September 12, 2002

I feel relieved that September 11th has passed. It actually gave me much the same restless anxiety that my birthday last Friday did: wanting to be caught up in something larger than me, wanting community and not knowing the "right" thing, something looming which I was bound to fail to adequately mark, some unfulfilled expectation. I decided to not go down to Ground Zero, as, again, it was a ceremony (and there were so many) that was cordoned off and private so that, even being blocks away physically, one could only 'see' it on television. On the street, you'd just be part of a crowd, anxious and wanting to participate meaningfully, penned by barricades. The night before, many people went to vigils and sings and prayers; I did not. I was all bent out of shape by some cash flow stuff and the total clutter in my apartment, misdirected emotion. It was so wild and windy, completely anomalous weather for NY, gave a momentous and portentous tone to the sunny day. Odd soundscape, too. Quiet in terms of car alarms, shouts, traffic, but again many sirens. So many I had to go outside. The neighborhood had a Saturday feel, lots of people out and brunching at cafes, and wandering with that same quiet, bonded feeling we'd experienced the year before. Quite a few people with videocams and cameras. Gusty winds, dust, and things flapping and banging. Lots of people, looks like, took a personal day from work, so the workaday rhythm was diffuse. Ran into some old friends, seemed everyone was strolling. Gina had gone to McSorley's for lunch and a beer, full, she said, of hunky Irish cops and firefighters, getting soused. She said it was the perfect place for her to be. I went to the park and finished Hiasson's "Basket Case", a fun read about a newspaper obituary writer obsessed by his own death. There was a ragtag memorial concert, pleasantly not too amplified music. Came home and listened to some of the 69 Love Songs. Went to yoga, and, on the way, saw my favorite scene of the day. At Crunch fitness, a ground-floor branch of a chain, through the plate-glass windows, I saw an aquariumful of young, buff Americans, all the machines were full, all running and cycling machines. So that everyone was facing, racing, but not getting anywhere, and gazing at a bank of televisions, each showing one of the major networks' image-montages of disaster and terror. it really said it all to me. The juxtaposition, the entitlement, the way everything has changed and nothing has.

Later, I watched "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero", which, amazingly, had some fresh views and images.One woman, a Buddhist, made the point that the acts of destruction took years of elaborate planning, coordination, and focused energy. But that, in chaos, instantaneously, utterly without context or expectation or precedent, acts of community and kindness were spontaneous and ubiquitous. I thought that was a beautiful point. How much planning went into malevolence, yet how spontaeous, pure, and direct the nobility of response.

The documentary reminded me of something I'd come to realize, most emphatically illustrated by Daniel Pearl's death. His kidnapping and killing were so personal, so senseless, so depersonalizing; the waste and pointlessness of it was striking. And his powerlessness, in that he was clearly savvy, charismatic, a great communicator, so that who he was could not save him, even as what he symbolized damned him. And the gap between what he symbolized to the killers and who he was as a person was exactly the cultural gap we cannot fathom, cannot seem to bridge in words. And there was absolutely no way that his killing could be politically justified; there were no demands that could be met, there was no grievance he'd created, there was no way he could be held responsible for either the policies of Israel or of the United States. And it was his death that made it black and white for me. That the attack in New York can never be discussed in symbolic terms, either; there can be no debate about whether "we" somehow "deserved it", "had it coming." Whether the impotent rage of the disenfranchized could find no more effective outlet. Whether we got a much-needed "wake-up call." The scale of the attack, and the impersonality of the means... these random people in planes, these other random people at their desks, and the physics of force, momentum, object, stress collapse... these all reinforce depersonalization. The scale of loss and destruction itself becomes symbolic, so that we see "America" having been attacked by "evildoers"... or perhaps they have a point we need to hear? But the death of Daniel Pearl invalidated any discussions of justification for me. September 11 was several thousand such deaths, each one unique and tragic and wasteful, and yet, in the aggregate, seemingly abstract. That very abstraction is the crime. Political discussion and grievances and slaughter are not the same language, should never be cheapened by allowing equivalent weight in discussion.

On an internet bulletin board, I saw a post asking why we took this to be so tragic and important when millions were massacred in Rwanda. Wasn't this another example of our swaggering provincialism? I can think of many poignant and historical reasons why the events are dissimilar, having nothing to do with valuing some lives less than others or with blind nationalism. Similarly, I heard Alan Dershowitz on the radio asking why we feel the Palestinians have more of a claim to nationhood than the kurds or cypriots or tibetans. He said it was because they had used terrorism and somehow bamboozled the world into seeing them as particularly, and legitimately desparate as a result; he found this despicable. Again, I could think of many reasons the Palestinian cause has unique pathos, some of which have to do with Israeli military occupation and civilian deaths. However, I have felt less sympathetic, not seen suicide bombers as hapless, misguided, and completely disenfranchized youth, so much this year, because there is no equation between legitimate grievance and killing random civilians. I was especially turned off by the Palestinians' recent killing of "collaborators." Those executed, women, were tortured into video confessions, their children rendered untouchable orphans, by their fellow countrymen. Really stomach-turning behavior. So I'm pretty much anti-terrorism across the board. The only problem being that it is the entrenched powers who define terrorism as "other" while sanctioning similar acts under rhetoric of national interest and self-defense.

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