Wednesday, September 10, 2008

September 11th

Here are photos I took from the roof of my building at 256 East 10th street in New York on that morning. They are published here for the first time. I arrived just minutes before the second plane crashed into the building. I ran out of film before the buildings collapsed.
I was off work that day, and I heard a bulletin on the radio that a plane hit the World Trade Center. Thinking it was probably a small private plane, I went up to the roof to take a look. Seeing that this was a major disaster, I immediately ran downstairs to my apartment, and managed to get a phone call out to my family in Dallas just before long distance went dead (and apparently before the news was broadcast, they knew nothing of what had just happened). I grabbed my camera that still had some shots left on it and went back to the roof. Here are the resulting pictures.

Here are people gathered on the roofs of neighboring buildings watching the catastrophe.

As soon as the North Tower collapsed, I had no more TV or radio reception. Fighter jets flew overhead immediately and everyday for weeks. Everything below 14th street became closed to all traffic, so no deliveries and no newspapers and no milk or fresh groceries for days. I heard very little news in the week that followed the attack. The main avenues were lined with empty buses for evacuation just in case. On the afternoon of September 11th, First Avenue was filled with people leaving downtown on foot. All subway and bus service ceased. The restaurants and bars that had satellite or cable connections had their TVs and radios tuned to news and playing at full volume. Beth Israel and Cabrini hospitals had lines of people waiting to donate blood around the block, and were turning people away. The cops and fire department were recruiting anyone and everyone who was willing to go help dig down at the Trade Center site. Dust and smoke filled the air in my neighborhood for days after the attack. The air smelled like a giant electrical fire. Flyers posted by families and friends looking for the missing began appearing everywhere the day after the attack.
The crazies came out of the woodwork in the days that followed. I remember one old man in a construction helmet carrying a huge American flag walking up the middle of Avenue A through the dust and smoke shouting “Wake up!” at the top of his lungs, and then some long string of gibberish that I could not make out. I remember a woman standing in the middle of Astor place screaming obscenities at everyone passing by. I remember another old man clutching a Bible standing near Astor place in the dust and smoke listening to something on a pocket tape player, and laughing uncontrollably.
While this was the worst thing that I've ever seen and ever hope to see, I feel relatively fortunate.  I know people who were much closer and saw a lot more than I did.  One of them has not been below Canal street since.  None of my nearest and dearest were affected, though I knew people who lost a lot of friends and family.  The Fire Department lost more people in that attack than the total of all the deaths in the department since its creation.  Almost every firehouse in the city lost people that morning.  

 Seven years ago, 19 guys armed only with box cutters, succeeded where Hitler, Stalin, and the Japanese Empire failed. They sent the United States into a panicked tailspin from which it has yet to emerge.  We've made mincemeat out of our Constitution and sold away our birthright for the sake of National Security.  As Ben Franklin reminded us, those who would sell out their freedom for the promise of safety deserve neither freedom nor safety.

Here are 2 holy men endorsing the attacks 2 days later. I’m sure Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri agreed with every word.

So let’s remember just who it was that hit us that morning.

How many of those 19 hijackers were openly gay? ---------- 0
How many of them were women? --------- 0
How many of them were feminists? ------- 0
How many of them were secularists? --------0
How many of them were members of the ACLU? ---------- 0
How many of them supported abortion rights? -------------0
How many of them could be considered in any way liberal? -- 0
How many of them were “pagans”? -------0
How many of them were religious fundamentalists? --- 19

And why did they hit us?
Because, they see us as The Great Satan, as alien aggressors.
They see everyone of us as decadent liberal secularizing infidels out to profane all that is holy.
They are apocalyptic fundamentalists who see the world in the sharpest contrasts of black and white, who think of human beings as nothing more than cardboard cutouts in a radically simplified abstract view of the world. They prefer the sterile purity of death to the messy vitality of life.

The people who hit us were deeply influenced by the writings of Sayed Qutb, an Egyptian religious scholar who was horrified at the decadence of the United States after a visit here in the 1940s.  It amazes me that Qutb is so little known in this country.  He is to militant Islamism what Lenin was to Communism.  His thought is a major factor shaping contemporary global politics.   The hijackers were also influenced by the Deobandi school of Islamist thought (that began in India in the 19th century) who target other Muslims for too much contact with the decadent West, and for not clinging to their own very narrow legalistic form of religious fundamentalism.  The Deobandis were a decisive influence on the Taliban.  Again, it surprises me that this is not more widely known in the United States.  Are we so wrapped up in our comfortable little domestic narratives of evil secularist liberals vs. gun-toting resentful conservatives that we can't recognize the wolves that have been barking at our door for years now?  Perhaps because these wolves (who've been around for a long time) are so far out of our insular little frames of reference that we can't see them even when they attack us.   Our other comfortable little melodramatic TV narrative of Muslim = Bad, Christian American = Good has also failed us, especially since these guys are as much at war with the rest of the Muslim world as they are with us.  It appears to me that our leaders are much more interested in exploiting our shock, fear, and grief over the attacks to promote careers and ideological agendas than they are in doing anything really constructive about it.  But, to say so I suppose would be cynical.

The men responsible for conceiving and planning this attack are still wandering around loose in Pakistan after 7 years, and after thousands upon thousands of lives lost in military campaigns in places where those men are not and never were.

Through all the grief and rage that return to me every year at this time, I remember all the many people, firefighters, police, rescue workers, and ordinary people, who died while trying to indiscriminately save lives.
They spoiled the plans of those who died trying to indiscriminately take lives.

May all the saints of 9/11 pray for us.

Here is the complete list of all who died in the attacks that morning.


David G. said...

What's wrong with being cynical?

The time has come!!

Anonymous said...

My take on this is the controversy Modern vs. anti Modern.

I mean these guys were urban, pretty well off, had university, had lived abroad (in the USA, mostly), some of them even were licensed pilots (whereas my eyesight is very poor, the first thing the Dr said was; Not a Sea Captain, not a Pilot… ; = )

They had all the advantages of Modernity.

To continue the cynical theme… These buildings were from the early 1970ies, they were full of Asbestos.

What would the cost have been for a regular pulling down?

Who would even have got a permit??

Anonymous said...

I was staying with my brother at Halmstad in western Sweden. We had seen an catastrophy-film the night before. Some madman wanted revenge (his wive had been murdered, or something). He set up to crash aeroplanes methodically, following a scenario...

We concluded it was very un-believable and very American.

The next morning we saw the areoplanes going into the WTC in New York (there is one - not so high - in Halmstad as well; we saw that one from the balcony).

Anonymous said...

CNN had a subtitle saying "America under attack".

Great! But it was "the World under attack": the Modern World. Communications chiefly.

And people from the whole world worked in those towers. 100 Nations, or something.

Many of them as illegal aliens (nice word). Some of them un-accounted for still...

Anonymous said...

Modern, anti Modern, Islamism developed from the 1920ies in Egypt and Pakistan, when both were English Colonies.

There was an air-line connecting them...

Fran said...

Oh Counterlight. There is little I can say. I was in midtown that day.

Thank you for your photos and your refelctions, thank you.

My office moved in 2003, from midtown to Broadway at 9th Street- in the building that houses the KMart near the ginormous Starbucks... I worked there until late 2007, I wish I had known you when I was there.

KMart and Ginormous Starbucks... symbols of post 9/11 America.

I am cynical more often than I like as well.

susankay said...

My husband and I were in a Kansas farmhouse with only one channel available on TV. Eventually we went in to the hospital to visit his father (the reason we were in Kansas). The doctor treating my father-in-law was absolutely shaking. He is Muslim and had just saved Howard's life.

it's margaret said...

thank you Counterlight --and God bless you.

June Butler said...

Wonderful post, Counterlight. Once again, I seem to have no words.

JCF said...

Somehow I missed this post 3 years ago.

The men responsible for conceiving and planning this attack are still wandering around loose in Pakistan after 7 years, and after thousands upon thousands of lives lost in military campaigns in places where those men are not and never were.


That's the one notable change since 2008, the lack of the Numero Uno Conceiver/Planner/Funder not "loose in Pakistan", or breathing anywhere. (Well, the change of President is at least arguably a notable change---though both you and me would agree not as LARGE a change as we would like! :-/)

Maybe I'll have something profound to say re 9/11 by next week.

I'm dumbfounded to see your photos, though Doug. As someone (on the West Coast *that day*) who only found out after the first tower (second hit) had fallen, I can't imagine what it would be like to see that second plane hit the South Tower, w/ your own live eyeballs (smelling nostrils). OMG.