November 16, 2001--A Journey Under the Tomb

This morning I took a bus to Brooklyn for an appointment with my therapist. From there I took the R train (subway) into Manhattan, probably for the first time since the attack. The train passed, without stopping, through the Cortlandt Street station, which is nearly under the World Trade Center site, close enough so that a number of wooden pylons were in place to support the roof, though there were no other obvious signs of damage. There were a lot of ropes and tape stretched between pillars, a large hand-scrawled sign that said “Do Not Stop,” a large, hanging American flag, no sign of workmen. An eerie feeling, traveling under this tomb. At the next stop (Chambers Street?), when the doors opened, a strong odor of char, so familiar to us New Yorkers now, seeped into the car. (More than two months after the attack, you can still smell the fumes in the West Village two dozen blocks north of the WTC site when the wind is in the south, and occasionally north of Washington Square up into the 20s—close to 40 blocks away. Apparently there are still fires smoldering in some areas of the basements.)

On the web, there was a report that Muhammad Atef, bin Laden’s second-in-command and the heir apparent to al-Qaeda, had been killed in an air strike. I told a co-worker, Michael Koy, and watched him mark an X through his picture on the list of 22 Most Wanted Terrorists. It was claimed that Atef had been instrumental in the planning of both the embassy bombings and the September 11 attacks. There is a sweetness to revenge, though it can’t undo the harm that was done to us, and the sweetness itself probably only helps to fuel the cycle of violence that can arise in a tit-for-tat situation. I don’t think we had any real choice but to go into Afghanistan after bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, and their Taliban "hosts" (though I wish that America, as the aggrieved party, had made public their case against the two, and that the executive branch rethink the type of tribunals that Bush’s order allows, that essentially makes him the hangman, and which probably violate international law), but ultimately, I don’t think that the struggle against terrorism can be won only on battlefields fighting terrorists, but rather by working as never before to resolve the problems that set people against each other and seeking true cooperation between nations. We also need to rethink some of our alliances; Saudi Arabia may fill the oil pumps, but it also has given us Bin Laden and most of the September 11 hijackers. Ultimately it must deal with its own inequities, an autocratic political system and a culture that breeds such inequality in economy and gender, so that such a harsh form of Islam as Wahabbism doesn't hold so much power. Blaming the rest of the world only goes so far; one has to get one's own house into order.

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