Friday, September 10, 2010

About 9/11

On Sept. 11, 2001, my train from Trenton, NJ to New York City was running early. I could barely believe it. I was in Penn Station around 8 a.m. and I walked into my office at 5th Ave. and 26th St. at about 8:20 a.m. When I crossed 6th Ave. on my walk, I did my usual look down the street, my only view of the Twin Towers from Manhattan every day. It was a beautiful day.

Sometime around 4 p.m., when my very-delayed train got back to Trenton, the board with the train schedule was flashing with an advisory that PATH service was suspended “due to fire at World Trade Center.” Oh, if it had only been a fire…

I can remember a lot of things about that day. I remember standing on 6th Ave. at about 9 a.m. with hundreds of others just staring in disbelief. I remember making a decision with my coworkers to leave the apartment we were in watching events unfold and walk to the Hudson River as there was nothing to blow up at the River. I remember someone announcing to a boat-full of passengers in Hoboken that anyone who was on board from below Canal St. had to go and be “decontaminated,” a term that meant get hit with hoses and handed a large towel to wrap around you for your train ride home.

In retrospect, what I remember more than anything was just being sad. And I mean everyone. I was sad. My friends and coworkers were sad. The Muslim woman standing in front of me on the train was sad. Because nothing like that had ever happened. Even watching the burning towers at 9 a.m., no one thought it would be the last time they saw the Twin Towers.

The funny thing… I don’t remember being angry. I certainly didn’t think we deserved to be attacked. But, apparently, lots of people were angry. Many of them from places far from New York. The same people who complain that New York thinks it’s the center of the world. As we hit the 9th anniversary of the attacks, the only thing I’m angry about is that the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation decided to pick the most drab plan to rebuilt as possible (I’m still partial to the THINK Design proposal…).

But apparently, “Ground Zero” has become hallowed land to people who probably would hate just about anything in New York a block away from the site. And, boy… people are angry. It’s to the point that people who have never had any interest in the City are trying to dictate a local zoning issue from afar.

In protesting the proposed Islamic community center, we have people getting involved in a local issue that they rail against when the federal government tries to do lesser things in their local communities. Hell, one guy wanted to burn Qur’ans unless he got a private phone call from the imam who is pushing the project.

I know that some New Yorkers are anti-mosque. But I cannot help but wonder where these people were on 9/11. Were they shut inside their Upper West Side condos, far from the bustle of the city on even a normal day? They certainly weren’t on my train where seemingly one of just about everyone was there. Where were these New Yorkers in the days after the attacks when the city’s transit hubs were papered with somber “missing” posters with pictures of people from every ethnic group possible who never made the trip home from their World Trade Center jobs that Tuesday.

Where were these people when the Sikhs, one of the most peaceful sects in the world, had to hand out glossy printed brochures at the entrance to Penn Station informing people they were NOT terrorists simply because they had brown skin and wore turbans (attacks or harassment against Sikhs had been popping up).

Imagine having to print a brochure to tell other Americans you’re really a nice guy and don’t want to kill them.

I guess these angry folks didn’t see any of that. But this 9/11, as I reflect, I also find myself sad yet again. Because 9/11 has been hijacked by people who, despite not being anywhere near a collapsed building or people covered in eerie white dust waiting in line for a boat, believe it is a tool to fuel American extremism. They believe this to the point that they want to exclude a group of Americans from doing something a few blocks away.

To me, if that aim is met, there will have been another act of extremist terrorism upon New York. Because Muslims died in those attacks. As did Jews. And Christians. So if we’re going to exclude any of those groups, then shouldn’t they all have to go?

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