Tuesday, September 12, 2006


911 revisited

sometimes in august 1998 I went to the US for the first time and having dreamt of going to NYC for so long I made a point to at least had a quick stopover (although my actual destination was in the Midwest) and stayed a couple of days at the millennium hilton on church st manhattan which –I don’t know at that time- is just about a few minutes walking distance from the twin towers. So one afternoon I took a walk, went to one of the towers , found out that the public can go up the building so paid my ticket and rode the elevator to the top of the highest building in NYC and like everyone else marveled at the great view of manhattan skyscrapers and the statue of liberty in the far distance. What I remembered most though was these group of young people who I assume must be native Mexicans and looked very much like those photographs of Aztecs in history books happily snapping away pictures of each other with some famous landmarks in the background …and the only momento I brought home was the cheapest t-shirt I could get with NYC logo on the chest…and I still wear it sometimes now when I potter around the house…

…and when the planes slammed into the twin tower on september 11 2001 I was in another Hilton, this time in Jakarta…and like everyone else I found it unbelievable that this could really happened…I just sat there watching cnn transfixed by the events that were unfolding and perhaps like most people, thought … ‘the world will never be the same again’.

…and sometimes in late 2002 I had the opportunity to go to the US again and made another stopover in NYC and this time stayed in a small hotel on 5th avenue. I made a point to visit what was left of the twin towers but found out that the last subway stop was a few stations away and you had to walk to the place which was still under guard at that time. I found this out from a lady sitting beside me on the subway and I mentioned that I wanted to go there to say sorry …as a common average muslim…and she got glassy eyed and said…’oww…that’s very nice of you, but that’s ok..it’s not your people’s fault…it’s done by BAD people who could be from anywhere’… and from the last stop I had to walk quite a distance and just near the place I found this small Indian muslim restaurant still with some cracked and dusty window panes and went in and had a nice curry like we have in mamak restaurants here…I asked the owner if she had any problem immediately after the event and she mentioned that not at all, in fact there were some volunteers from some church group or other that came to guard the restaurant just in case there were any trouble…

…and from here you could not miss ground zero as along the road the place was boarded by simple plywood walls filled with all kind of memorials from loved ones…pictures, pieces of cloths with all kinds of poetry, snippets of messages, flowers and the walls were full of writings…I didn’t stop because even looking at these I felt my throat started to constrict and I got a bit teary eyed…and passed the guard I came to ground zero…it was entirely cleaned up by then, the only thing I could see was this deep hole that looked like one massive construction site that you see everywhere in KL…it was quite early in the morning and I only saw a handful of people and they all came away wiping their tears …I only stayed there for a few minutes,…I remembered feeling NOTHING, my mind just went blank…asked the policeman to snap my picture and I quickly went away …walked to millennium Hilton and saw that the place was still closed, some floors showed cracked glass walls and went away feeling hungry and finally had a big Korean noodle somewhere just to forget it all…

but can we forget?… we can never forget but we must also remember and understand why it happened…and we know what happened after September 11…more tears…more misery…

…in spring 2002 Granta vol 77 issue was devoted to one main topic…what we think of America…some well known and not so famous writers wrote what they felt or earliest memory about America… orhan pamuk wrote a lovely piece about his childhood days staying in an apartment in Istanbul where they had an American family on the floor above and coveting the porcelain marbles that the American boy had and which he dropped one at a time and silently watching the poor Turkish boys fighting each other to grab it down below…an appropriate metaphor of what American is doing to the world at arge now . Our Malaysian karim raslan was also featured and he chose to write about his memory of reading encyclopedia Britannica and watching lassie, bewitched and high chapparal…there were others…ivan klima, david malouf etc…but two striking ones to me came from doris lessing and Harold pinter…

Harold pinter’s piece was almost a rant …here’s an excerpt…

Arrogant, indifferent, contemptuous of International Law, both dismissive and manipulative of the United Nations: this is now the most dangerous power the world has ever known –the authentic ‘rogue state’, but a ‘rouge state’ of colossal military and economic might…

....These remarks seem to me even more valid now than when I made them on September 10. The ‘rouge state’ has – without pause for reflection , without a moment of doubt, let alone shame - confirmed that it is a fully- fledged, award-winning, gold plated monster. It has effectively declared war on the world . It knows only one language – bombs and death. ‘And still they smiled and still the horror grew’.

And here is what doris lessing says…

The reaction to the events of 11 September – terrible as they were-seems excessive to outsiders, and we have to say this to our American friends, although they have become so touchy, and ready to break off relations with accusations of hard-heartedness. The United States is in the grip of a patriotic fever which reminds me of the Second World War . They seem to themselves as unique, alone, misunderstood, beleaguered, and they see any criticism as treachery.

The judgement ‘they had it coming’, so angrily resented, is perhaps misunderstood. What people felt was that Americans had at last learned that they are like everyone else, vulnerable to the snakes of Envy and Revenge, to bombs exploding on a street corner (as in Belfast) , or in a hotel housing a government (as in Brighton) . They say themselves that they have been expelled from their Eden. How strange they should ever have thought they have a right to one.

I’m not sure if Madame Lessing and Mr Pinter still hold the same view five years on but to me their statements in the aftermath of September 11 still ring true.

And lastly I’d like to quote an excerpt from CAT’s CRADLE by my favorite American science fiction writer and satirist Kurt Vonnegut: (which I already quoted in my post on 25 Dec 2004)
from the chapter "Why Americans are Hated"

Claire Minton's letter to the Times was published during the worst of the era of Senator McCarthy, and her husband was fired twelve hours after the letter was printed.
"What was so awful about the letter?" I asked.
"The highest form of treason," said Minton, "is to say that Americans aren't loved wherever they go, whatever they do. Claire tried to make the point that American foreign policy should recognize hate rather than imagine love."
"I guess Americans are hated a lot of places."

And that was written in 1962...

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