There were three epicenters of the terrorists attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001: New York City; the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.; and a field in Pennsylvania which took the place of the U.S. Capitol Building due to the efforts of heroes aboard an ill-fated flight. The jihadists attacks on the hearts of America’s financial, military and political centers was deliberate, evil and immediate. The ramifications reverberated in the years that followed.
I worked across the street from New York City’s World Trade Centers in 2001 and the impact on me was direct.
I first felt the vocal rumblings of 9/11 during the prior week. I spent Labor Day weekend in New York City while most of the city’s residents were on vacation. As I picked up some late night foods at the Fairway market on the Upper West Side, I stood on line behind a woman who was nearly blind, who I guessed hailed from Pakistan. She talked for some time to the cashier, a much younger man, about how everything was about to change forever and that the world would finally wake up. The conversation made me extremely uneasy and I relayed to my wife how I had suddenly felt like a vulnerable minority in New York for the first time.
That sense of dread gained credence as news trickled in from the weeklong UN-sponsored Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa which ended on September 8. Rather than serve as an opportunity to address xenophobia and racism’s oldest form – anti-Semitism – the conference twisted the notions of “colonialism”, “imperialism”, and rights of “indigenous peoples” as condemning articles against Israel, labeling it as an “apartheid” state, in a slur to resuscitate the UN’s 1975 “Zionism is Racism” resolution.
On the morning of Monday, September 10th, I boarded a flight bound for Kansas City for business. As the plane pulled away from the gate, it clipped the wing of a plane parked next to it in a freak accident, grounding both planes. Instead of having a full day meeting in KC and then continuing on to a conference in San Diego, I ended up spending the day and the next in New York, and planned on flying out to California late on 11th.
As it turned out, staying home on the 11th allowed me to vote during the New York Democratic primary. I voted for whoever was running against Mark Green and then walked to the Broadway and 72nd street subway station to head to my office downtown. I boarded the number 2 express train which would take me on my regular route to Chambers Street before switching to the 1 train for one stop to Cortland St. That train station was under the World Trade Center and I would normally walk out one of the corridors to my office at 130 Liberty Street, a 39-story tower known as the the Deutsche Bank Building, sometime around 9:00am each weekday. I was running slightly later that day because of my morning visit to the polling station.
A woman on the subway said in a loud voice that filled the subway car, that she heard that a plane just hit the World Trade Center. I worked on the 30th floor of the Deutsche Bank building facing south towards the Statue of Liberty and would often see planes flying up the Hudson River, sometimes seemingly way too low. I assumed one of those flights lost control and hit one of the tall towers. Before the subway doors closed, I switched to the local train to work out of the firm’s midtown office on 52nd street to avoid the craziness of the incident.
When I emerged from the 50th Street subway stop a short time later, a Black middle-aged woman walking on Broadway said to me that she just heard that both towers were hit. I replied that I heard that a plane hit one tower and she said “no, it’s both of them.” I ran to my office where there were a number of colleagues already standing and watching the television screen that was suspended from the ceiling. We would watch it for a few hours as the towers came crashing down to our utter shock. As we stared, people from our downtown office started to arrive in that midtown location. One of them was a former marine who said he had never seen anything like what he had just witnessed as he fell into my arms, exhausted. He said the sound of bodies popping as they hit the pavement as they jumped from the burning buildings would never leave his mind.
By early afternoon people began to head home, if they could, as the transportation system came to a halt. I walked towards my apartment and stopped for lunch at a pizza store named Pizza Cave on 72nd Street between Broadway and West End Avenue. I saw a friend who was shaken up by the events and had no way of getting home to Riverdale in the Bronx. He came to my apartment and hung out until he was able to figure out a way home.
After he left, I grabbed a video camera and headed with my wife and two young kids to Riverside Park. Hundreds of people went out to the pier that stretched into the Hudson River to watch dozens of ambulances race down the west side highway towards the giant cloud coming from downtown Manhattan. People stared overhead to see military aircraft race across the skies of New York City. Some just sat in the warm September sun.
The days that followed in New York were not moments of coming together as described by politicians today but a range of manifestations from post-traumatic stress disorder. I was glued to the television set so purchased a second one so my children could keep watching their kids shows. Everyone in the city talked about taping up their windows as the smell of ash, smoke and unknown scents hung over the city. People put up posters of “missing” family members all over walls of buildings, even though everyone understood they were dead in the rubble.
The days turned to weeks as people learned who died from their firms and apartment buildings.
The South Tower fell into my office building, shearing the entire front of the building and the debris filled the first floors, killing the security guard. One of the junior people on my team was allowed to go into the building in full hazmat attire to retrieve a handful of items left behind. He brought me back a cookie jar with my kids handprints and footprints which my wife had given me a few months earlier for Father’s Day. The tefillin from my bar mitzvah, which I kept in my desk drawer for situations when I worked late or needed to fly somewhere last minute did not make it out. The building was ultimately demolished in 2011, almost ten years after the attacks because human remains continued to be discovered as they methodically removed one floor at a time.
The world eventually learned the name of the attackers, Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi who was “fixated on American imperialism“, and his organization, al Qaeda, which was “dedicated to opposing non-Islamic governments with force and violence,” from bases of operation in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, and even the United States. Looking out from the epicenter, those days were mixed with pain, fear, anger and desire for revenge.
During those initial weeks, I would stop on various Manhattan streets to watch ceremonies of firefighters honoring the memories of fallen colleagues who died in their attempts to rescue people from the towers. The whole city felt a huge debt to these heroes who did their best to save hundreds of people. I would have personal encounters with some of those people in the following years.
The Diameter of 9/11
The Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai’s poem “The Diameter of the Bomb,” captures the essence of people and places impacted by destruction beyond those in the immediate vicinity of the blast radius. The diameter of the 9/11 attacks covered the entire planet.
On a personal level, my work relocated to Baltimore for several months after the attacks. The Amtrak train ride to the city was loaded with tension of people shuttling between the epicenters of New York and Washington. I recall the voices of riders expressing their disgust with members of Congress standing on the steps of the Capitol in a canned photo op, as people noted it was those very people who had failed to protect America.
About two and a half years after the attacks, I sold my Upper West Side apartment to a 9/11 widow. She had lost her firefighter husband on that dreadful day, and then married his best friend, also a firefighter. Her new husband divorced his wife a year after the attacks, and this new couple opted to start a new life together in my old home, with the help of millions of dollars she received as compensation for the bravery of her deceased spouse.
Thousands of additional people would die in the “global war on terror (GWOT)” and the “wars of terror (WofT)” in the months and years ahead.
The United States enlisted dozens of countries to help fight the scourge of Islamic extremist violence, principally in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also in Libya, Nigeria and Somalia. As the GWOT fought on, the WofT hit England, France, Spain and Israel, as genocidal jihadists continued to fight perceived infidels. Sometimes the WofT attacks were on a large scale, like the 2004 Madrid bombings, while at other times it was personal, like the beheading of the Jewish Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.
After the relief from the assassination of Osama bin Laden in 2011, the global fear of extremist Islamic terrorism came to the fore again in 2014 and 2015 when a new brand of radicals – ISIS – showed shocking videos of its members burning people alive and decapitating them. It declared a new Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq as it sought to reverse “western imperialism” which divided the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Islamic radicals went on to kill cartoonists and Jews in Paris, France in January 2015; celebrants of Bastille Day in Nice in July 2016 and hundreds in London and Manchester, England throughout 2016 and 2017.
While new epicenters emerged, the mayhem largely stayed off of American shores.
Twenty years after the infamous attacks, America pulled its troops from Afghanistan and prays that the silence from the paucity of successful jihadi attacks in the United States, continues.
But in that silence, a drumbeat of new local jihadists on America’s college campuses and the halls of Congress, echo the sentiments of al Qaeda and ISIS.
Professors from Rutgers University and San Francisco State marked the 20th anniversary of the slaughter of innocent Americans with a forum that blamed the original attacks and the responding war on terror on the false idea of “US and Israeli exceptionalism” and promoted the absurd notion that each country needed a new adversary after the fall of the Soviet Union, so they manufactured Islam as the new bogeyman. One speaker said that “For me, the horror wasn’t 911 itself, which I experienced back when I was living in North Carolina. For me the horror was George W. Bush’s speech, I found his speech to be completely horrific, because here he was openly declaring, quote, forever wars.” In short, the murder of nearly 3,000 innocent Americans did not bother the professor as much as the advance of “American imperialism” against Islamic countries, now under the guise of a “war on terror.”
Those same outrageous chants are now heard repeatedly in Congress, with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) decrying the United States’ “western imperialism” and claiming that the U.S. and Israel foster racism for profit. The talking points of the Durban Conference, al Qaeda and ISIS are coalescing and becoming embedded in left-wing America.
On 9/11/01, Islamic extremists killed thousands of innocent civilians in the United States, vandalized America’s skyline and instilled a deep fear of their disregard for human life, in what President Obama referred to as an “evil ideology“, copied by a variety of jihadists groups. Those Islamic groups are fighting the wounds from end of World War I, which they perceive as western powers defeating the Islamic Ottoman Empire, carving it up in the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 and inserting a colonial beachhead of Jews in Palestine with the Balfour Declaration of 1917. They are slowly gathering support for their cause against “western imperialism” and “Zionism” as they muster influence in the west.
The scars of 9/11 may have healed for some, making it easier to consider that the need for a global war on terror should come to an end. But the jihadist war is only entering its next phase, as it enlists westerners to undermine its own interests and values.
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