9-11 Part II 

9-11 Part II

"Pray For Peace"

By Chris Davis

At the corner of COOPEr and Oliver there is a sandwich board that reads, “Pray for Peace. Work for peace. More violence means more victims means more violence ... ” The back side of the sandwich board lists the names and ages of children who have died as a result of U.S. sanctions against Iraq. A couple of tents sprawl in the tiny yard. Someone is eating a bowl of lentils. This had been a protest to raise awareness of how U.S. involvement in Iraq affects civilians. Given the sudden turn of events the theme has shifted somewhat. Organizer Ceylon Mooney, a long time activist and member of the rock group Pezz, reiterates the same sentiments listed on the sandwich board concerning the physical properties of violence. It’s a sound argument with one small catch. If we imbue such human relations with Newtonian properties we should expect them to stay in motion until countered with an equal and opposite force. Where can we get enough peace to counter every act of violence that has occurred since Cain put the whoopin’ stick to Abel? Mooney has no answer, only hope.
“My biggest fear now is for local mosques,” Mooney says, noting that all the anti-Islamic rhetoric being bandied around in the media could lead some uberpatriotic nutjob to commit an act of violence against innocent Muslims.
“With some people speculating that Iraq might have been involved in the attack, do you guys fear any kind of violence,” I ask.
“No,” Mooney says. “We’ve had people walk by who have disagreed with us, but nothing bad has happened.” Given his tone I expect him to conclude his sentence with a dangling “yet,” but it never comes.
At the corner of Cooper and Young: A crossing guard stops traffic so children getting out of school can cross the street. Two young men in backwards baseball hats and baggy T-shirts cross on the opposite side. One turns to the other and says, “We just need to round up all of them sand niggers and kill every last one of them.” So much for ending the cycle of violence.
Five men stand in the center of the Masjidan-Nur Mosque at Mynders and Highland facing in the general direction of Mecca. They stand and kneel, stand and kneel, offering prayers to Allah. The prayers are not for jihad or the destruction of America the great Satan. Danish Siddiqui, President of the University’s Muslim Student Association, cringes and admits how disturbing it is to hear such words tossed around in the media, since they paint a misleading portrait of his faith.The prayers offered today are for those who have suffered in this ordeal.
After prayers I approach Siddiqui for an interview. He’s not terribly happy about it but complies. The general sense is that my presence here is spawned by a racist urge. And though the urge he speaks of is not my own he is in many ways correct. America has always loved a good witch hunt. When we feared the Japanese we locked them up. When we feared the communists we either locked them up or destroyed their employment opportunities. Now Islam, or rather some vague uninformed idea of what Islam is, has emerged as the enemy in the minds of many. But my fear is for these people, not of them.
“Let’s say bin Laden is to blame,” Siddiqui says. “That says nothing about us. It says nothing about Islam. There are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. When they captured Timothy McVeigh after the Oklahoma City bombings did you go to a church and ask them how they felt about it?”
“Of course not,” Siddiqui continues, “but his action was not being directly associated with Christianity at large by every other talking head on every broadcast station in the country. If it had been, you better believe I would have gone to a church.”
And then the ice breaks. “Muslim women are afraid to leave the house,” an observer offers. His name is Mahmoud Zubaidi and he explains that the conspicuous clothing worn by Arab women makes them feel like an easy target for abuse. He notes that he has already witnessed anti-Islam slogans on the street. He wonders aloud where U of M security is, adding that some unidentified man has been spotted lurking about the property. Is there fear? Yes, there is, and for good reason. There have been violent hate crimes against the Muslim community in Memphis: a brand of terrorism that is seldom labeled as such.
“This is probably why there weren’t more people here for the prayers,” Siddiqui offers. He is still wary but finally convinced I’m not interested in racial profiling or trying to pump him for some kind of terrorist secrets.
Zubaidi wishes aloud that someone in the media would ask what they planned to do to help the victims in New York and D.C. So I ask.
“As Muslims we have two responsibilities,” he responds. “To defend the area [in this case New York and D.C], which we do by sending money or giving blood. Everyone is saying how much we need blood. The second [responsibility] is to protect. And I don’t just mean to protect men, women, and children. I mean even trees, plants, agriculture. This is why we have this ideology. The Muslim community will mobilize these two things.” Siddiqui agrees. His manner has softened a great deal, though he hardly seems at ease.
“You know,” he says, smiling an ironic smile, “you hear people say things like, ‘We let these people into our country and look at what they turn around and do.’ They forget that I am an American. I was raised right here in Memphis. This is home.”

Above It All

What it was like in the air during the World Trade Center attack.

By Bruce Dobie

Editor's Note: Albie Del Favero, founding publisher of Nashville's alternative newsweekly, the Nashville Scene, boarded an American Airlines flight early Tuesday to New York. He was to attend a company board meeting in a Manhattan office. Instead, from the air, he witnessed one of history's more barbaric events. This is his account, as relayed from a pay telephone in Long Island:

There was nothing unusual about the flight. Everything was normal. We were on our approach. Then the stewardess said, "Look, the World Trade Center is on fire. There's smoke billowing out."

There weren't many people on the flight, so I move to the left-hand side of the plane and get a window seat.

Soon, everyone on the plane is starting to talk about it.

Really, it was unbelievable because when you fly into New York on a gorgeous day, it's just beautiful. And it was a gorgeous day -- not a cloud in the sky. It was sort of bizarre because the smoke wasn't moving -- it was just hanging in the air, sitting there. And all of a sudden, this explosion just occurs. It was this incredible ball of fire. And that was the second plane. At that point, the guy behind me says, "I was supposed to stay there tonight." He worked for J.P. Morgan or something, and he was supposed to be spending the night in the World Trade Center.

Still, at that point, nobody is freaking out. But everyone is saying they think it might have been a bomb. It was such an odd thing. Nobody is panicking at all. And in fact, people are still not clued into the fact that this is such a tragedy. They're still at the level of dealing with this as an interruption, or as a hassle. So, there was the back and forth between it being a tragedy to being a hassle.

So the plane lands naturally. Nobody says anything. At that point, nobody really knows anything. But the guy behind me gets on his cell phone and calls and finds out it's a terrorist attack. So, then I called Sara [Del Favero's wife], because I think she would be worried about me, and she finds out I'm okay. She had heard from CNN that an American Airlines jet had gone down, so she was upset. But as I am getting out of the plane, I still really didn't know the extent of what had happened. As I'm walking out the airport, I pass by a television in a bar, and they're showing footage of the Pentagon having been bombed, and by then I'm understanding this is big.

Still, I'm thinking I'm headed into Manhattan for my board meeting. I was walking out to get a cab to go into the city. But then everyone is told that all the bridges and tunnels into the city are closed. And at this point, airport security guys start ushering us out of the airport. And then they just start saying, "Go home. No more flights. Go home. No more flights."

Like we're supposed to go home. That's when all these New York-style fights break out with everyone screaming at each other.

So they usher us outside the airport, and we stand there for like 30 minutes. And we're sitting there outside LaGuardia looking at the two World Trade towers on fire. And then all of a sudden, we're looking around, and then somebody goes, "They're gone." The buildings had collapsed.

So then, the security guards move us even further out from the airport, out to some access road or interstate. A bunch of us just go stand by this ramp. Then someone says all airports in the country are closed. And all I start thinking is, I want to go home.

Three of us then caught a cab, and we pooled some money, and we just headed away from Manhattan rather than toward it.

I'm in Long Island, and things are weird. I got Sara to rent me a car, and I'm going to try to drive back to my home in Nashville. The saddest part about this is that one of my daughters called wanting to know if I was alright. My other daughter is on a school retreat. I hate to think my poor children are old enough to have to understand how tragic this whole thing is. When Oklahoma City happened, they were so young they didn't grasp it. But now they can understand. That makes me very sad.

Bruce Dobie is the editor of the Nashville Scene.

The Bastards!

by Alisa Solomon

I emerged from the Chambers Street subway stop at 9 a.m. into a crowd gaping up at the World Trade Center moments after its top floors had burst into flames. Some people were crying, a few women crossed themselves, but mostly people were exchanging stories in that almost affable New York-in-a-crisis way, collecting the tales that they would later tell their friends and maybe someday their grandchildren.

Until the second blast. As soon as we heard the muffled boom and saw flames kick along the walls of the tower, we knew in our bellies that America was changed forever. I wanted to throw up.

A panicky mob ran screaming up the street, some stopping two blocks north to gape some more. Theories started flying: "Terrorists," though few could say which kind for what cause. Sirens howled and quickly the streets became eerily empty of traffic. We could see some small figures -- something orange, something flapping white -- hanging off the building. Could they be people? The crowd let out a high-pitched primal squeal. I got the hell out of there.

I headed east in a nauseous daze -- due for jury duty at state supreme court on Centre Street, propelled by one of those defense-mechanism impulses that makes you focus on the thing that is absolutely beside the point. I turned onto Duane Street, soon finding myself passing the Javits Federal Building. I started to run. It might blow any minute, I thought.

I spent much of this August in Israel and the occupied territories. I was there during the weeks the Sbarro pizza restaurant in Jerusalem was blown up by a suicide bomber, and left Haifa only a day before the bombing at a restaurant there. Though I witnessed during my travels through the West Bank and Gaza how those areas were the ones literally under siege, I began to understand the depth of Israeli fear. I lived in perpetual anxiety: sitting in a cafe, going to the grocery store, standing in any crowded area. Every time I boarded a bus I felt my heartbeat speed up. I never felt so relieved to return home from abroad as I did two weeks ago. At last I could drop the guard, leave the panic behind.

Or so I thought. Jury duty was over: The court was closing. So I began the citizens' march up Centre Street, merging with the throngs sent home. Cops waved us away from subway entrances and told us to keep walking.

I fell in with a group of young women, administrative assistants at 2 World Trade Center. One was still crying. She was about to enter the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. "Arms, legs. Parts of people. They were falling on my head," she said. Her friend put an arm around her, saying only "shhh," and the whole block went silent for a moment. The third friend tried frantically to get a cell-phone signal. A secretary to three vice presidents at a Wall Street firm, she typically starts work at 8:30 a.m. "I have to get their days prepared," she said, shaken yet proud, almost as if she expected to be there again tomorrow. "My subway was late today and for some reason, for once as the train slowed down and waited, I didn't get mad," she marveled.

Her calls wouldn't go through. Neither would anyone else's. Block-long lines formed at payphones as WTC workers tried to contact loved ones to let them know they were okay.

As we trudged along -- strangers talking like old friends, people who managed to find cabs and offering to share them -- I flashed on the grammar-school drills I went through in the '60s. The Cold War came to my Midwestern suburban school in the form of duck-and-cover exercises and, once a year, a practice evacuation. We were let out of school early and had to walk all the way home, filing out in neat lines and heading into the streets, kids peeling off as we came to their neighborhoods.

A real war has come to these shores now, bringing massive violence into America for the first time. The terrible human casualties of Tuesday's attacks haven't even begun to be counted yet. Some of the intangible ones to come are obvious -- the First Amendment, for starters. The altered city skyline is only the most visible manifestation of the size of the change.

I finally got my turn at the phone. There were three anxious messages on my answering machine: One from my partner. And two from friends in Israel.

Alisa Solomon is a writer for The Village Voice, where this story first appeared.

Memphis Blues

At the airport, passengers were stranded with nowhere to go.

By Janel Davis

photo by janel davis
I live less than two miles from the Memphis International Airport. Most of the time this makes travel very convenient, but Tuesday morning I prayed to be anywhere else.

As I prepared for work, I was distracted by the sound of several planes flying overhead. I always hear them in the distance, but this morning the sound was deafening. As I drove in, a steady stream of planes was landing.

Our staff got to work, had an emergency meeting, and decided to scour the city to get public reaction and any precautions being instituted by officials. My assignment was the airport.

I arrived at the airport expecting pandemonium, or at the very least, fear, since for the first time in history the FAA had canceled all commercial flights.

I found neither.

Instead, Memphis International had the look of organized chaos. Of course there were long lines and disgruntled customers, but the airport authority had done a good job of keeping things calm, at least on the surface.

All planes in the vicinity were forced to land here, filling all gates. "We had passed this airport when an announcement was made on the plane that we had to land and that we were coming back to Memphis," said Delta passenger Bill Jobes, whose plane left Pittsburgh Tuesday morning headed for Las Vegas. About the tragedy, said Jobes, "I just don't know what to make of it. It's awful."

Larry Cox, president and chief executive officer of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, reported that about 25 diverted planes were sent to Memphis, leaving an estimated 8,000 passengers displaced and 100 full gates. Planes were ushered into terminals, unloaded, and taxied to remote locations until further notice.

Airport employees made every effort to secure lodging and reroute flights for passengers. Tunica casinos sent buses to the airport at 45-minute intervals, taking stranded passengers to hotels. Local hotels also put up passengers, and cabs worked nonstop moving people to their destinations.

But for some the events of the morning were too much to overcome and they stood dumbfounded, detachedly watching others scurry past. Kristie Kuchara, on her way from Fort Walton, Florida, to North Dakota, could not fully comprehend the situation. She stood with her baby and watched. As I approached, she turned to answer my questions with wide-eyed vacancy. "They told us to get off the plane. I don't know what we're going to do next," she said.

On my way home after work, I returned to the almost empty airport for photos. Scatterings of stranded passengers were still inside and had been issued mattresses and blankets for an overnight stay. Even with this inconvenience, people were in good spirits.

"Everyone's been so nice here," said Katie Brown, who decided to abandon her Yellowstone National Park vacation and return home to North Dakota. "People have offered to take us to their homes; strangers have come to the airport and offered us candy, food, and cell-phone usage." Brown had no problem relating stories of kindness, but she could not put the morning's tragedy into words. A shake of the head and a silent prayer were all she could offer.

No one knows when things will be back to normal, if "normal" still exists, And what about the future? Was September 11th the last day for air travel as we know it? "It's going to be real hard to crank things back up," said Cox. "Everyone has been affected, so it's going to take some time." Cox says increased security guidelines are definitely to be expected from the FAA and other federal agencies.

Public reactions to Tuesday's tragedy have shown that American confidence and spirit have indeed been shaken, and though we will live through this tragedy, what about next time? Will we be so lucky?

Of course, for Tuesday's victims, there will be no next time.

Teach Your Children

By Lesha Hurliman

photo by janel davis
Hickory Ridge Mall parking lot on Tuesday afternoon.
I left my apartment at 7:30 a.m. for Craigmont Middle School where I teach a creative writing class. At 9:40 a.m. I was sprinting down the hallway to get back to the classroom after another unsuccessful, frustrating visit to the copy machine. I made it just as the bell was ringing. Looking back now, it must have seemed to the other teachers that I was running because I had just found out about the tragedy. But no, I wouldn't know about that until a kid in my next class came in and asked, "Did you hear that planes crashed into the twin towers?"

"What twin towers? The Clark towers?" I asked.

"NO!" he replied, "the World Trade Center in New York! Turn on the TV!"

In a brand-new school where nothing seems to be fully functional, I was relieved when the television came flickering on. I was able to tune in to the shocking images of the collapsing World Trade Center and the burning Pentagon. Meanwhile, eighth-graders were roughhousing their way into the classroom -- calling to one another, laughing, yelling my name, grabbing one another's book bags, singing -- same as any day. I turned out the lights so we could better see and tried desperately to tune out the noise.

How do you make 13-year-olds understand the magnitude of what happened? The images, though horrifying, came rolling in like an action sequence from a new blockbuster. A few, like me, were glued to the television, but the majority of the students took this as a cue to be rowdy in class. One young man said, "If we're going to die, we better have fun!" A few students snickered. Some took this sudden change in the daily grind to mean they could create their own chaos. "Okay," I was practically yelling, "if you don't show some respect for what is going on in our country, then I am going to give you a writing assignment!" It was amazing to me that I had to threaten at all.

What does this say about our children? I remember when the Challenger exploded. I was sitting on the floor in the library of my elementary school and I remember I felt an overwhelming sense of combined shock and dread -- similar to the feeling I had watching the television with my students on Tuesday.

How, I wondered, can children be so desensitized to such a national crisis? Is it that our televisions have combined fiction with reality to such an extent that they are unable to distinguish between the two? Is it that we are bombarded with so many distant tragedies that we are unable to grasp a tragedy that hits so closely?

Dr. Kia Young, the assistant principal at Craigmont, believes that the problem lies in the children's ignorance of global events. "Part of it is they just aren't aware of what's going on in the world. Everything seems so foreign. Not foreign, that's not the right word. So distant."

By the time my next class came in, I had a pretty good grasp on what had happened and was able to turn off the television and talk a little about what this could mean for our country. But it wasn't until I mentioned Pearl Harbor that they were able to contextualize any of it. We can thank (I suppose) one of our big, miserable summer movies for that.

So, how do we mourn something this big? I hope that the parents of these children were able to explain, much better than I could, why it is important to feel sympathetic to the families of the thousands who are dead. And hopefully this sympathy won't manifest itself in irrational fear or in racial and religious intolerance.

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