News > NewsWhat we saw, what we felt, what we fear
Debris from the tandem assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11 fell well beyond the distance the wind carried it, and continues to fall still. The response has been a surge of nationalism, the promise of retribution -- war, specifically -- and a small but rising number of assaults against those who share a religion or Middle-Eastern heritage with the supposed perpetrators.
Take a breath. Look away from the television. There is life beyond it, and hope that what transpired -- however heartbreaking and irreversible -- need not foreshadow destruction on an even grander scale.
We hurt. All of us. The words that follow show how, and reverberate with reactions of those fearful both of what's happened and what may yet come -- and hopeful that peace somehow prevails.
Rolling with the repercussions
I live in New York City, yet like most everybody else, I watched it on TV. After my roommate, getting ready for work, switched on the set, revealing the image of a horribly cragged hole in the north tower, I saw the remaining World Trade Center events unfold on a television screen: the second plane, the first collapse, the second collapse, the third collapse. Blessedly, I have no firsthand stories of watching the unwatchable sight of people jumping, or of fearing for my life in a fireball-chased stampede.
Nonetheless, living in New York has created innumerable situations, big and small, of eerie repercussions. It's like being in a lifeboat as a big ship goes down nearby: A huge swell lifts the boat; you teeter; you feel the rippling waves keep coming. Yes, I watched the World Trade Center tragedy on TV. But beforehand, I had been in my bedroom, drinking coffee and listening to NPR on my dinky clock radio. At 8:45 am the radio broadcast suddenly fuzzed to a barely audible muffle. That's strange, I thought, and then a few minutes later my roommate called out something about World Trade Center and fire and take a look at this. We were tuned into NBC on Channel 4; moments after the second plane hit, Channel 4 blinked into the dead blue screen that it's been ever since. Of the major networks, only CBS is still on the air in New York, because it's the only one whose signal wasn't bounced through the World Trade Center.
Glued, slack-jawed, to CBS, I watched as the south tower crumbled into nothingness. Then I went out on the fire escape of my Brooklyn apartment, three-and-a-half miles from ground zero, and saw black smoke rise and rise and rise in the west, the burning smell making me wince. (Don't think about what you're smelling, I thought.) To my amazement, scraps and flecks of ash swirled around me.
That evening, because of all the particles in the air, the sunset blazed in sherbert tones.
The whole experience has felt similar to the hurricane threats I went through once in Orlando and twice in New Orleans. Previously innocent objects take on a sinister hue. The times when a hurricane loomed, I saw everything around me, all the nonchalant props of everyday life -- street signs, trees, park benches, garbage cans -- as potential projectiles. In the aftermath of this terrorist attack, landmark buildings, subway tunnels and shiny examples of pure, bland consumerism like Macy's seem to have a bull's-eye drawn on them. But this is New York, so what are you going to do? People rush past Grand Central Station only to encounter the Chrysler Building at the next block; people rush past that and find themselves two blocks away from the United Nations.
Now New York rumbles with the presence of law enforcement and military. As with the rest of the country, the skies have been quieted of airplane traffic, but here fighter jets occasionally blaze overhead, many of them roaring repeatedly and disturbingly on the day that George W. Bush visited. On the day after the attack, city residents were told to stay away from Manhattan by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. (I don't like his politics, but Giuliani has been a pitch-perfect leader throughout, as opposed to President Bush, who even in this crisis always seems to lag several steps behind real emotion and intelligence.) But the next day we were encouraged to try to return to some sort of normal routine. When I went into Manhattan to look around, police officers clustered in every subway station and passed me in countless numbers on the street.
Once in the city, I experienced the unnerving sight of Lower Manhattan devoid of traffic. Cars were prohibited below 14th Street, but pedestrians could walk south for a dozen blocks of underwater hush before encountering barricades. Trucks towed crumpled cars caked with soot and debris. Dump trucks lined Houston Street, the pedestrian-zone border, as far as the eye could see. On the West Side Highway, endless emergency vehicles traveled south into the disaster zone; very few came the other direction. People along the highway gazed south and murmured in subdued tones, breaking into cheers as rescue workers passed. I blinked against the smoke. It took me a minute to notice how many people along the edge of the road were handing water and sandwiches to the people in the trucks. Donated cases of bottled water and Gatorade were stacked, within reach of the kind souls who spent the entire day doing nothing but holding them up to be grabbed.
Two days later, on Saturday, Giuliani opened more of Lower Manhattan to pedestrians. My roommate and I took a subway as far south as City Hall, and then we walked until we were stopped by barricades and fatigues-clad National Guard soldiers five blocks due north of the site. The smoke was a thick fog through which we could barely see the outline of buildings and cranes, but the rains had washed the air of much of the smell. Emergency vehicles still bounced passed, but the atmosphere of the crowd was very different from the feeling two days prior. It held a distinct element of tourism. Not as reverential, the people pushed against the barriers and stood in the middle of the street to take pictures, to the exasperation of one soldier who kept saying that he had "asked nicely" for cooperation but was about to start removing people from the area.
I live in New York, but in no way am I a New Yorker. It was only just late June when I quit my job as the managing editor of the paper you're now reading in order to move here, full of several misgivings that haven't vanished. I don't have the outline of the New York skyline imprinted on my mind, and in my e-mails to friends I regularly make the dry joke that this isn't what I had in mind when I said I was moving to New York because there's more going on here. But I suddenly feel that in some respect I've been woven into the city. With friends here I exchange the tentative phrase, "Did you know anyone who worked there?" and dread the answer. Once again we shop, we go to movies, we eat at wonderful restaurants, the whole time glancing at each other, together feeling the tinge of it all being vastly, sadly inappropriate.
- Theresa Everline is Orlando Weekly's former managing editor
Remembrance of things past
In an instant, she was back to a nightmare that was only recently fading. The sight of flattened cars, flying paper, the half-shell of a nine-story office building. The smell of burning tires. These were the sensations Rita Huntsman took with her as she escaped the fallout of the makeshift bomb that America's native-born terrorist, Timothy McVeigh, exploded outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City at 9:02 am, April 19, 1995.
Last week, as Huntsman watched on television as the second of two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, those feelings of Armageddon returned. "I thought I was over it," says Huntsman, who worked at the downtown YMCA, across the street from the Murrah building. "[But] my eyes teared up. My stomach went in knots. My heart was just broken."
Huntsman, who now works as an Oklahoma City human resource specialist, sustained minor injuries in the Oklahoma blast. But her mental state is still fragile, especially after last week's tragedies.
"I was depressed the entire day," she says. "My stomach is still in knots. It's like I'm waiting for the other shoe to fall. I'm wondering what is going to happen next, who is going to be hurt next."
"Never in my lifetime," she continues, "did I think that I'd see a terrorist act, much less two."
Brian Stanaland was an Oklahoma City Fire Department corporal when he was summoned to dig through the Murrah rubble. Watching firefighters in New York picking through the remains of the World Trade Center reminded Stanaland what he went through, piling concrete into a five-gallon bucket. "It took me back to what I did, to what I saw, what I went through," says Stanaland, who is now a major with the city's fire department. "All those memories - I wouldn't say they were suppressed, but locked away - came flooding back. You're feeling close to tears. A lot of people don't realize firefighters cry too."
And of course, for Stanaland, there's the added burden of knowing that many rescue workers are looking for police and firemen. "I can't imagine knowing fellow firefighters are in there," he says. "There has to be an added weight of terrible proportions."
Oklahoma City isn't sending rescue workers to New York just yet. City officials are awaiting word from FEMA before allocating personnel.
But Oklahoma City has still shown a willingness to lend its expertise with the healing process. The city put out a call for teddy bears to send to the children of New York and Washington D.C., as America had sent to its children six years earlier.
The city collected 40,000 bears, some small, some as big as full-grown men, some brand new, some donated by the tiny hands of their previous owners.
- William Dean Hinton
'Boom -- everything, it's just gone'
"When it all hit and they pulled a name [Osama bin Laden]," says Stephanie Johnson, a fourth-grade teacher and vice principal of the Muslim Academy of Central Florida in east Orange County, "we all knew it would have repercussions. You kind of say, 'OK, we need to get ready. We've gone down that road before.'"
Indeed, moments after last Tuesday's attacks, school administrators went on the defensive. Threats came pouring in, both on the school's answering machines and an AM radio talk show, and parents of the school's 130 students in grades K through 12 began yanking the kids out. By Tuesday afternoon, the school shut its doors, not to reopen until Thursday. It was the only high school in the county to close following the attack.
Even then, fewer than half of the students actually showed up. A bake sale scheduled for Friday -- the proceeds of which would have gone to the Sept. 11th fund -- had to be cancelled due to the incoming threats. The area's only other Muslim school, an elementary school in Buena Vista, remained closed the rest of the week.
"At this point," says Muslim Academy principal Yasmeen Qadri, "I'm feeling disappointed. I worked so hard to prove that Muslims can be positive, productive people. Then, boom -- everything, it's just gone."
"We are praying for the victims," reads the banner hung on the school's fence. "We are condemning the terrorists." It's discouraging that people would assume otherwise.
But the backlash is nationwide: Mosques are spray-painted and vandalized; bone-headed radio callers suggest deporting all Arab-Americans or banning them from taking flight school; Muslim schoolgirls have their head scarves -- called hijabs -- yanked off. The Los Angeles Times reports that in the last week, there have been more than 40 hate crimes and at least three murders, a substantial increase.
Here, say local Muslims, whose numbers by some estimates approach 25,000, the harassment is more subtle: Dirty looks. Getting cut off in traffic. Little things. Last week, a local Muslim leader asked husbands to do the grocery shopping because many of the wives are scared.
Though the enormity of what has happened may be lost on some of the younger students at the Muslim Academy, when they heard the news, the second-graders asked their teacher if they could pray for the victims.
As one wrote: "The [person on TV] said we will cach the one who did it. I was rely rely rely sory for the newrkers and they are blaming the Muslims. I did not wach TV for three days. I'm worried about my cortry and I wish my cortry was safe. I will pray for the newrkers."
At the Buena Vista school, 6- and 7-year-olds asked their teacher if Muslims were inherently bad -- after all, they were besieged on TV with images of bin Laden and mug shots of the suspected hijackers, all of whom so far are Arab.
The fourth graders, Johnson says, realize that their parents are being more protective than usual. One student was at his family's business when someone came in spouting all kinds of nastiness -- a story he shared with the class. Still, Johnson says, "I don't think they've seen the big picture."
The older kids do. "Muslims have always been looked at as different," says a 10th-grader named Dalia. "Now it's even worse."
"People were starting to accept us," chimes in Behise, an 11th grader. "Now we can't even go outside in our own neighborhood." When she does, people raise their fists or shout at her -- odd, she says, because she's the same person she was just one week ago.
- Jeffrey C. Billman
'Everybody thinks Muslims did it'
My feelings for this attack are anger, fear, depression and other feelings that may be unexplainable. What makes me mad is, everybody thinks the Muslims did it. Without evidence, how can they blame Muslims for doing such a thing like this incident. Muslims follow the religion of Islam, which means peace itself. Muslims also read and follow the Q'uran. The Q'uran says that terrorism and suicide is har‹m, or in other words, not allowed. The Muslim, or true Muslims, follow the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet tells us to be forgiving, kind, respect Muslims and including Non-Muslims, and to be merciful. If people undertstand Islam means peace, why do they still deny the Muslims did not do it?
This is a very sad incident. I wish for the people that lost their love-ones to be able to continue on with their lives. I grieve for the Nation's loss.
- From an essay by Touhid Chowdharg, a 6th-grade student at the Muslim Academy of Central Florida
Terrorists don't understand faith
When Eric Rudolph, the suspected Olympic bomber who has eluded the FBI for five years, allegedly bombed a Birmingham abortion clinic and an Atlanta lesbian bar in the name of God, nobody labeled him a "Christian terrorist." Yet with Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden the prime suspect in the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, pundits now automatically link the words "terrorist" with "Muslim fundamentalist."
For starters, most terrorist attacks have nothing to do with Islam: The majority occur in Latin America and Europe, not the Middle or Far East, where Muslims have the greatest presence. Most importantly, the Q'uran, Islam's holy book, absolutely forbids violence and frowns upon extremism of any kind.
"[The terrorists] don't understand their faith," explains Altaf Ali, the Florida spokesman for the Council of American-Islamic Relations. Indeed, Muslims follow the Judeo-Christian "Thou shalt not kill" ethic, and Islam itself means "peace."
Many of the stereotypes, Ali says, come from the misunderstanding of the word jihad. True, to violent radical Muslims such as bin Laden and the Taliban militia, which took over Afghanistan and has sheltered bin Laden for the past five years, jihad means "holy war" against Islam's enemies. But that's not how most of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims interpret it.
Jihad, Ali says, literally means "inner struggle." For example, the Muslim kids ridiculed in their schools and malls for their clothing or beliefs are enduring a jihad -- they're struggling to maintain their religion in a society that doesn't get it. True Muslims aren't out to convert through force, he adds. In fact, the religion preaches that proselytizing is futile, since only God can bring one to Islam.
Like Christianity, Islam encompasses a wide spectrum of belief, from liberal to conservative, all tied together by the statement of faith: "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the prophet of God." So some Muslims feast during the daytime hours of Ramadan, while others don't. Some Muslim women wear head coverings, and others don't. Not all Muslims pray the proscribed five times a day; others do.
Eric Rudolph certainly doesn't represent all Christians, just as bin Laden doesn't represent all Muslims. "What I would advise the American people to do," Ali suggests, "is to read about Islam on their own. Don't look at the television. Get to know Muslims."
- Jeffrey C. Billman
'Our job now is to show what Islam is'
I reckon if it is the Muslims who done this, if they carry on the whole world would go against them although Islam is a religion of peace and surrender. Our job now is to show other people what Islam really is and what true Muslims actually are. After all I cannot see any member of any religion being able to kill innocent people.
- From an essay by Uzau Shuja, also a 6th-grade student at the Muslim Academy of Central Florida
Wearing our hearts on our sleeves
Americans have a long history of wearing our hearts on our sleeves. During the Vietnam war, many of us covered our jean jackets with pinback buttons declaring our non-negotiable demands to "Stop the War Now," to "Bring the Boys Home" or to "Free Abbie" Hoffman, the Yippie court-jester of '60s counterculture who was arrested for wearing an American-flag patch on the seat of his pants.
This past weekend, though the mood was somber, it looked like a Fourth of July celebration in Mount Dora. In addition to the city-sponsored flags flying from every light pole, I spotted strollers of all ages wearing the red-white-and blue in the form of baseball caps, golf shirts, shoelaces and belts; one woman proudly sat on a park bench in her long, flowing flag skirt. I also counted scores of glittering rhinestone lapel pins, earrings and other pieces of costume jewelry. It surprised me that so many had Old Glorious apparel ready to pull out of their closets on such quick notice.
Even my mother, visiting from Kentucky, managed to find a flag pin in her luggage, but she wanted one to wave, as well. Although, as an aging '60s activist, I've never been much of a flag waver, I quickly realized that holding onto the stars and stripes was helping a lot of people cope with the crisis at hand. But my mom had to settle for her pin; we could not find a flag for her to purchase anywhere in Lake County. It wasn't for lack of trying. At Renninger's antiques center, she joined a small mob of agitated women in browbeating a vendor who had decorated his booth with 50 flags. "They're not for sale. It's my personal collection," the man kept repeating, as the women tugged at and stroked his non-merchandise.
Proprietors of such local firms as Promotion Products and Adventures in Advertising report they haven't even had time to count up all the orders for American flags imprinted on buttons, on AIDS-style support ribbons, on patches and on bumper strips. The same goes for VictoryStore.com, one of the nation's largest manufacturers of political buttons and paraphernalia, which received orders for more than 25,000 flags in the first five days after the attacks. (Those figures pale in comparison to the 500,000 flags reportedly sold by Wal-Mart and K-Mart stores nationwide over the same time period.)
I saw my first button pinned to the guitar strap of a young man plucking his instrument on Wall Street during lunch hour Monday. "Goddamn bin Laden and his madmen," it read.
"Where'd you get that?" I asked, pointing.
"At a flea market on Saturday," he said. "A guy was selling them for two bucks to raise money for relief."
"Hope it was a legitimate group," I offered, but the young man shrugged his shoulders as if he didn't really care. "You want to sell it?" I asked. "I'll give you three bucks."
"Nah," he said. "It makes me feel better to wear it. I play Christian music, and I like the message that the Lord will get vengeance."
- Bill Sievert is Orlando Weekly's copy editor and author of the book, All for the Cause: Campaign Buttons for Social Change
A bohemian awakening
It was late in the evening on the Saturday after the attacks. I was visiting some friends, a thirty-something couple who (like me) had spent too much of the previous week watching nonstop news coverage and working themselves into a near-paranoid frenzy. I had brought a tape of Cartoon Network hits and a bottle of Bloody Mary mix to help take the edge off. Occasionally, I ventured to the bathroom, staring at the mint-condition "Marilyn Manson on tour" posters that hung on the wall opposite the toilet.
In the midst of all this soothing kitsch, however, harsh reality occasionally reasserted itself. Conversation naturally ran to downed airliners and U.S. retaliation. Then, one of them -- The Boy -- came out with it.
"You know, this is probably the only time in my life that I'm going to go out and buy a flag," he said.
We all agreed.
A hawk would say we had finally and inevitably seen the light. According to the popular joke, a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. And what was last week but the biggest mugging ever perpetrated on U.S. soil?
A few days later, I called The Girl, to see how she was holding up. My ulterior motive: If she had calmed herself back onto leftie ground, I might be spurred to follow, lemming-like.
"My initial reaction was, 'I'm so sick of dealing with these people. Let's just wipe out the whole place,'" she reflected. "And really, who knows if one of those 'innocent citizens' is going to be the next Osama bin Laden?
"But I've been eating up information. I've been reading every story I can find on the Internet. There's definitely a skew on the news here; I think we should look at how our allies are responding. [And] we need to look at the role we play in world affairs now."
What about the flag? Where had that patriotic impulse come from?
"I don't know what a patriot is," she corrected. "That word has a subtext of blindly following. [But] after the realization of the gravity of the attack last week, everything you ever believed before last Tuesday is out the window. And now you understand that you should never have taken being an American for granted."
Somehow, I never would have cast us as poster children for national pride.
"It's not pride, because I didn't have a choice to be born here. I'm lucky to be an American.
"I did not vote for George Bush. I protested his appointment, which I found appalling. But now, if it came down to it, I would stand right beside him and do whatever he asked to support our freedom."
And in the interim?
"I'm going to be staying out of shopping malls, out of airports, out of crowded concerts, out of crowded everything. And I'm not getting on a plane with Arab Muslims. I would rather be accused of being politically incorrect than be dead.
"We're really a couple of very bohemian creatures," she said, speaking for the absent Boy. "For us to be voicing these sentiments ... I can't believe it's coming out of my mouth. But it is, and I don't know what to do to stop it."
- Steve Schneider is Orlando Weekly's assistant arts editor
A mother's discovery
It was when my youngest daughter asked to read aloud her self-assigned summary of the bombings that my front started to break down. It was only several days after the day Cara says she'll never forget that she so productively channeled her thoughts into written words. Good coping strategy, I thought. Then I heard her read the piece she titled, "My Thoughts."
"We will be living in the aftermath of this event for the rest of our lives. My stomach still cringes with sickness, and I'm beginning to forget what it feels like otherwise. Is this just too big for me to understand? Does anyone understand? ... I want to fight, I want to help, I want to do something besides sit in the disaster with nothing to contribute, maybe then my limbs would be relieved of the numbness that has taken over."
How does a 14-year-old, after working through varying stages of paralyzing fear and far-too-much TV-induced desperation, come to such essential reasonings?
On the morning of the attacks, I had just shifted into mommy-editor-wife crisis mode at my desk, sharing my office with the tech manager who was fixing my computer and had tuned my radio to Howard Stern. The King of Media broke the news to us, followed by a quick visit to CNN.com, which flashed the image of the tower seconds after the first explosion. I knew Cara was safe in school. I called my husband, on a business trip in New Orleans. All fine there. I called my mom in Covington, La., who maintains a broad-spectrum communications area always known as "Command Central"; all was good there. Brother in Soho -- 13 blocks from the trade center -- accounted for, as well as close friends, one of whom lived only three blocks from what's now Ground Zero. As fiercely ordered by police who came pounding on her door, that friend and her husband had grabbed their babies and ran north from their apartment as the debris was falling. Cousins upon cousins were all cleared by Command Central. Several crashes later, I connected with my late-sleeping 18-year-old and found my words to her to be not so comforting and assured; it was getting scarier by the minute. I was scared.
But it was a deadline day; I got back to work, following the mantra inspired by a bit of unintended guiding widsom in the indie film "Haiku Tunnel": Go back to my desk. Settle down. Focus. Catch up. (It's much more effective with the image of the hand movements in your head.)
The hours, days that followed were spent just keeping life going ... school and work to take care of, meals to cook, clothes to wash, the monster split-leaf philodendron to cut back into submission with a machete. Then I heard my kid's words -- so deep, so true -- and I felt guilty, because I can't do or say anything to make it better. And, frankly, her "Thoughts" shamed me into realizing once again that more years on the earth don't earn entree into a world of understanding, and there's no need to even pretend to myself that I serve as her interpreter.
For a moment, I gave in to the nowhere-to-hide despair, but it didn't feel true: There's great beauty and inspiration to behold in our people and so much that each of us can contribute to a positive end. Without turning our heads from reality, this family will continue to move forward and to affirm that world peace is not a dream.
- Lindy T. Shepherd is Orlando Weekly's managing editor
Civil liberties on the line
Long an embattled institution, the American Civil Liberties Union is facing even more criticism than usual right now, as everyone from radio shock jocks to Democratic House leader Richard Gephardt calls for a realignment of priorities to place the importance of security over personal freedom.
Such a notion might be expected to draw a loud response from the ACLU, but the organization's Orlando office is being quite measured -- even low-key -- in its reaction.
While he acknowledges that the insecurities of wartime often have evoked the worst in our national instincts, Alan Lunin, chairman of the ACLU of Central Florida, describes this as a "unique situation in our history ... It's not going to be like during Vietnam, when the government went after an entire segment of our population who opposed a civil war halfway around the world. This time, I don't think we'll see the kind of peace movement there was during Vietnam; this time Americans have been hit at home, and our right to self-defense is obvious to almost everyone."
Neither, he says, are we likely to face a parallel situation to World War II when 77,000 Japanese-American citizens were interned by the government. "The President already has made it clear that we won't target all Arabs, and he's getting that message across."
But Lunin concedes the country is facing new threats to civil liberties "The problems are likely to come if airports, for example, are allowed to start profiling people -- stopping them only because of their appearance," particularly their race or ethnic style of dress.
Lunin also fears that the government will engage in more high-tech spying on citizens in its search for terrorists and their sympathizers (a tactic that could also be used against people who dissent from a new war or the manner in which it is waged). "So much of the way we communicate today is on cell phones or computer, and we have a right to privacy. We can't allow the government to charge people [with a crime] for simply expressing their thoughts. When I balance my checkbook on my home computer, or when I send an e-mail correspondence to an acquaintance, the government damned well better have a valid search warrant before it intercepts my thoughts."
As for those Americans who say they're willing to let liberty slide in the name of eliminating evil, Lunin responds, "The most important thing is that the people know what we're fighting for. We're fighting because we hold our rights so dearly. We shouldn't be willing to give them away too readily."
He suggests that all of us can play a part in defending civil liberties before any war-related abuses begin. "Start writing and calling members of Congress; urge them not to permit a curtailment of any of our civil rights. Before an agency can act to curtail rights, Congress will have to approve it. It doesn't hurt to start reminding them right now."
- Bill Sievert
A wing and a prayer
Standing in the hour-long line waiting to get my baggage inspected on Friday at Orlando International Airport, I realized I was not the only one slightly uncomfortable about the prospect of being shot through the recently less-than-friendly skies. But there wasn't much that could have swayed my determination to visit my home state of Illinois. While watching the World Trade Center tragedy, only one thought competed with the shock and compassion for the loss: My brother recently had enlisted in the Navy and would be one of those sent off if America's response reached the proportions I feared.
I'd already been bumped twice that day due to cancellations. And I was not surprised to find one safety ambassador stationed every five feet. But I was taken aback by seeing so few passengers: My Chicago-bound Delta flight carried only 10 others.
I had felt safe once I entered the departure area of the airport in Orlando. But inspections were definitely more thorough on my way back through O'Hare. The difference between the light patting that my luggage received here and the examination of each article of my then-dirtied laundry there did not cement my confidence in either airport's security.
The armed federal marshals who stood at each gate and joined my flights, however, did. I had not been allowed even a foam nail file. Additionally, my inability to have a glass of wine while waiting for my flight due to the confiscation of all corkscrews in the airport and the difficulty I had attempting to rip my bagel in half as a result of all knife-like items being banned made me think twice about feeling privileged to be in the hot zone of this tragic event.
Of course, the second time the thought entered, I knew I was lucky to have been able to see my brother at least one more time.
- Jessica Frick is Orlando Weekly's calendar coordinator
Rage against the music
At first glance, the album cover for The Coup's latest release "Party Music" -- two jokers with a remote control device, presumably blowing up the twin World Trade Center towers with fireballs of smoke and flame just over their shoulders -- seems as tasteless and insensitive as it gets. But when you realize the hip-hop act's stunning graphic was created months before the attack on the towers, it is almost eerily prophetic.
Understandably, the label immediately pulled the record and changed the artwork, but not before monthly publications such as the October edition of Wired hit the streets, spreading the image far and wide. Staffers at 75 Ark, the two-year old label behind the release (it has its Manhattan offices just minutes from ground zero) have been inundated with e-mails containing everything from threats to rants to questions asking why somebody would want to produce this image in the first place. 75 Ark's label manager -- who promptly returned our phone call -- was quick to point out out that before the WTC disaster, not one word of complaint was lobbed their way. Now, the imprint is everybody's punching bag.
But The Coup's graphic display isn't the only album artwork being altered by the tragedy: The cover for progressive metal act Dream Theater's "Live Scenes From New York," which was set to be released the day of the tragedy, features an apple wrapped in barbed wire and a burning New York skyline. Talk about your collector's items.
Also subject to swift censorship are your local airwaves. In the attack's aftermath, radio mega-conglomerate Clear Channel Communications dispatched a list labeled "Songs with Questionable Lyrics" to its more than 1,200 outlets in the U.S., including Orlando's WJRR 101.1 FM and WTKS Real Radio 104.1 FM in Orlando. First in the line of fire: the entire recorded catalog of Rage Against the Machine. Why? The spokeswoman to whom Clear Channel directed media inquiries was apparently so besieged that she took her phone off the hook. The receptionist at the corporation's radio headquarters, however, said the lengthy -- and at times absurd -- list of songs was meant merely as a suggestion for local station programmers to consider.
Included along with Rage Against the Machine -- the only group with all of its songs on the list -- is Metallica's "Enter Sandman," Sugar Ray's "Fly," U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday," Don Mclean's "American Pie" (presumably because of the plane crash reference), Tool's "Intolerance," The Rolling Stones' "Ruby Tuesday" (perhaps due to the day of the week?), The Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian" (a Middle Eastern ethnic reference), Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife" (knife), Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House" (flames), The Trammps' "Disco Inferno" (more flames) and even the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," to name just a few.
At press time, though, the head-banging WJRR seemed to be ignoring the list. It played both "Enter Sandman" and a RATM song in the same hour.
- Mark Padgett is Orlando Weekly's music editor
Defying fear of the unknown
They say the world is smaller now. Small world.
- Laurie Anderson, "Kokoku"
In the face of atrocity, what room is there for art?
There's a school of thought -- borne in the wake of Auschwitz and other far-reaching horrors -- that the onset of tragic reality makes the trappings of culture irrelevant. And when terror came crashing onto the American landscape last week -- or, perhaps more accurately, we were reminded that it had been here all along -- the seed was once again planted that all our creative endeavors might ultimately be the stuff of trivia.
Here in Orlando, at least two theater groups called a temporary halt to public performances; the stigma of inappropriateness had momentarily affixed itself to comedy and drama alike. But nine other troupes elected to venture out in front of the footlights as scheduled. Collections were taken on-site for Red Cross relief efforts, and future performances were planned to benefit victims of the attacks on New York and Washington. In a mass e-mail, Terry Olson, executive director of the Central Florida Theatre Alliance, advanced his reasons why The Show Had To Go On:
"We know that the arts are excellent for bringing the community together, and that artistic experiences promote healing," Olson wrote. He also posited theater as a tool for "brightening our spirits" and "setting free the imagination."
Valid points, all, and sure to find increasing favor in the weeks to come. Togetherness and imagination are a lot easier to appreciate when you're not in shock.
The most significant gathering I attended last weekend, though, was not a play but a funeral. (In some walks of life, postponement is not an option.) The brother and sister of the deceased were absent, prevented from flying into town in the aftermath of black Tuesday. But the relatives and friends who had made it paid only passing heed to the world situation as they proceeded with their tribute. They cried, they laughed and they reminisced. The dead man's daughter rushed about the room, soliciting funny anecdotes about her dad from anyone who had one to offer.
There was no stage, no curtain, no Red Cross collection taken. But what a performance it was. I closed my eyes and wondered if God could see the show his brave creatures were putting on.
What is an "artist," anyway? In the fearful times that lay ahead, we may wish to apply that term to anyone who brings something precious and lasting into the world -- be it a painting, a play, a child or just a well-told tale of memory. As difficult as it may currently be to envision, we will continue to fashion these things for ourselves, in defiance of our fear of the unknown. Or perhaps because of it.
Our future rests on the idea that creative, constructive impulses are more instinctual -- more human -- than destructive ones. Knowing that this theory is nearly impossible to prove makes it all the more crucial for us to believe.
- Steve Schneider
America the oblivious
I have to confess a deep sense of embarrassment regarding popular and governmental reaction to the events of September 11th. I share the sorrow of those whose relatives were killed or injured, but I am unable to connect with the clamor for war, the expressions of disbelief, and most of all, the expectation that the rest of the world should suddenly join us in a holy war against terrorism.
Hello? What planet have Americans been living on? Are American lives somehow more sacred than the rest? How many people in this country are even aware, let alone upset, about the estimated 200,000 people we killed in Iraq during the Gulf War? Or about the million who have died there due to our trade sanctions? (Which, by U.S. government estimates, have only strengthened Sadaam.)
Other nations have been dealing with terrorism for decades. It is the lingua franca of modern political movements: Northern Ireland, Chechnya, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Russia, Turkey ... name a country, pick a method. We have heretofore been domestically immune. (Note to the oblivious: Do Lockerbie, the Nairobi embassy, Marine barracks in Saudi Arabia, U.S.S. Cole ring any bells?) As modern military forces (particularly our own) have become nearly irresistable, the only way for revolutionary movements to achieve their goals is through guerrilla actions and non-point source violence.
Concerning revolutions, we might look to our own history while we are fulminating about modern anti-imperialism. The British were outraged when American colonists abandoned established rules of warfare. We refused to take a stand on the battlefield but instead fired our muskets from behind rocks and trees and fences while the "Redcoats" stood in formation. That is to say, we used guerrilla tactics to liberate our country from King George's yoke. We were the terrorists of the 1700s. We did it to gain freedom from servitude.
What this week's attack is about is American hegemony. We are running the world to our benefit. We are not benign. We extort food from the starving and divert fuel from the poor. We underwrite expropriation of land from peasants and train the soldiers who do the deed. We exploit workers around the globe to ensure our own comfort. Our corporations are currently engaged in seizing control of fresh water supplies and of genetic codes. We now seek to control the very basis of life.
We are Rome and they are our subjects. It is entirely reasonable for many people in the world to hate us. We are killing their babies. This is not a metaphor; it is a fact. Every American baby who lives to adulthood usurps the livelihood of dozens of babies who will die in the developing world. This planet is a closed system. What we consume, others do not.
It's OK to be comfortable with those facts, if you can be. It is not OK to pretend we are not doing it. It is particularly not OK to imagine we have some sort of innate right to the whole ball of wax and a right to kill those who beg to differ.
Nor should we imagine this was a mad act. It was supremely rational, executed on the anniversary of the Camp David accords. The attack was clearly intended to send a message about American promises to the Palestinian people and our subsequent failure to impose meaningful sanctions against Israel as they repeatedly violate the spirit of Camp David. We continue to offer carte blanche to Israel as it dispossesses Palestinians, denies them human rights and resources, assassinates at will and invades its neighbors on a whim. Our support of Israel, and our general involvement in the region, has everything to do with our dependence on Mid-East oil, nothing to do with justice.
As for justice? The terrorists who committed this atrocity are criminals. We should seek those responsible and haul them to court, charge them with crimes and prosecute them under law. That is what our much ballyhooed American freedom is all about: due process under law, habeas corpus, rules of evidence, the right to legal counsel and, above all, innocence until guilt is proven to a jury of peers.
If we stoop to assassination, to bombing of the innocent, to vengeance, we will have abandoned all that is good and true about the American Dream. And one day, when tempers have cooled, we will hang our heads in shame.
- Cecil Bothwell, reared in Winter Park, is a North Carolina-based essayist and editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone.