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A New Yorker's View of 9/11
The mass murder of that day led to a period of political trauma for America
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
  Published 2006-09-11 11:35 (KST)   
Events in New York

In 2001, I lived in Manhattan, approximately four miles from the scene of the 9/11 tragedy. When the World Trade Center was attacked, I was at home. I didn't have the radio or television on so I didn't know what had happened until I left the house a little later that morning, to go to Columbia University. I had heard there was some trouble with Internet access at Columbia because of some problem with Internet connectivity.

I got on the M5 bus near my house on West 72nd Street going in the direction of Columbia University (West 116th Street). I was surprised that the bus was packed with people leaving Manhattan at that time of the day. There was barely room to move. Someone in the bus said that something had happened with the World Trade Center. It was hard to understand exactly what they were describing. People were taking the bus to leave the area anywhere near the tragedy, as some of the subway system was also affected by what had happened. All that was clear at that point was that something horrible had happened and the details of how or why were not understandable.

Standing at the front of the bus, because it was so crowded, I spoke to the bus driver. I tried to understand from him what he knew. He said that he had a relative who worked in the World Trade Center and he was worried about what had happened to him.

After I got off the bus near Columbia, I heard from someone in the street who had a portable radio. He said that there had been an attack on the Pentagon. It all seemed very surreal, and it was hard to understand what was happening.

When I got to Columbia, I soon learned that the World Trade Center was attacked and that many people had died. But it was the image I saw on television in the next few days, of the attack on the Towers, that remains stuck in my mind.

It was unclear for a while just how many people had been killed, what the fate was of the many people who were reported to be missing, or what had happened when the firefighters went up into one of the buildings, only to have it collapse.

The details of the event bring to mind images that were then, and continue to be traumatic to see or to think about.

A little while later I went to Union Square in Manhattan. There were notes pinned on the fences all around the square. They were from people around the world, many of whom were school children, expressing sadness and compassion to those who lost relatives in the tragedy. Also there were people gathered in different locations around the square with signs indicating they were in favor of peace, not war.

There were handmade signs about missing people, with photographs of the lost relatives, their ages, and where they worked, or were thought to have been when the WTC was attacked. These small posters later appeared in subway stations and elsewhere around Manhattan.

I went to a local religious service a few days after the tragedy. The religious leader said that people wanted "justice" not "vengeance" as a response to what had happened. They wanted to know who and what were responsible for what had happened. They didn't want revenge or harm to come to other people anywhere since it was tragic enough that the people at the WTC had died or been injured.

A neighbor worked in the JFK Federal Building near the WTC. She told me she had been told to vacate the building she worked in on 9/11. She had to walk down many flights of stairs. She had had to leave her personal belongings, so she didn't have her keys when she left. When she returned home, she had had to find a locksmith to break into her apartment. The whole event was traumatic for her in many ways even though she didn't work in the WTC.

A relative who lived and worked in New Jersey was driving to work when the second tower was hit. He told me he could see the attack from the road he was on.

On the TV news shortly afterwards were reports of some Muslims being attacked on the streets in NYC. Other people formed groups to try to protect people against such attacks.

One night, shortly after 9/11, I remember walking outside near the Lincoln Center area of Manhattan (near West 66th Street). We decided to eat at one of the outdoor cafes. As we sat outside, we began to realize that the air was very bad and that it was a bad idea to be outside. Here we were four miles from the WTC site, and yet the pollution was heavy. It was obvious that the pollution was a serious problem, even though there were reports in the press that government officials said the rates of pollution at the site were within normal limits.

A period of political trauma

Among the other frightening aspects of the period was hearing that someone who had written an email about the problems of the Palestinian conflict had lost his job and was under investigation for being a suspect in the 9/11 events. This created a sense that one had to watch what one wrote in email or said, so as not to be unjustly accused of being unamerican because of one's thoughts or opinions. There were other horrors that were going on, such as the rounding up of people by immigration officials, with some of those rounded up being held for long periods of time without access to legal processes.

Such events contributed to the experience of the period following 9/11 as a period of political trauma in the U.S., as well as personal trauma. While there was little attention by government officials to investigate how the planes had been able to carry out such an attack without being intercepted by routine air traffic control procedures, every person living in the U.S. became a suspect.

Questions about what had happened on 9/11 and who was responsible began to be raised publicly. The fact that even when all planes had been grounded in the U.S., a plane had been loaded with people and sent to Saudi Arabia by the U.S. government, raised questions about who had been put on the plane and why. Also, the fact that air traffic controller procedures to monitor a plane that is off track weren't put into effect on 9/11 also raised questions about why not.

In the U.S. the press was timid about raising questions of why the U.S. government hadn't acted on prior warnings they had that something like 9/11 would happen. Fortunately, there were serious questions raised in other countries, especially Germany. Among the questions, there were concerns about whether what had happened in the U.S. on 9/11 and in the aftermath, appeared similar to the events in Germany in 1933 when a fire in the German Reichstag was used as a pretext to consolidate Nazi power.

A series of articles in the German online publication Telepolis, raising many questions about the causes and contradictions of 9-11 began on Sept. 13, 2001 and continued at first daily, and then every few days, for a period of time. The author, Mathias Bröckers, eventually collected the articles into a book which sold many copies in Germany. Brockers's book is available in English as well as German.

The events of 9/11 have seriously affected life in the United States. New York still hangs under the noxious cloud that descended into the air on 9/11, in both a figurative and literal sense. The U.S. government's support for activities that improve the quality of people's lives was curtailed, in the name of increased funding for activities to "prevent terrorism." The arts in NYC suffered. At airports, there are long lines and various ways that one can expect to be searched or questioned. There are days when one sees soldiers in military fatigues in the NYC subway system with their weapons.

Immediately upon the attack, the U.S. media declared that the attack was by Al-Quaeda and Bin Laden. No proof was presented. Bin Laden's own response at the time was that he had nothing to do with the attack.

Instead of the U.S. government initiating an investigation into the source of 9/11 and the cause, President Bush announced: "We know who did it." Then rushed to declare war against Afghanistan, on the pretext that the Taliban wouldn't turn Bin Laden over to the United States. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan and many people were killed. Afghanistan was occupied in the guise that a "democractic government" would be created.

Popular concern that the U.S. government was not conducting an investigation into the 9/11 events was met by the U.S. government claim it had to invade Iraq. In Nov. 2002, Bush finally named Henry Kissinger as the head of a panel for a commission to investigate the events of 9/11. The public outcry against having Kissinger soon led to Kissinger stepping down from the position.

The U.S. government meanwhile focused on its plans to invade Iraq and used the supposed threat of terrorism and 9/11 as the pretext, despite the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

From the events of 9/11, to the claims about supposed "Weapons of Mass Destruction" in Iraq, the mainstream media in the U.S. has become ever more timid about questioning the U.S. government's statements and plans.

The political environment since 9/11 has seriously deteriorated inside the United States. The U.S. government, particularly the Executive Branch, has used the 9/11 attack as a pretext for invading other countries, and to justify the use of torture, as in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib Prison. A timid mainstream press in the U.S. more often amplifies what the government tells them than challenges the words and deeds of the government.

The U.S. is not a functioning democracy

The tragedy of 9/11 was used by the U.S. government to attack democracy at home as well as to violate international law abroad. This has meant that life for those in the U.S. who are sensitive, committed to the struggle for a democratic and just society, and want peace in the world, has gotten harder and more frustrating. There are reports of widespread wiretapping, interference with communication, and spying on organizations and individuals by the U.S. government of its own citizens.

What is the significance then of how this has affected my life and others in the U.S. who oppose the many anti-democratic activities both at home and abroad of the U.S. government?

I had the privilege of going to Tunis in Nov. 2005 for the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS). One of the Tunisians I met was eager to tell us that he was Muslim and that he was happy to meet us. He wondered, however, what was happening in the U.S. with our government. He thought that the U.S. is a democracy. He was interested when we told him how we are not happy with what our government is doing in its attack on Iraq, and in its treatment of others around the world.

He wondered then why we don't just go to the White House, stand with our hands folded and tell our president, George Bush, that we don't like what he is doing in Iraq. That we stand there until he agrees to stop the war. We replied that we would be arrested. He said, then the U.S. is not a democracy. Why then is the U.S. in Iraq in the name of bringing democracy to Iraq, he asked. He reasoned that if the U.S. is not a democracy, then it has no justification to go to other countries with the claim that it is bringing them "democracy."

He asked me to do him a favor. He asked me to write an article and have it published somewhere letting the people of the U.S. know that he is Muslim and he is not against the people of America. He is, he said, not opposed to the American people but to what the government of the U.S. is doing in Iraq and elsewhere, as in Palestine.

My Tunisian friend wanted to be able to communicate to Americans and to have them understand his views and that he as a Muslim cared about Americans. He also wanted to express his criticism of the U.S. government's actions.

The fact that the U.S. people are not able to stop what their government is doing at this time is not something that has alienated thinking people from around the world from the American people. In fact, recently in a discussion on a German online publication, someone proposed that people in the U.S. who are opposed to what the U.S. government is doing abroad, need whatever help they can be given.

After all, it took over 13 years of protest by many people in the U.S. and around the world who sacrificed their careers, their jobs, and several even their lives, to help to convince the U.S. government to end its war against Vietnam.(1) Finding a way to stop unjust wars made by one's government is a difficult challenge.

It is not easy to live in the U.S. where political power is concentrated in very few hands, and those with power feel they have license to do anything they wish. This is not a situation that can be turned around easily, for example, by an election, or even by a constitutional amendment. It will take communication and commitment on the part of many people to be able to find the means to change the harmful political and economic direction of life in the U.S.

The aura of the U.S. as a functioning democracy has been shattered for many around the world, just as for my Tunisian friend. This carries with it, for those who care about democracy, the challenge to find ways to build democratic processes and structures. This is not an easy task, nor one that brings with it quick results.

As the shadow that has descended on the U.S. since 9/11 is lifted, what appears beneath it, is an empty space where the false perception of America as a democracy once stood. That is what has vanished in the wake of how the U.S. government has responded up to and after 9/11.

The empty hole needs to be filled, but it can only be filled when functioning democratic processes are found to fill the void.

Related Articles
News of Disaster in a Paris Cafe
The Horrific Aftermath of 9/11
9/11: Still Horrific to Remember
Bush PR Campaign: Back to Basics
Witnessing 9/11 in Bacchus Marsh
9/11 From a British Perspective
Remembering September 11

- A New Yorker's View of 9/11 (first part) by Ronda Hauben (Read by Claire George) 

Will the world be a safer place on the 10th anniversary of 9/11?  (2006-09-11 ~ 2006-10-06)
I have no idea
(1)The determination and sacrifice of the Vietnamese was the main reason
for their victory in their war against the United States. The support people around the world were able to give the Vietnamese people was a secondary factor.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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