Dear Lulu: People Live Here

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September 11, Terrorism

The second day after 9/11, New Yorkers were officially summoned back to their lives. Commuters flowed into Manhattan by auto and train, through tunnels and over bridges. They piled back onto the city’s buses and subways. They maneuvered around the growing number of sidewalk shrines in the shadows of world-famous landmarks like the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center.

In short, we who live and work in New York City spent our days in a labyrinth of prime targets for terrorists. And we were not unmindful of this.

On 9/13 I remember riding the downtown local Seventh Avenue train toward my place of employment in Chelsea. Before the cataclysm this train went to the World Trade Center; people who lived on the West Side could ride it to their jobs in the Financial District. But on that day, we all knew, the train would stop short of its usual route, because part of the tunnel was collapsed under the smoldering ruins of the towers. And on that day I saw a Financial District sort of guy — good suit, gold watch, leather briefcase — riding that train. He was trembling. He shifted in his seat and muttered to himself. He was terrified. God only knows what that man had seen with his own eyes just two days before. Other commuters stood around him, clinging to poles and swaying with the subway car. They were silent and respectful, and they clustered around him like protective angels. But the fact is we were all flesh, and we were locked inside a metal and glass thing hurtling through miles of unguarded underground tunnels.

We all knew that. Yet we got on the subway, anyway. We had to get to work.

In those first few days, rumors flew about poison gas in the subways and mysterious packages left on buses. One such rumor caused a co-worker of mine to faint from fear. She laid on the office floor moaning, and her husband had to come in a car to take her home.

Military planes guarded the city, and every time one flew close to the high-rise office building I worked in (which had given us a clear view of the atrocity) we all dashed to the windows to see if it was one of Them. I suppose you could say we were a bit twitchy.

But the point is that life is what it is, and if you lived or worked in Manhattan, you had to overcome your nerves and get on with things. “Getting on with things” doesn’t mean forgetting. It means making peace, somehow, with your own vulnerabilities.

This past Monday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg talked about the alleged plot to “blow up” JFK airport:

“There are lots of threats to you in the world. There’s the threat of a heart attack for genetic reasons. You can’t sit there and worry about everything. Get a life,” he said.

That “What, me worry?” attitude pretty much sums up Bloomberg’s advice to New Yorkers on the terror plot. As far as he was concerned, the professionals were on it, so New Yorkers shouldn’t let it tax their brains.

“You have a much greater danger of being hit by lightning than being struck by a terrorist,” he added.

The Usual Screechers, naturally, are outraged. Michelle Malkin says non-worriers are “ostriches.” “Add NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg to the gathering of ostriches,” she sneers.

In other words, according to Lulu, if one is not living in a constant state of terror, one is an “ostrich.”

I’ve got news for you, toots: People can’t live that way. And some of us, you know, live here. And if we choose to stay here, we must expose our precious flesh to the dangers of subways and tunnels and bridges and high-rise office buildings and Muslim taxi drivers every single damn day.

But just because we are not in a constant state of mind-numbing, inchoate fear, does not mean we are not mindful of what can happen. A whole lot of of watched the worst that terrorism can do with our own eyes. We were not sitting safely in our living rooms watching a little picture on a television. We were there. We lived with it. And we lived with the shrines and the smell and the sorrow for weeks after.

Believe me, you don’t forget something like that.

We’re still living with the hole in the city. I walked by it just a couple of days ago. Nobody’s forgotten anything. People still cluster in front of St. Paul’s to read the sidewalk display about the recovery effort. There’s still a big flag hung on the front of the Stock Exchange, and another from the ceiling in Grand Central Station, where armed National Guard still stroll through the corridors.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, I’m very happy that law enforcement is watching our airports so vigilantly that even half-assed plots are nipped in the bud. I fly into and out of New York City airports from time to time.

However, I don’t see anything useful about fear-mongering. Fear does have its uses, of course. If you confront a snarling dog, for example, fear gives you that nice shot of adrenaline that might help you climb a tree to safety. But the reality of modern life is that most of the scary things we face are things we can’t run away from. If we’re going to live our lives as we choose to live them, fear is an obstacle that must be overcome. Stirring up more fear isn’t helping anyone.

Fear isn’t helping anyone but some politicians, I should say.

New Yorkers on the whole do not like it when some politician frightens us with a terrorism threat, and we find out later the threat was absurd (e.g., destroying the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch). We get annoyed when news stories hype a threat to the office buildings we work in, and then we find out the threat was based on three-year-old information. And we do not appreciate someone who lives somewhere else, who was hundreds or thousands of miles away from Manhattan on 9/11, screeching at us that we’re supposed to be afraid. And that if we’re not afraid, we must not understand the dangers we live in.

You want to step over here and say that, Michelle? Out loud? On a New York City sidewalk? You might not like the reaction you get. You should be afraid, actually.

Update: See also Liberal Values, Oliver Willis, Gawker.

Update 2: See Happy Furry Puppy Story Time.

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27 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Stella  •  Jun 6, 2007 @9:15 am

    Thank you Maha – this is excellent.

  2. bruce  •  Jun 6, 2007 @10:27 am

    As usual, you are perfectly on target. I’d love to hear your take on what is REALLY behind this need to live in fear and to try to make everyone else fearful. Ironically, given the right wing’s professed love for individuality and self-reliance, it seems to me to be about letting someone else take responsibility for our security (the Prez, the military, CIA), and a serious and quite desperate lack of personal self-esteem. I mean, people who are truly strong and confident don’t need to prove it by brandishing their fists, or their weapons, or their codpieces, at every opportunity..oh well

  3. MikeShatzkin  •  Jun 6, 2007 @10:47 am

    Why is it that ALL the plots — the Brooklyn Bridge one you referred to, the JFK Airport one, the Fort Dix one, either seem to be led by the informant or so far-fetched to be serious, or both? Remember Juan Padilla’s “dirty bomb”? My wife has observed that paranoia seems to rise in proportion to how far you actually are from Ground Zero.

  4. pecunium  •  Jun 6, 2007 @11:46 am

    I’ve lived in that state (heavy doses of fear, all the time).

    It sucks. It’s artificial, and one finds ways to mitigate the fears.

    It also warps one, and takes ages to get over (if it can ever be completely gotten over).

    People who look at this sort of thing rationally (i.e. they weigh the odds, look at the risks and base the decisions on that) have thought the way New Yorkers thought; because being a scaredy-cat is no way to live, and a worse way to make decisions.

  5. moonbat  •  Jun 6, 2007 @12:13 pm

    Your words reminded me, living out on the west coast, of how I thought twice about handling the mail in my po box, given the anthrax scares that were going on after 9/11. My post 9/11 jitters – while real and unforgettable -were nothing compared to what you’ve written about here.

    Malkin and the others remind me of high school cheerleaders sneering and chastizing us for not having enough “spirit”. (I guess it was that video you posted some weeks ago).

  6. Donna  •  Jun 6, 2007 @12:25 pm

    I just plain loved this post, Maha. Only thing that could top it would be a video of scaredy pants Malkin having to actually face you on that sidewalk.

  7. lipris  •  Jun 6, 2007 @12:34 pm

    spot on. maha speaks for me, a fellow new yorker.

  8. moonbat  •  Jun 6, 2007 @12:38 pm

    Kos made a good point about this:

    “Remember, the whole point of terrorism is to sow terror. Every time a conservative or the Bush Adminsitration freaks out at a potential act of terrorism, the terrorist win. They don’t actually have to set off the bomb, they just need to scare people. So every freak out is a victory for the enemy. Fox News? One of the terrorists’ biggest allies. The Bush Administration? The terrorists couldn’t have done it without them. And those “manly men” conservatives that are perpetually wetting themselves in fear?

    “Well, when even the most hapless, incompetent, laughably unworkable plots get them riled up in a tizzy, you don’t even need competent terrorists to be effective.

    “Conservatives are truly the terrorists’ greatest allies.”

  9. grannyeagle  •  Jun 6, 2007 @1:08 pm

    Well said, Maha! The point about confronting a snarling dog giving one a shot of adrenaline to climb a tree; that is a real danger and Krishnamurti called that intelligence not fear.
    Fear of a perceived or potential danger is wasted energy. We live in the present not the past or future. I don’t mean to suggest that we should not be prepared. Absolutely we should. I once had an intruder break into my apartment in the middle of the night. It was my fault cause I had left the window unlocked. Fortunately, I scared him more than he scared me and he ran out. Since that time, I have been more careful to lock my windows but I refuse to cringe every time I go to bed. I sleep very well.
    Oh yes, I too would love to witness a confrontation on NY city streets between Maha and Malkin. I would even buy a ticket.

  10. fshk  •  Jun 6, 2007 @1:13 pm

    According to Google Maps, I live 7 miles from JFK, which I’m pretty sure is a whole lot closer than where Michelle Malkin lives, but once I heard that the plot wasn’t really feasible and they got the guys, I thought, “Okay, fine, that’s over.” Good for Bloomberg for telling people to move on. There’s a certain level of fear at which people can’t function, and I don’t see the point in wallowing in it.

  11. Steve M.  •  Jun 6, 2007 @2:39 pm

    Excellent post. One quibble, though: A lot of people went right back to work in Manhattan on 9/12.

  12. Kevin Hayden  •  Jun 6, 2007 @2:57 pm

    Mr. Billism: it’s all the GOP has when they can’t disqualify the voting of US troops.

  13. justme  •  Jun 6, 2007 @4:35 pm

    Maha I will take this a step further. There have always been threats to this country, from other countries with big ass armies and all kinds of bullets all the way down to two bit terrorists pieces of crap…this is nothing bleeping new at all….what is new is the government is unable to just do it’s job without being fear mongers…..We all know the risks of life in America, open boarders and all, yet for 200 plus years we go about our business.. but to hear michelle tell it anyone not standing in a puddle of their own piss has their heads in the sand… what she doesn’t understand is that there were a million threats before 911 and we never had to fear them because the government just did their damn jobs without bothering us with every two bit dumb ass plot to blow up a bridge with mentos and a two liter of soda pop(they didn’t have the pop or the mentos but they had really cool tee shirts and a master mind with a mid eastern name).If michelle or anyone thinks fear will stop terrorism they should look up the word….FEAR is what terrorists hope to achieve…duh!..so when you are afraid they have already won the war with you.. congrats toots! You have been defeated by two bit thugs…sweet Jesus what a pantie waste.

    What she is saying is that she has ZERO confidence in this government to do its job(makes the mind wobble she figured that one out, ya think 911 was her first clue?) that is the only rational explantion for her to be afraid ….does she really think these plots were not uncovered everyday before 911? Does she really think at all?Is her blog suppose to be a parody?? Come on, it’s one of those candid camera things right??Wheres the camera? Really?

  14. paradoctor  •  Jun 6, 2007 @9:28 pm

    The terrorists were fools, the cops were in control, New Yorkers are tough, and Malkin’s a wuss. All is as it should be.

  15. Swami  •  Jun 6, 2007 @9:31 pm

    “They’re coming!..They’re coming with flamethrowers..quick, drink your kool-aid!”

  16. Doug Hughes  •  Jun 6, 2007 @10:24 pm

    Indulge me and look at the flip side of the coin.

    Here we have isolated examples of zany terrorist wannabes with half-baked schemes and our consevative friends want to portray these incidents as justification for warrentless wiretaps, holding foreigners indefinately w/out charges or trials, torture, etc. The case they make is that the threat is so severe and immediate, that customs of civilized behavour (habeus corpus, right of privacy, due process) can be abandoned.

    Here’s the flip side. Over THERE, Muslim extremeists have made incidents of abuse, (and there have been too many) including rape and cold-blooded murder, ‘proof’ of our nature and intentions. The same cards Michelle likes so well (fear & hate) are played by Moslem nuts to recruit soldiers and solicit funds.

    There’s the cycle. We don’t want to be there; but Bush, McCain and most of the Republican candidates refuse to let the terrorists win. By staying we feed the fires for Moslem extremeists who CAN make a case that this is the Crusades all over again. So WE, the US invaders, recruit for the fanatics to a degree thay could have NEVER attained w/out our presence in Baghdad.

  17. Eric  •  Jun 7, 2007 @1:57 am

    First, well said, Maha.

    I think that much too much attention is given to right-wing propagandists like Talkin’ Michelle Malkin. First, her vblog outlet is called “HotAir”. (How many jokes does that conjure up?) Next, two of her vblog posts are of her (badly) imitating a slam poet, and (even worse) a cheerleader.

    Bottom line- she’s an unintentionally hilarious joke who deserves to be marginalized into oblivion, which won’t take much effort on our parts since she does such a splendid job in that department.

    I’m not necessarily saying we should ignore her. I’m just saying to consider the source, and to stand back and get good, healthy bellylaughs at her feebile attempts at journalism/opining/whatever she tries to conjure up. Bellylaughs are all her missives are good for.

  18. Dale  •  Jun 7, 2007 @5:44 am

    At least we know that the rest of the country understands our needs and is ready to help us out. The folks who sit safely in their living rooms watching a little picture on a television are ready to send another semi-truck full of stuffed animals at a moment’s notice.

  19. Devil's Advocate  •  Jun 7, 2007 @6:46 am

    Excellent post, Maha. I, too, am a New Yorker, and I lived through 9/11. I was a block away from the towers when the second plane hit. I saw people jumping out of windows. It was the worst day of my life.

    It happened on a Tuesday. On Wednesday, Manhattan was deserted. On Thursday, people were going back to work. It took a while for New Yorkers to be back to their noisy selves, but they did. And Bloomberg is right: get a life. One cannot live in fear. If it happens again, and I am in the wrong place at the wrong time, so be it.

  20. maha  •  Jun 7, 2007 @8:18 am

    Devil: Lots of people have noticed that the further one goes from New York City, the more hysterical people are about terrorism. I think that’s because New Yorkers had to face the reality of it, and work through their fear, or else leave New York. Hysteria is an indulgence New Yorkers can’t afford.

    It’s also the case that the further one goes from New York, the more the hysteria smells like prurience. Some people (Lulu) act as if they want to be terrorized. They seem to think there is some virtue in being afraid. Maybe they welcome the fear because it justifies their bigotries.

    New Yorkers can’t indulge in that stuff without making themselves sick. If New Yorkers were to be as afraid of terrorism as Michelle wants us to be, we’d all be dropping dead from heart attacks now.

    I remember right after 9/11 reading that gun sales went through the roof. People outside New York were buying guns to protect themselves from terrorists. I thought that was odd. Guns aren’t going to save you from poison gas or anthrax or subway bombs. At some point guns are about as effective as a rabbit’s foot, and serve about the same purpose — something to cling to to make you feel safer, even though it doesn’t.

    At some point you have to reconcile yourself to the fact that what’s gonna be is what’s gonna be. You can seek increased safety collectively through law enforcement and security measures, but as an individual you walk out your own door and take your chances.

  21. Jack of Hearts  •  Jun 7, 2007 @11:13 am

    Thanks very much for a terrific piece. I’m also a New Yorker, and I work 3 blocks from the Hole in the Ground. I can’t let fear of some boogeymen scare me into hiding under my bed, and I sure as hell won’t let it make me vote for those corrupt Republican scumbags. If Michelle Squalkin wants to learn who the real terror-mongers are, she should look in a mirror. Then she should STFU.

  22. r@d@r  •  Jun 7, 2007 @4:39 pm

    i just wanted to chime in here because we in seattle have been living under the cloud of a great deal of speculation, some of it warrantless and some maybe not, that “we’re next” – after all, what greater symbol of globally-impactful capitalism run amok than seattle, home of bill gates, boeing, starbucks, and several major military bases? hell, if i were a terrorist, I’D hit seattle. not only the US, but the whole pacific rim economy would be royally screwed if they took us out.

    for about a week after 9/11, whenever i was walking downtown in the financial district from my bus stop to my job on Pill Hill, every time a jet flew over – which was every few minutes, since there’s airlanes to Sea-Tac Airport directly over downtown – you could see the entire street full of people collectively flinch. it’s really something to see – like a piece of f?!ed up avant garde choreography.

    and then we collectively (more or less) sucked it up, because (a) we weren’t new york and (b) as sir mix-a-lot says, “seattle wuzn’ bullsh****n’.” so on behalf of my city i give a hearty fist in the air to the brave, no-bullsh** folks of NYC.

  23. erinyes  •  Jun 7, 2007 @7:57 pm

    Oh, seattle….
    Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square on Halloween night, Salty’s on Alki, Wild Ginger, Elliot Bay Book Store on a winter’s day. Working at 50 ft in Puget Sound at the mouth of the Dwamish river after a winter storm. Riding the ferry while sipping hot coffee.Spring time at the Japanese Gardens, I LOVE Seattle……….

    I thought the next target would be either Las Vegas or Disney world. Now I know better.The GWOT is the BIGGEST hose job in history…….

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