This photo is one of the images most people may remember when they think about September 11th, 2001. However, for those of us who lived through this difficult time in New York, it was the days the followed that we remember most clearly. These were the days of pain of loss, fear of further attacks and a very slow to come healing. New York City at its core had lost its confidence and was reduced to a war zone. No one could deny this. There were soldiers as well as uniformed police at nearly every corner in New York City, also called Manhattan. The town we once knew and love had receded. This was the new face of Manhattan.
The first day that I returned to work after the attacks, I remember taking my camera with me. This photo is only one of the many posters that you would see all around Manhattan. At Penn Station there was a memorial wall filled with photos of the missing. It was heart breaking to go to work every day. No group was untouched –the young, the old, immigrant or not, every demographic had suffered the lost of someone.
During that time I worked across from the U.N. We were fortunate and relieved that the U.N. was spared, although there had been reports that a plane was also heading towards the U.N. Out of the fear that had gripped not only New York, but our entire nation I think I had a desperate need to record everything. I wanted to remember everything as it was in case it, too, disappeared from site. I wish in retrospect that I had continued to take my camera to record the events that unfolded in all of the days that followed. It was a strange time in our history, filled with mourning. Mourning of the deaths, mourning of change, and I think most poignantly, the mourning of the loss of freedom of movement that we all once enjoyed in New York. New York City had been raped on September 11th and all of its residents along with it.
From the stories that appeared in local newspapers after the attacks those whose ethnic background and physical resemblance or strange behavior often became targets of bias at worst and feared at best. To the general American public, anyone physically similar to the Arabs who attacked us was a suspect terrorist. Fear lurked everywhere and many suspected that terrorists were actively seeking Americans looking for their next opportunity. American Muslims were a group believed to harbor terrorists and were sometimes blamed for the attacks of 9/11. This blame came from fear and this fear also created suspicion in the minds of many, suspicion that was the basis for many attacks of bias against American Muslims or other groups who were mistaken to be Muslims.
Sadly, these mistaken ideas were even passed down to children. My daughter came home upset one day when a classmate fingered her and blamed her, saying she was the reason the towers were attacked. The student was reprimanded, but the damage had been done. These were the days of ostracism for many Muslims and events like these continue even today.
Today, 15 years after the attacks some complain about additional security procedures at airports and other places. While I read the articles about this, and at times feel appalled at some of the narrations of those singled out due to their ethnic background or name, would I want it any other way? No, definitely not. Fanatics who believe in their causes are out there, from all faiths and doctrines. I feel better knowing, even though sometimes mistakes are made, those mistakes are bearable because they help mitigate the possibility of another attack. These fanatics have created a world full of insecurity for all Muslims everywhere.
People wonder when will things get back to “normal”, when will life follow it’s old flow. It’s something I have pondered myself, but I have come to realize that this is the new normal. There is no going backwards only forwards. Perhaps another normal will come to replace it, who knows. Today my thoughts turn to all those lives we have lost to Al Quaeda, I.S. and all the Islamic Militant groups that have popped up. Let us pray for a way through this.