was an odd way to phrase it. I would have thought they would have been direct and said that they too were affected by the terrorist’s attack on the World Trade Center, but that was not mentioned at all. One of my managers told me that if I felt it was necessary, I should go home. I live about fifteen minutes away from Rutgers by car when there is no traffic. It was to be assumed that traffic would be terrible. Fortunately, I was quite mistaken. I telephoned home to see if my brother was all right, which he was (albeit shaken and quite upset but this was understandable.) I tried to call my mother to see if she would return home earlier than normal but she didn’t pick up the phone, and the telephone answering service did not respond. That worried me quite a bit.
I eventually got home and found my brother visibly upset, watching the television. There was no volume. I hugged him and asked him if he had heard from our mother and he said that he had not. I tried calling my father to see if he was all right, and how he was coping, and he seemed to be in good shape. I then thought to call my mechanic, as strange as it sounds. My mechanic is such a wonderfully kind person that I felt that I should check to see if she was okay. Thankfully, she was.
A little later I got an e-mail message from my mother saying that she was worried about me and to let her know if I got home safely. She came home earlier than usual from work, which was a great relief. Later on in the evening, we lit a candle and said prayers for the victims of the attack.
Irrational Assumptions and anti-Islamic attacks
In the time that has passed since the attacks, many fears have been raised (quite legitimately) about the state of security in our country. I have been having many personal issues as well with the way that the media has been handling this case. From the very beginning we have been told that Osama bin Laden is a prime suspect but only recently were the hijackers named – seemingly the only solid bit of evidence that exists that connects the two.
It was reported on Thursday the 13th that ten men were arrested, all of whom possessed knives or box cutters, false identification, and flight instructions. By Saturday morning it was announced that the men had been released and that they possessed no knives, false identification, nor flight instructions. Of another two men fingered to be related to the terrorist attack, one was in Jordan and another had been dead for at least a year. Dead men, to borrow from a series of books, don’t commit terrorist attacks.
Even worse, at one point the media showed a video clip that showed Palestinians celebrating, allegedly on the occasion of the terrorist attacks. I found it odd that any time it was mentioned in the media that Palestinians were celebrating they kept on showing the exact same clip. I was told by a number of people that the clip they kept showing came from people celebrating a holiday a few years ago. Yes, a few years ago, not a few days ago. I am well aware, thanks to talking to my Aunt in Israel, that the Palestinian people were in fact celebrating and burning American flags – those images were just not depicting that event.
One of my managers at one of my jobs is Islamic, and to say that he has been harassed would be putting it gently. He recounted to me an incident in which he was standing outside of our place of work and there was a gentleman on a mobile phone next to him. The individual stated quite angrily into the phone, “We should kill them all” and then proceeded to give my manager a dirty look. What is happening is that people, being so upset about terrorists attacking our country, are taking a small group of fundamentalists and applying their world view onto all the people of the Islamic faith. Please believe that what has taken place is not a standard operating proced
ure under the Islamic faith. Though I am not of the faith, I believe that I understand enough of it to know that the terrorist attacks are frowned upon by those in the Islamic community.
The exact perpetrators of the crime will be found and punished, but we should not be punishing just anyone who simply looks like them, or who worships like them. After the attack on Pearl Harbor there were people born and raised in the United States who suddenly found themselves in detainment camps simply because they were of Japanese origin. That was unacceptable, just as it is unacceptable now to fire-bomb a mosque just because a small group of monsters misinterpreted the Word.
We have to be strong in this time of crisis. Being strong, however, does not mean pointing the finger of blame at the most convenient target. We will pass through this crisis as a people, and come out of it stronger. Isn’t that the American way?