Sunday, September 12, 2004

Remembering September 11

Both my chldren were at Columbia University, still asleep in their dorm rooms that September morning. At about 3 pm or so I got a phone call from one of my daughter's friends who was still in high school here in Cairo that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center and I laughed at her, accusing her of having accidentally turned on the movie channnel instead of the news. Her shocked voice slapped a lid on the laughter and I dashed over to Zena's house to watch the progressive disaster on television. I was in time to watch the second plane hit the towers to our utter horror. Using my mobile phone, I called my daughter first and then my son, waking them both and telling them to stay on campus no matter what they might have planned for the day.

While the disaster was unquestionably a hideous shock to the US, it was no less of a shock here. Why would anyone do such a thing? And who? No one in Cairo among the people I knew believed for a moment that Arabs were involved...after all we knew all about local urban planning, construction, and the endless fiascos of organisation. Impossible, how could Arabs have ever pulled that off? To this day, quite honestly, I have trouble believing it. Someday maybe the world will know the truth, but it certainly was all speculation that day.

As a rider and home vet, I am a member of a number email lists relating to matters equestrian and veterinary. One of these lists, for endurance riding, had recently had members who had participated in world class endurance events in the Gulf, and the equestrian federations in the Emirates were becoming extremely active in endurance. This new awareness of things Arab in this discipline made for some heated and important exchanges, since I was one of the few people that list members knew who actually lived in the Middle East. For months, I worked my fingers over a hot keyboard to try to remind people that despite Fox News and CNN, most of the folks who lived in my part of the world were still just folks and none of them were happy about what happened in New York.

The event had impact upon my daughter's graduating class right away. They had all just started school in late August and this hit them before they even had a chance to settle in. Many of them, including my daughter, came home for a year having found the events and the social reactions to them extremely unsettling. My daughter's roommate, from a small town in the Pacific Northwest, seemed to think that the news broadcasts were infallible, and my daughter's frustration with trying to explain that many things were being oversimplified or blown out of proportion for the sake of an exciting story met with deaf ears. Some of the kids were frightened by the sudden anti-Arab feeling and by the violence that followed September 11. Random violence doesn't happen that much here. Egyptians tend to save their animosity for their fellow family members.

A year later most of the kids had returned to their studies in the US, although many more chose to go to study in Canada. My son stayed on in New York and commented that with the extremely hetergeneous population there, it was much better than many places in the US, despite the fact that he had been able to see the smoke from the burning towers from his room window. I don't think that we can really judge the complete impact of the 11th yet. Many of the actions by the US government after the attack have had rather dubious consequences, to say the least. I suspect that the US occupation of Iraq will someday be viewed rather coldly by analysts. I can't see any good really to come of it all, but then I remember another land war in Asia all too well.

But in the end, change is inevitable. Even death involves change from living matter with a soul to decomposing matter, one must assume, without a soul. The hard part is that in the middle of it you can't really see where the process is going. Once you've been there, where ever that is, you can look back to evaluate it. One good thing that I've been aware of is an increased interest in the lives of people in the Middle East, an increased interest in understanding the cultures and societies. This summer I hosted no less than 6 college students (not counting my own kids) who were coming to Egypt to see the country and culture. Who knows? Overall, it may turn out to have been a good thing in the long run.


Badaunt said...

This is probably the sanest and least sentimental blog entry I've read about 9/11 today, and I've been reading a few.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this will sound naive, but it never even occurred to me, even in my wildest conspiracy theory thought, that we have nothing other than the media and the government to say the hijackers were anything other than Middle Eastern. I'm not sure I can totally believe that, but I'm going to sit with it awhile. For certain I don't have the perspective of living in a Middle Eastern country. I also spent a lot of time post-9/11 reminding people that not all people are represented by ANY one person or act. If they were, I don't imagine many people would be taking communion in church (Jim Jones). It's sad, short cut thinking that has made it hard to live in the US if you try not to engage it in. One very ugly truth to emerge from all this so far is that the US is far away from conquering racism. Many people here are very "other" phobic. Anyway, thanks for dropping by my journal and leaving a comment there... I'm fascinated by the premise of your blog and will come back soon to read more. Peace, MJ (of Dragonflies, Butterflies and Lady Bugs at Diaryland)

KaDa said...

It's great to read about the daily life happenings in far away land like Egypt. In this day and age where all 'Arab' has been demonized by mass media, it's refreshing to see that we are all living in a same small planet with same needs and wants that is universal.

Anonymous said...

Leila here, posting a little late. I'm so glad you wrote what I've often thought, although I worried it was "racist": how could 19 Arabs coordinate getting on four planes in such good order? I really couldn't believe the planning involved, and just couldn't see how the guys could have gotten it all together. It is a racist thought, and yet - I've lived in Lebanon and in Cairo; I've lived among my emigre Lebanese cousins in America; the biggest frustration I had with cross-cultural matters was getting a group of us into cars to go anywhere. It was always a Keystone Cops comedy act, with people getting in and out of different cars, arguing about who would drive, whose car would get driven, who would ride with whom.

However it's not impossible. Just seemed so unlikely. I know lots of Arabs had the same thought.

My father, a Lebanese-American in California, didn't believe they were Arabs for a week. He didn't want to. It broke his heart. He also stayed home for several days, not wanting to go out (to get the car serviced, for instance) to public events.

Various Palestinian merchants in San Francisco were insulted and harassed - since most of them are Christians, it's just doubly stupid. Any "raghead" will do in a pinch, I suppose. Meanwhile, many of our American friends, especially Jews, called me to make sure that we were all right and that no one was harassing us. In Oakland, where I live, someone printed up handbills that said in 15 languages, including Arabic: No Hate Crimes - and gave phone numbers of where to call if you suffer racist or ethnic hate crime. I took a photo of one poster in the local dry cleaners', just for the record.

Leila of Dove's Eye View