It seems impossible not to think about September 11, 2001 today. Gosh, my life has changed so much since then (obviously not nearly as much as the people who were directly affected, who were injured or killed or lost loved ones).
It was my last semester of grad school, and I was in the Info Arcade classroom about to lead a 7:30 Spanish class in an intro to the WebCT site their class would be using for the fall semester. I was feeling like quite the martyr for getting up that early, since it wasn’t a class I usually taught; I was just there to do the demo. The actual instructor of the class said something about the World Trade Center, so I went to cnn.com and caught a little bit of footage before the site got overloaded and wouldn’t refresh anymore. I think at that point I didn’t really understand the severity of things.
I went back home for a while (to my apartment on Davenport street with my roommates, Michaela and her now-husband Bugra) and watched TV, and that’s when it started to sink in. I was immediately worried about my dear friend Ruby, who lived in NYC at the time. I called her cell phone but couldn’t get through. I was comforted to remember that she worked at Columbia University and lived uptown near there, pretty far from the WTC. I did hear from her later that day, I think. I’m sure her memories are about 100 times more vivid and scary than mine. The word I remember her using is “Armageddon,” not necessarily in the Biblical sense, but in the way things were so chaotic.
Far away from the center of things, my life changed only in small ways. One of the most notable came from living with Bugra. Bugra was, at the time, a doctoral student in physics (and has now graduated to full Dr. B, physicist extraordinaire). He’s about the nicest, most affable guy in the world, but to be frank, he’s kind of intimidating-looking. Combine that with the fact that he’s from a Muslim country (albeit Turkey, the most westernized, secular Muslim country out there), and he took a lot of harassment.
Sometimes he’d rant, “I’m not a Muslim! I am an atheist! I am a scientist!” But that didn’t do any good when he was getting pulled over for no discernable reason by the cops. The last I talked to Michaela and Bugra, they were living in Dublin, Ireland, where Bugra is doing post-doc work. They might be done with that now, though. I should check in on them.
After the horrifying loss of life, I believe the worst side effect of the September 11 attacks is the lumping together of people. Bugra is about as much of a terrorist as Mr. Rogers, but he was still made to feel like a criminal in a place where he came to learn and teach. Worse yet, many members of the American public have fallen victim to the lumping mentality; I’m always shocked to see how many people believe the war in Iraq is related to September 11. Let us recap: Osama bin Ladin is a Saudi based in Afghanistan. Not only was he almost certainly not in cahoots with Saddam Hussein, they were enemies. He considered Hussein and Iraq to be dangerously secular.
I admit I’ve been guilty of stereotyping too. For a long time, I had little sympathy for members of the military, figuring they were volunteers and wouldn’t have signed up if they didn’t support the causes the U.S. government was pushing. I’ve since learned that it’s a lot more complicated than that, that a lot of people get in over their heads and are bullied by recruiters who promise them posh jobs guarding embassies in Paris. Even people who go in basically aligned with the missions they’re assigned often get disillusioned along the way.
I don’t have any answers. I have a lot of questions. Are we safer now than we were pre-9/11? Maybe, maybe not. Is life different? For some people, it is in big ways. For me, it is in small ways. I think I’m more nervous in certain situations, such as airports, but I have no idea whether it’s founded or not. Air travel is probably safer than it’s ever been, and the next attack will come in an entirely unprecedented form. It’s scary, but life has always been scary. Our enemies just change. Some things get more dangerous, some things get safer. Breast cancer killed my great-grandmother, but my grandmother survived it, thanks to improvements in medical technology. She’s celebrating her 80th birthday next week. Cancer is a terrorist that threatens us all and has killed a lot more people than al Quaeda, and I’m so thankful for the advances that are being made in the fight against it.
I keep trying to write a conclusion, but I can’t seem to come up with one. Maybe conclusions are too glib. Have a good day, everybody.