How many times can you clutch your hand to your mouth in terror? Thinking you have seen it all, every explosion, every angle of the buildings, every stampede on the street – you pull yourself together and turn on the television, yet again, pick up the paper or check just one more Web site filled with streaming images, thousands of angles of every possible position But you react, again, by pulling your hand to your mouth, an instant reaction, in place of words, but more likely blocking words that you have already said so many hundreds of times in the wake of Sept. 11.
With hand to mouth, the words: horror, terror, unimaginable, fear, are clutched and trapped within your fingers. There is nothing you can say that can encapsulate a tragedy of such staggering and numbing proportions. You feel uneasy: at work, attempts at play, in your own bed. You look beyond the horizon of your window and you see a plane, a body, a fire. You squeeze your eyes, you sing a song to yourself and you make a silly joke to relieve your tension and hopefully everyone else’s. You still have enough presence of mind to remark on you coworker’s stylish new shoes, but you both look at each other uncomfortably and somewhat embarrassed, with a searching look – searching for mental sanctuary.
In an America with an unending million dollars for an unending million answers, we as Americans are left with none. We do not know what questions we did or did not ask that brought us to this atrocity. However, we now unequivocally comprehend, like never before, that we are hated. Not our “government” or our “capitalism” but the sum of our daily way of life. We, as a people, no matter how disparate in ideological beliefs feel the impact of our power on the world and its now extreme reaction to us.
We feel crestfallen seeing a war which now seems unadvoidable, a war begun right before our very eyes, with friends as victims and with an enemy we do not (and refuse to) understand or know how to locate. Within hours of the hideous scenes unfolding on national television the names of America’s enemies were being bantered about by the aging, homogenous and warmongering men on Capitol Hill. Of course we want justice, but how can a judgment be rendered without a perpetrator and without full knowledge of the extent of the victims? The political positioning makes us only feel more sickened and more heartbroken.
The “beacon of freedom” of America is dimmed, but no where is this more evident than in the hate mail that pours into Arab-American political and socially oriented World Wide Web sites. Our Arab-American brothers and sisters feel unsafe within their own America as hate creeps from the destruction of Sept. 11 and finds itself on misplaced targets, targeted through the scope of ignorance. In the consequential rush for answers are we, as Americans, willing to suspend our own system of balance and guarded civil liberties, the same system that makes us a target to those who condemn us as evil?
The limits of our own publication schedule here at the Vanguard places me within hours of the tragedy but days away from the newsstand. However, what I know will not change in the ensuing days (and now as you read this) is the grasping for knowledge, for stories of rescue in the chaos and answers to the thousands of questions and the stories of thousands of lives. America’s ultimately suspended disbelief will most likely ease into a national brooding, and we, as Americans and citizens of the world, begin to tell the stories of ourselves back to ourselves, for redemption, intelligibility, comprehension and hope.