That’s right… I’m gonna do this. I’m sorry, but if you bear with me, I’ll explain.
To be honest, I tried to avoid this subject. I was going to write about something else… Anything else!
Not just because I knew so many others would do it for me, or because they would do a much better job, or even because I think it’s all been said before, but because I am a comedian when all is said and done. My videos are intended to be funny. My novel is intended to be funny, and this blog is, at the very least, intended to be light-hearted. It is difficult to write about the deaths of 3000 people with a light heart, and I am not going to dishonour their memories by trying to do so. But, I post my blog weekly, on a Sunday, and it happens that this Sunday is the 10th anniversary of that particular day, so I can either avoid the subject all together or take this opportunity to get a few things off my chest, before promising to say no more about it.
Condoleezza Rice said in an interview: “Every day since September 11th, has been September 12th” and a truer word I don’t think I have ever heard from a member of the US Republican party.
For decades, we had marched (or perhaps I should say inched) ever closer toward racial harmony, religious tolerance (an oxymoron if ever there was one), and common sense, but on that Tuesday morning the world stopped and nervously took 2 steps backward. In my country, the days when the personification of terror was an Irish voice, speaking through a balaclava, were a thing of the past. Muslims holding plane tickets were the new face of terror. And it would have been bad enough that the entire Islamic community were being held responsible for the actions of a handful of religious zealots but, ignorance being what it is, people started crossing the street to avoid anyone who they thought might be a Muslim. Never mind that not all Muslims want to fly planes into your skyscrapers… never mind that Muslims come in all shapes, sizes, ages and colours… the kind of people being targeted, simply because they looked slightly Arabic, might have been Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Jain… perhaps even Atheist.
As for the actions of “God fearing” Christians like Pastor Terry Jones: Firstly, the hypocrisy of a Christian, putting someone else’s holy book on trial for “Crimes against humanity” should hardly need stating. Over the last thousand years or so there has been very little to choose between Christianity and Islam when it comes to persecution and mass-murder. But even if that were not the case, intolerance is never the right response to intolerance, no matter how much ignorance you may use to justify it. Or, as my mother used to say: Two wrongs don’t make a right. A Pastor, who cannot see the contradiction in burning copies of the Qur’an as a statement against religious extremism, is hardly worth the time it would take to point out his obvious stupidity. I’m sure I can guess the sort of things most of you will associate with book burning, and as a writer, a reader, and a human being, the thought of burning books makes me shudder. However, if the day ever comes when the nations of the world join together to throw all holy books on the bonfire, once and for all, then I might be persuaded to come and toast marshmallows with you, Pastor. Until that day, use those matches to light a candle in honour of those we have lost to religious intolerance, instead of using them to exacerbate it.
As a movie fan, and a filmmaker, it pains me to say that a great deal of the blame for these sorts of misconceptions can be placed on the very large, very well funded shoulders of Hollywood. A great deal is made about attacks on American soil, but the lives lost in US responses to those terrible
events will find much less space on the shelves of your local video store. It still saddens me to think about that day; I watched the towers fall in gaping horror, like so many people across the world, and we should certainly never be allowed to forget the deaths of 3000 innocent people. The percentage of films, headlines and documentaries devoted to that day also owes much to its position in recent
memory. But how many films have you seen recently about Hiroshima & Nagasaki? Over 200,000 men women and children, killed in a matter of seconds. Films and documentaries on the subject certainly exist, but there is not nearly as much noise made about them. And for those about to say “but that was 66 years ago”; how many years have to pass before we start to move on? Because I am willing to bet there are still people in Japan who haven’t moved on from August 1945. In fact, I’d bet good money there are still one or two Americans who haven’t moved on very far from December 1941; at least in their attitudes toward the Japanese.
So, we come to the main reason I finally decided to write this post. I wasn’t alive during the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nor was I alive when JFK was killed, or (regrettably) when Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon. I was too young to remember the death of Elvis, and the shooting
of John Lennon (if I had any memory of it at all) was no doubt overshadowed by events much closer to home that year. But I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on September the 11th 2001, when the World Trade Centre fell.
I was at work, in a recently completed factory building, yet to be occupied by the company I worked for at the time. It was about 2pm (9.00am in New York). The building was empty, but for myself, one work colleague, and 2 painters; an older guy and his younger apprentice. The painters; 20 feet up, on a platform against the far wall of the huge, echoing, empty building, were listening to the radio (I don’t remember the station), while my colleague and I assembled frames for the machinery that would be arriving in a few weeks. I wasn’t really listening to the radio, and it took me a few moments to notice that the painters had stopped their whistling, put down their rollers, and were listening intently to what I now realised was a long conversation between the DJs, where there had been music. I asked the guys on the platform what was going on. The older guy shook his head; answering after a few moments: “New York has been bombed!” Strangely, my first thought was of a book I had read several years before, about the prophecies of Nostradamus*, which predicted an attack on New York, from the air.
Bombed? We were trying to make sense of a half heard radio conversation about people waving
sheets out of windows, and something about some planes. What on earth are they talking about? We weren’t sure, but eventually managed to get a better idea by switching the station. Work stopped
and we finally got a clearer picture of what had occurred, just in time to hear the shocked voices of the newscasters, telling us that the south tower of the WTC had collapsed. I phoned my mother, and told her to turn on the TV.
My strongest memories of the following day were of coming out from under anaesthetic in hospital (an operation on my jaw), on a ward full of people whose faces were obscured by newspapers; all with the same terrifying photos on the front page. A lady visitor, at the bed next to mine, noticed I
had woken and was looking at her newspaper. “What’s the news from New York?” I slurred. She told me that phones had been heard ringing from inside the rubble. I don’t know how true that was. I fell back to sleep…
It has been 10 years since that day, and I would argue that today is the turning point. The events of September 11th 2001 will never be as poignant again, as they will be today. What is a 15, or 20
year anniversary, but 5, or 10 years further from the event? It will take New Yorkers a great deal longer than the rest of us to move past this landmark in history, but eventually it will be just as the sinking of the Titanic, or the attack on Pearl Harbour: another cautionary tale about the perils of complacency.
A few weeks ago, someone (unfortunately someone very close to me) made a spectacularly ignorant and incredibly racist remark, which I will not repeat. An argument followed, at the end of which I was called a naive hippy (Yep! Angry as I was, it took a lot of effort not to laugh), and told that a world without racial and religious hatred will never be a reality… I don’t believe that, and I hope you don’t either.
I’m going to round off this rather heavy-hearted blog post by inviting comments from you.
What are your memories of 9/11? What were you doing when you heard the news? Whether you were a New York City fire-fighter, or a schoolchild in Chipping Sodbury, honour the memory of those who died that day, by sharing your thoughts and memories with me here. Then, tomorrow, let it finally be September the 13th. Hold your nerve, as my sister would say. Take a deep breath, and let’s start walking in the right direction again… shall we?
*Just to be clear: I lend no weight to the prophecies of Nostradamus. They are poorly translated and open to misinterpretation at the best of times, but, for those of you who are more easily persuaded, I still have that book, and have enclosed a photo of the passage I was referring to; which I first read in 1994.