- A Testament Against Terror
- Text by Charles Weng
- Photos Courtesy of Associated Press and
note: At the time some of these essays were written, the death toll in
lower Manhattan was estimated to be 5,500 or above. That number has been lowered
to 3,900 or so by late November of 2001.
September 2001: The Day the Terrorists Won
Chris Kosachuk / Reuters
Once you commit violence,
the world dismisses your message and sees you only as a threat,
returning violence in kind.
the morning of Tuesday, 11th September of 2001, four passenger
planes on domestic flights in the U.S. were hijacked to perpetrate the
worst terrorist attack in American history. Two planes crashed into the
World Trade Center buildings in New York, utterly destroying the twin
skyscrapers and exacting a catastrophic toll in casualties. Another
crashed into the Pentagon building in Washington DC and a fourth into the
countryside near Pittsburgh, also with devastating effects. All aboard
American Airlines Flights 11, 77 and United Airlines Flights 93 and 175
No words can do justice for the human lives lost or
grievously affected. For many people around the world, their view of the world
has been irrevocably changed for the worse. This must not be.
If you have a legitimate cause of
protest, make your voice heard peacefully. Once you commit violence, the world
dismisses your message and sees you only as a threat, returning violence in
Contact your national government
officials to learn their positions on international relations. Urge them
to exhaust every diplomatic resource to resolve conflicts around the world
It is no longer naïve to believe that, soon, people will
be free to make their presence known in every corner of human civilization, if
only to carry on the most common aspects of their complex, inter-connected
lives. This is evident in the fact that many Europeans now commute daily across
borders, that practically everything you consume comes from another country –
that someone is browsing this site from an Internet café in Bombay. Yet one
must hope that the global mobility of people, goods and ideas will not simply
lead to mercantilism, colonialism or commercial assimilation (i.e., rich
countries exploiting poor countries), as it has been for
the past three hundred years. Respect of diversity and self-determination is not
just a politically correct slogan; it is a necessary means of existence in the
twenty-first century, whose first nine months do not seem very promising to
I grieve for what happened in New York, Washington and
Pennsylvania, not just for the horrific loss of life but also for the fear,
anger and mistrust we survivors must inevitably sustain regarding our shaken
places in the world. The terrorists have indeed won on this dark day; they made
this planet a more foreign, sinister place.
12th September 2001:
The Shock Lingers
Mark Lennihan / Associated Press
|One does not think too well in shock. One
acts, and reacts, and collects his impressions to be fully understood in another
In New York, legions of firefighters, police
officers and volunteers risk
their lives around the clock to save the all too miraculous few, trapped in the
treacherous white heap. Hundreds line up to give blood. The mayor asks for 6,000
body bags. He’ll get more.
In New York, legions of
firefighters, police officers and volunteers risk their lives around
the clock to save the all too miraculous few.
In Washington, the bulwark of American
military might is still smoldering. The politicians rattle their swords,
declaring war against enemies swiftly identified by an uncannily efficient
coalition of law enforcers.
In Pennsylvania, the incessant media now
report of last-minute heroism aboard a doomed flight. Passengers set aside
recognition of their certain demise to thwart their hijackers, preventing the
plane from harming anyone on the ground.
In California, the churches are full again.
Los Angeles, once more, endures the plight of loved ones not returning home on
scheduled flights. They remember the plane that fell from the sky off Ventura
Harbor nearly two years ago. I remember my friend, Mike, who never makes it back from
Taipei last Thanksgiving.
Grieving co-workers, exhausted rescue
workers, reporters losing their voice and composure before national television,
stranded travelers, all in disbelief and dismay…
can only wonder what now transpires in the now-forbidden streets of Kabul,
Afghanistan, haunted by weary soldiers yet to finish their endless wars amongst
neighbors and brothers, ere they embrace the wrath of the West not seen since
the armies of Alexander.
13th September 2001:
Regarding Our Enemies
Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
|Before I go on with today’s reflections, I
must repeat my prayers for the many, many that perished, their families, and for
the sleepless firefighters, paramedics, rescue volunteers, police officers,
journalists, counselors, ministers, blood-givers and well-wishers, whose
presence on television redeem the persistent images of utter horror and evil –
of two airplanes flown deliberately into the twin towers of lower Manhattan.
It is well that I reserve the better part of
my faculties to recognize the good in us all in the face of calamity. What I now
contemplate involves darker emotions – of anger, hatred and nihilism.
Even after a year or more of residing in the U.S., the
terrorists still failed to grasp the absurdity of
their hatred towards America.
||Of late, suicide bombers have been
constantly appearing in the news just prior to September 11th. The
Tamil Tigers launch them as “live ordnance” while assaulting the Sri Lankan
army. Hamas leaders tell their prospective “martyrs” that they are actually
providing a service for their Israeli victims, whose innocent souls would be
hastened to heaven, lest they bring damnation upon themselves by persecuting the
Palestinians. Deplorable as these actions are, the twisted logic here can be
understood in terms of zeal and desperation. The bombers, fighting for a
homeland long denied to them, have absolutely nothing to lose.
How does one explain the antipathy felt by
the September 11th hijackers towards their perceived adversaries?
Now, it’s easy for an Arab in the Middle East to hate America; all he sees
there are the American-made weapons Israelis use against the Palestinians, the warplanes over the skies of
Iraq, the American warships anchoring at their shores, and television programs via satellite that defy fundamentalist Islam’s
puritanical tenets. The hijackers lived for a year or more inside the United
States from Maine to Florida, taking flight lessons. How could they not be
affected during this time by the open society they easily infiltrated? They had
surely enjoyed the unfettered access to information, the integration of diverse
communities, the tolerance of dissent, and the freedom to travel great distances
– what grievances did they ever have against such blessings?
Did they not already see this country
steeling its resolve since Oklahoma City and the car bomb attack on the World
Trade Center – that we Americans would not be intimidated by acts of terrorism
on our own turf?
Did they not understand they were
perpetuating the ugly Arab stereotype as hate mongers and terrorists? Innocent
Arab-American citizens and American Muslims -- and Sikhs, who wear turbans and
long beards -- are once again victims of hate
crimes, harassed and even murdered by upset neighbors acting on the vilest of their
If the hijackers had minds of their own,
they surely would see the utter futility of their diabolical plots, serving no
purpose other than to fulfill the wishes of their remote overlords – back in the Middle
East bunkers, waging ideological vendettas of their own
design, taking credits of heroism for the dastardly exploits of their suicidal
What grievances does Osama Bin Laden have
against America? He is not a Palestinian, living precariously in lands forcibly
occupied by Israel. He is not a Libyan, a Syrian, an Iraqi or an Iranian,
repressed by the West for the indiscretions of unscrupulous leaders. He is a
Saudi patrician, spoilt by a multi-million inheritance and aided by the CIA
during the presumptuous proxy
war between the United States and then-Soviet Union over the wastelands of
Afghanistan. With a private army of clandestine warriors, he fights a jihad not
out of desperation, but in pursuit of glory disguised as puritanical
zeal, and fueled by regional resentment towards the U.S. military presence
around the Arabian Peninsula, deployed for causes that were not his own to begin
with – protection of Kuwait, peacekeeping in Somalia.
It is false reassurance to believe that one
knows his enemy so well. Even after a year or more of residing in the U.S., the
terrorists of September 11th still failed to grasp the absurdity of
their hatred towards America. Our enmity towards terrorism at large will have
no such conundrum.
15th September 2001:
Are We Better Than the Russians?
Efrem Lukatsky / Associated Press
As our country prepares for war against
radical Arab terrorists and those harboring and abetting them, the inevitable
scenario now is a war in Afghanistan. Saying
it’s a daunting task is barely an understatement. Not since Alexander, Genghis
Khan and Tamerlane could a
foreign army even touch the Afghanis: not the Ottoman Turks, the
British Raj or the Russians.
Especially the Russians. Never mind for a
moment that they lost nearly 15,000 soldiers supporting a communist regime in Kabul
during the 1980s, in what proved to be the last campaign of the Cold War --
incidentally, also became the proving grounds of Osama Bin Laden's followers,
then "holy warriors" funded and trained by the CIA.
It is particularly poignant to see what the Russians tried to do almost immediately
afterwards, in the Caucasus. Their first effort to quell the insurgency in
Chechnya ended also in failure, and for a short while the Chechens enjoyed a de
facto sovereign state, with Grozny as its capital.
Before we go to war,
we must ask difficult questions to assess our prospects, even if they seem to
challenge our honor and resolve.
presidential candidate Vladimir Putin, finding a
cause to rally a citizenry mired in economic hardship and political dysfunction,
dared his ailing nation to fight yet another war against the Chechen rebels. Now
that Russia is a democracy, public opinion mattered; Putin advocated an
on-schedule, low-casualty campaign that called for massive aerial bombardments,
emulating the Gulf War and the NATO operations in Yugoslavia.
|Granted, the Chechens at first were
guerillas, not terrorists, the distinction being that guerillas engage enemy
soldiers in hit-and-run skirmishes, while terrorists target unwary civilians in
stealth. Chechen bases were hidden in the primitive, mountainous terrain of
their homeland, closely resembling the harsh landscape of Afghanistan. Their
battlefields were the few worn-torn cities left standing since the last war,
mostly in the streets of the ruined capital. Afghanis exchanging rockets and
machine gun fire in tattered Kabul could identify this experience firsthand.
After much fighting and gross injustice
inflicted upon the Chechen civilians, the Russian army did retake Grozny. Yet
they did not completely defeat a rebel force that simply regrouped by blending
back into their towns and villages, eluding suspicious Russian garrisons that
regularly hunted down any man of fighting age. Relinquishing guerrilla warfare
for the time being, the rebels now turn to terrorism, learning from their
newfound friends amongst the Islamic militants how to plant bombs in apartment
buildings and subway stations in the very heart of Moscow. Meanwhile, bombed-out
Grozny is left to rot, turning its remaining residents into scrap peddlers and
beggars – misery of medieval proportions.
The parallels between the war Putin has yet
to finish and the war Bush is about to start are not exact, but they are
considerable. Both nations have suffered greatly at the hands of their enemies:
the Russians through protracted attrition, the Americans in singular moments of
abject terror. Both presidents justify their war cries as a matter of national
security, and command the support of their people. Both leaders represent
predominantly Christian nations, and thus project a perilously provocative image
of waging a latter-day crusade against the Islamic world -- to which the bearded
Mullahs would only respond with more jihads and fatwas to slaughter Americans.
Will we, with our superior technology and
resources, prevail in a conflict half a world away, while the Russians stumble
before their own borders? Will we also languish in Afghanistan despite initial
successes of incursion? Will we become as ruthless and irresponsible towards the
ordinary Afghan people – impoverished, disenfranchised citizens who have no
say over the exploits of Osama Bin Laden or the Taliban, but are expected for
centuries to defend their homeland valiantly against overwhelming odds – as
the Russians have been towards the Chechens? Will our military actions abroad
only provoke more terrorist reprisals back home, as the Muscovites have so
is an integral part of our democracy. Before we go to war, we must ask difficult questions to assess our prospects, even if they seem to
challenge our honor and resolve. No one wants to lose, certainly not the
underdogs of Chechnya or Afghanistan. Up to now, they haven’t.
16th September 2001:
Towards a Greater Peace
Laura Rauch / Associated Press
I now know what it’s like to stand at the
proverbial crossroads, making a deal with the devil. Having marched in
Washington, DC and Los Angeles to protest our country’s proxy wars in the
1980s and the Gulf War a decade later, I now decide to support our war against
Oh, pity not the wayward soul of this
erstwhile pacifist. Many, many people in New York, Washington, California,
across this country and around the globe have graver concerns weighing on their
hearts: we lost family members and friends, jobs and savings, a
collective sense of security. It’s not as though my decision was difficult, or
wrong. The civilized world needs to defend itself against suicidal fanatics whose
recalcitrant enmity towards Israel, America and secular Arab regimes (i.e.,
anyone who isn't an Islamic fundamentalist of their particular sect) leaves no regard for
human lives whatsoever; it
is a fight long overdue.
We must reform our national
policy to recognize and counteract the very causes of anti-American sentiments
in the Muslim world.
Yet, in this Faustian pact, I have my terms
for my tacit agreement to the sordid business of revenge. I will demand my
satisfaction from this war.
If our campaign against terror is to be
total and resolute, it must be more than dropping “smart bombs” and sending
the marines to yet another exotic battlefield. We must reform our national
policy to recognize and counteract the very causes of anti-American sentiments
in the Muslim world – anything that would prompt even the most moderate of
Arabs to think that our profound tragedy on the 11th of September was
We must drag the Israelis and the
Palestinians to the negotiation table one last time, making sweeping,
unprecedented compromises to end their yearlong conflict. Convince Jewish
settlers to return their occupied lands to proper owners – compensate for
their trouble of displacement by all means. Disarm the civilian population,
Israeli and Palestinian. Make the holy sites of Jerusalem a neutral zone under
international stewardship. Advise the Palestinians to create an accountable,
constitutional government, and persuade them to build their national capital in
Ramallah, not East Jerusalem. Endow both sides with largesse for redeveloping
We must mend and renew our friendships in
the Muslim world. End sanctions and “no fly zone” interdictions against
Iraq, and resume rapprochement with Saddam, our former enemy number one,
provided he is not implicated as a terrorist conspirator. Give
generously to the Iraqi people, both the Sunni majority and the Kurdish minority
to the north, and the Shi’ites of the south. Reassure Kuwaitis of their
national security. Promise the Taliban – or whoever left to fill the Afghan
power vacuum after we conclude our business with Bin Laden – that we will rebuild their country. Build factories – create jobs – from Indonesia to
Morocco, from Uzbekistan to Sudan. Rebuild mosques in Bosnia.
At home, we must withhold judgment when
people assert their world view in the austere terms of their religion. Maintain
a constructive dialogue among the different faiths, especially between Christian
and non-Christian congregations. Prosecute hate crimes with due fervor.
these things too much to ask in exchange of my predisposition towards peace? No,
they are not. If they can bring about a greater peace, a world free from terror,
I can live with myself – and none of the thousands perished on Black Tuesday
will die in vain.
September 2001: La La La La Life Goes On
Kathy Willens / Associated Press
stayed close to my sister, my personification of hope, continuity and
||As we drove home today, my
sister stopped by the local Toys 'R' Us to buy presents for her friends' kids,
who are approaching their young birthdays. The venue I frequented for years,
where I indulged much of my vestigial adolescence in PlayStation games and Star
Wars collectibles, was closing down: all the video games and bikes had been
relocated to other stores and what's left of the dregs, littered all over the
place, was on a clearance sale at 40% off.
I felt like a looter. Local
parents, strollers and whining youngsters in tow, descended upon the chaotic
aisles, gleaming whatever they could from the heaps of out-of-fashion fads and
ill-conceived merchandising schemes (how many more likenesses of professional
wrestlers on lunch boxes can one take?).
5,000 people were murdered
last Tuesday. Typhoon Mari flooded Taipei. My portfolio lost 75% of its value
since January 2000 and the nation is going to war. My sister is buying Pokemon
paraphernalia for other people's children. I sank into a chair, dazed and
felt somewhat better afterwards, when we sat at a familiar table in our
neighborhood for sesame-coated bread and hearty soup in a clay pot – at an
Islamic Chinese restaurant. I stayed close to my sister, my personification of
hope, continuity and normalcy, as we went to the market later for milk.
September 2001: A Traveler's Lament
Reed Saxon / AP
seems so long ago. Back
in July, on an
early Sunday morning, I took a leisurely bus ride from Trondheim,
Norway to the regional airport, enjoying the fjordland scenery along
the way and thinking I’d still have time for a smorgasbord breakfast.
Then, upon check-in, I learned that my scheduled flight was cancelled, and
the only remaining flight to Oslo to meet my homebound connections to
Amsterdam and Los Angeles was
leaving its terminal. Two Braathens staffers leapt from the counter and
scrambled me all the way to the plane’s closing door, bypassing security
if there were any.
our jets soar ever more, bringing souls of goodwill and adventure safely
to a brave new world.
Angeles International Airport, or LAX – once the appropriate call sign
for a destination famed for the laid-back imagery of palm tree silhouetted
against an eternal sunset – is now a garrison. The already-daunting
gauntlet between a remote parking lot and a terminal is now choked with
checkpoints, creating the human equivalent of an upstream salmon run.
It’s where all feel the pain along the way, but fewer will actually have
any satisfaction at the journey’s end.
somewhere between the mere loathing of unpracticed airport security and
the morbid fear of boarding another doomed flight, there is the dread of
having no plane to get on at all. In reaction to sharply curtailed demand,
airlines now announce five-figure layoff numbers and up to 20% reduction
of service. Swissair is insolvent, likely rendering direct
flights between the US and Switzerland a fond memory for a while. Even with a federal bailout, United Airlines and American
Airlines – the two largest in the country – fear they would tread the
same plank walked by the once-mighty Pan Am, which bowed out shortly after
suffering a terrorist attack just above Lockerbie, Scotland.
more than ever, I covet those giddy Fridays when I leave midday from the
office, casually beating the rush hour traffic to hop on a 747 – and to
find myself standing on the cobbled streets of the Old World the following
there are many things that will compensate for the loss of yet another
trans-oceanic holiday. I am
grateful for the family members and friends who remain in touch. I am proud of a nation that stands united in the face of calamity.
I still continue to roam about my
home state of California, keeper of the planet’s tallest, largest and
oldest living things (coastal redwoods, sequoias and
bristle-cone pines), the highest peak in the 48 contiguous states (Mt
Whitney), and the lowest point in North America (Death Valley). At the least, I can certainly
shore up my savings, to brave an economy that has been ailing for more
than a year.
as a perennial traveler, I definitely feel quite amiss. My love of the
world and my freedom to appreciate its many splendors in first person have
been egregiously compromised. While I sustain no grievous injury, as do
the loved ones of nearly 5,500 people who perished in September, that
which makes me who I am as a person is made a bit less so.
bless America. Let our jetliners soar ever more, bringing souls of
goodwill and adventure safely to a brave new world.
October 2001: Hard Lessons
Bernadette Tuazon (left), Richard Drew
(right) / AP
been a month now. The
unbelievable nightmare that seemed to have happened only yesterday is now a daily
ongoing drama of terror, so well scripted by circumstance since September
11th, opened its second act last Sunday in true Shakespearean
form. The three chiefs – George Bush, Tony Blair and even a stone-faced
Osama bin Laden in a pre-recorded but perfectly timed statement –
delivered their oratories of war on television. Meanwhile, our missiles and bombs
– mixed with a paltry pittance of food – rained prodigiously from the
skies of drought-stricken Afghanistan, almost redundantly retarding the
primitive militia of the Taliban and terrorizing the civilians who have
yet to flee to the borders. People rioted in Pakistan, Palestine and
marched in protest throughout the Muslim world, angry over such a direly
disproportionate contest of will between the world’s richest and poorest
nations, even more so over their own governments’ tacit support of
learned that true heroes -- our martyrs -- die quietly in the uniforms of
firefighters, police officers and paramedics.
at the home front, the list of threats to the way of life we once knew –
layoffs, failed investments, curtailed travels and sacrifice of civil
liberties for greater security – grows by the day.
Someone was spreading anthrax germs at a tabloid newspaper’s office in
Boca Raton, Florida, killing a man and infecting two others in a place
only minutes away from where several suicidal hijackers lived, took flying
lessons and inquired about crop-dusting planes.
bright side of it all, also as necessitated by circumstance, is a
lessening of complacency and ignorance amongst us all.
learn that true heroes
-- our martyrs -- die quietly in the uniforms of firefighters, police officers and
presence on our television screens, where we usually idolize those earning
millions in sport arenas and movie studios, injects a much-needed shot of
humility in the hyper-commercialized vanities of our popular
seeing our civil liberties compromised to bolster law
enforcement, we begin to take
our Bill of Rights more seriously, and never for granted.
realize that America does not stand alone in the world. Before September,
the current U.S. administration alienated the global community by rejecting the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases, abandoning the
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in an unilateral pursuit of a missile
defense system, and above all, its relative lack of initiatives in resolving the
violent conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, now in its second
year. The terrorists certainly will not help us in any of those
matters, but they do remind us, in the cruelest manner possible, that
actions (or absence thereof) serving our national interests do have global consequences, and
that even the richest and most powerful nation on earth is still in need
open our minds to the great religion of Islam despite those who commit
atrocities in its name, we reflect upon the West’s own lamentable history of subverting ideology in the
service of genocide: the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the witch
colonial America, the Holocaust. We will no longer tolerate any repetition of
such grave crimes against humanity: not in the Balkans, central Africa or
anywhere in the Muslim world.
At the very least, there is yet another
war-induced lesson in world geography: those who may not even be able to
name all fifty states now know every country that borders Afghanistan
(Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran), at least
until the conflict’s end.
hard-won enlightenment may not directly contribute to our war against
terrorism abroad, or our safety at home, but it does add meaning to these
uncertain, frightful days we now lead, amid the lingering ashes of
October 2001: Still Tuned In
Kamenko Pajic / Associated Press
Aristotle, Shakespeare and television. The Sage defined drama as an
orderly catharsis of our emotions, acted out by pro- and antagonists we
readily identify, who play their predictable roles in a familiar conflict
to reach its inevitable climax and resolution. The Bard raised the ante a
few centuries later, expanding drama to become an universal,
all-encompassing reflection of human existence. With laughs and tears,
history and fantasy, good and evil, the profound and the trivial
inextricably intertwined, there can be no complete satisfaction of the
Aristotelian formula until every secret is revealed, every wrong righted,
every comic character resigned to a bittersweet denouement and every
tragic figure slain.
that drama is delivered daily to a box in every home, we yearn for every
conflict in the world, every problem in our lives to be neatly resolved by
clean faces and polite language, in 60-minute segments over autumn and
winter, then reassuringly repeated through spring and summer.
catharsis of our fear, anger and grief over these difficult weeks -- or
months -- will not be declared by George Bush or Tom Brokow, but by the
rewards we find in our own everyday lives.
disaster epic seemed so well scripted since last month. After the initial
shock and grief, the best of a city and an entire nation emerged through
courage, charity, vigilance and resolve. We mourned the fallen, comforted
the survivors, praised the heroes, and swore vengeance upon our enemies,
all with glaring clarity. Good was transcending and hence defeating evil:
a familiar plot if there ever was one. We thought the worst was
already behind us. After all, how could another war in a foreign land, the
long lines at the airport or even the cancellation of the Emmy Awards ever
compare with losing 5,500 of our friends, relatives and neighbors in a
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was quite frank on this point: It is going to be a long
war, and very difficult to kill or capture Bin Laden. As
Ramadan draws nigh, we continue to unleash our absurdly superior firepower
onto the hardy Taliban,
while Bin Laden is already a living martyr, winning support from the restive, disaffected
quarters of the Muslim world whether he is dead or alive. Although the mail-borne
anthrax attacks have claimed only three lives, the terrifying prospect of
deadly, long-lasting anthrax spores contaminating the nation's entire mail
distribution system is far more disturbing than the fear of
hijacked jets crashing into nuclear power plants.
we deem our fight just and our victory inevitable, uncertainty still
looms. When will it ever end? What else will happen until then?
Everyone wants these answers. No one has them.
war on terrorism is not a spectator event confined to our television
screens. Every one of us is an actor, playing every bit part there is in
this drama, through every word we say and every deed we perform to shape
our collective consciousness. It is how we explain the beguiling images of
our times -- the ruins of lower Manhattan, the men and women in hazmat suits,
Afghani refugees in turbans and shrouded in burkas -- to our children. It is how
we adjust our travel plans for the winter holidays. It is what goes
through our heads when we open our mail. Do we carry our lives to
defy our cowardly enemies, to pursue the goals we set for ourselves
regardless of circumstance, or just that -- to live?
catharsis of our fear, anger and grief over these difficult weeks -- or
months -- will not be declared by George Bush or Tom Brokow, but by the
rewards we find in our own everyday lives. In war or peace, life goes on.
November 2001: Another Rude Awakening
Daniel P Derella / Associated Press
this was an accident or an act of sabotage, the terror, the deaths were all too
my God," thought New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as soon as he learned
that American Airlines Flight 587 had crashed in Rockaway, Queens, minutes
after it took off from JFK airport.
It was a reaction shared by the rest of the world,
myself included. It was the same way I first heard about the World Trade
Center attacks on September 11th: first thing in the morning,
undressed and half-awake, staring at the TV in disbelief.
impressions on this morning were so jarred that I had a better memory of
the dream I had just a few hours earlier. I was revisiting the scenic
Trondelag region of Norway aboard a local bus, camera in hand. The bus
drove through several tunnels, passing one sublime coastal vista after
another until the passengers disembarked at the stop near the Nidaros
Cathedral of Trondheim. It was more than a dream; it was a real
I then had to remind myself that what happened on
September 11th and November 12th were very real,
Whether this was an accident or an act of sabotage, the
terror, the deaths were all too real.
My sister was worried. In five days, she was to drive me
to LAX airport for my flight to Melbourne,
Australia. She asked about my
flight carrier (United), and my destination relative to Flight 587's
scheduled landing at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (half a world
away). Not that it made any sense, or should.
For a moment, nothing else in the world – the Northern
Alliance's imminent conquest of Kabul, the unsolved mystery over the four Anthrax deaths, the
fate of Minnesota Twins and the Montreal Expos – mattered. Buildings
and airplanes are not supposed to come crashing down when they're full of
people. Yet they do, for one reason or another. It just is.
November 2001: A Victory in Afghanistan
Yannis Behrakis / Associated Press
will be no true respite in Afghanistan until its people regain an
accountable government that rejects the evils of fanaticism.
Taliban have retreated to the mountains, abandoning most major cities. In
the north and west, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, and the capital Kabul are in
the hands of the Tajiks, Uzbeks and the Hazaras that make up the Northern
Alliance. In the east and south, leaders of Pashtun tribes -- the Afghan
majority -- lay siege to Jalalabad and Kandahar.
Afghan civil war, enjoined by the United States to defeat Al-Qaeda and its
Taliban cohorts, is hardly over. In Mazar-i-Sharif, the first city
reclaimed by the Northern Alliance this year, reports of reprisal killings and lootings emerge.
Though there is much more calm in Kabul, factions within the Alliance are
already entrenching themselves along ethnic divisions within the capital, alarmingly restaging the events of 1995: as the communist regime fell, the
same groups from the north fought bitterly amongst themselves for the
spoils, killing 50,000 Kabulites until the Taliban swiftly took over on
the following year. A transition government, unifying all tribes and
to be overseen by United Nations, is far beyond the horizon.
Despite the volatility of these rapid developments, the
people of Kabul are breathing a sigh of relief. For now, no more bombs,
missiles and rockets are demolishing what remains of their battered city.
Even more liberating, though, is the negation of the absurd medieval
sanctions on daily life imposed by the Taliban's extreme interpretation of
Sharia, or Islamic law. Shopkeepers play loud music, men shave their beards, children fly kites
and a few women boldly reveal their (beautiful) faces. A Reuters headline
said it all: "Afghan men indulge in death-free soccer," in
reference to their freedom to play football, in short-sleeved shirts and
shorts, on a field once reserved for public executions.
There will be no true respite in Afghanistan
until its people regain an enlightened, accountable government that
rejects the evils of fanaticism. Until then, amid the Anthrax scare and
the crash of yet another jet over New York, we can but vicariously sample the sweet taste of
this early victory, in eager anticipation of the next good news: the
capture of Bin Laden, Zawahiri and the other Al-Qaeda ringleaders.
August 2002: The War on Terrorism Has Gone Cold
Upon the first anniversary of the attacks, al-Qaeda
is uprooted from Afghanistan, the Taliban is overthrown, Mullah Omar and Osama
bin Laden have eluded capture, and the US administration is pushing for the
ouster of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. As the War on Terrorism increases its
scope, it deserves some comparison with the last major global conflict of the
twentieth century, the Cold War. A history lesson is in order, for the mistakes
of the past are being repeated. Click here to
read this essay in full.