SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

     Some stream of consciousness thoughts covering the past two weeks to now:

     The award for the best magazine cover of the week isa tie: first, of all periodicals, it's the cover of The New Republic, showing an absolutely gorgeous color money shot with distorted perspective showing the Statue of Liberty in front and, in back, looking far closer than it should, the twin towers of the World Trade Center as they existed the evening prior to the attack. In very simple and quite modest-sized white letters, it simply says, "It did happen here." The tie goes to The New Yorker for what, at first, appears to be a totally black cover with only the manazine logo at the top in white. But stare at it a moment, or angle it in the light, and you'll see emerge, in even deeper black, the ghostly form of the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

     Boy, I hate being Cassandra. It's the person in mythology that I have most identified with over the years, and it's one that a science fiction writer always has in mind when trying to do any sort of examination of the future. Cassandra, if you will remember, had the gift of foretelling the future, but in such a way that nobody believed her. One of my more infamous books is one called Dancers in the Afterglow, which predicted the Khmer Rouge and its bizarre vision of the perfect society. I'd read the same folks as the head of the Khmer Rouge and knew what would happen if. I wrote the book before the final fall, but it was not published until just after the first reports of the horrors began to surface. People who don't understand how long it takes from a manuscript delivery to published book seemed to think it was done after the fact. It was not. At that time I was still teaching history, and I recognized the problem immediately. I made the Khmer Rouge aliens because I knew that the kind of thing they were going to do, while traceable back to that 18th Century flower child Jean Jacques Rousseau, was going to be so alien in mindset and outlook that it would be nearly impossible to see through their eyes. I was right on that, too.
     I reflected on that, and a number of other "hits" over the years, as I watched the reply of those airplanes crashing into the towers and into the Pentagon. A fourth plane that was taken back by the courageous passengers who died to save others and knew it may have come closer. My hone is in the Maryland mountains not far at all from Camp David, which was directly on the flight path last taken by that fourth plane until it was brought down. I have to admit, though, that I didn't have the same feelings as most of America and the world when those planes hit. Rather, my first thought was, well, it's finally happened. I hadn't expected the method (I thought a nuke in a suitcase or on a barge was more likely), but I've been quite vocal online and in person that something very bad causing the loss of a huge number of American citizens at home was looming, and was in fact inevitable. My mind also flashed back to my last airplane trip, which was the weekend before Labor Day. It was the most lax security on both ends I'd ever experienced. I have a sentimental belt buckle that moves from belt to belt. It's a bronze casting of a steamship from the good old days of river travel that was bought on my honeymoon now over 23 years ago. Its one drawback is that it always, and I mean always, sets off metal detectors. But I walked right through both ways on that last airplane trip. If the metal detector was on at all, it was at its absolute lowest settings. And my Swiss army knife had no problems going through; deades ago they decided that if a blade was under four inches and not spring loaded it was okay, a concept I always found rather bizarre. Still, I hadn't felt security was such a joke than the time back in 1975 when I landed at Will Rogers-Wiley Post Airport in Barrow, Alaska back in 1975. You could either go through security or walk around the entire airport building.
     I got to thinking, of all things, about some major arguments I'd had over a number of things with the current generation of young professionals who knew better than the old farts like me. They were all going to retire with tens of millions each before they were forty because the dot com economy was forever. Social Security should be in the stock market because it can only go up. The whole reason for Social Security is because its needs are constant or growing while the market can have rollercoaster rides (but you had to take history, not just Popular Cultures, to know that). Can't you just hear those same people screaming for the government to make good their market losses in social security? I thought about the Libertarians who said that the government had no business in business and that any interference by it in the economy was bad. Wonder if any of them own airline stocks? Isn't it funny that the anti-government folks, when caught with their pants down, scream for the government to bail them out? It happens every time. I remember the big movement that said that all roads should be privatized, all fire and police services should be by subscription to private companies, etc. What do you think that crew would have done as the towers came tumbling down? Rush up those stairs in hopes of rescuing more no matter who they were and at the risk of, and as it turned out the cost of, their own lives? Is this kind of logic,, which we've seem prevalent in the Nineties, any more alien than the Khmer Rouge, or the folks who crashed those planes into the buildings?
     Not that all the lunacy is on one side. "Comedian" Bill Maher of Politically Incorrect says we deserved it for butting into other nations' business. The "Reverend" Jerry Falwell says we deserved it because we'd become a nation of abortionists, liberals, godless folks, even Democrats. It took him four days to say he was "misinterpreted." Not wrong, though, I noted. It's an amazing time when the most prominent Southern Baptist can be a total asshole while Louis Farrakahn becomes a statesman and religious leader noting that "...people of eighty nations, of all races, creeds and colors, were attacked and brutally murdered on that one day."
     Federal Express was so appalled with Maher that they canceled their long-term sponsorship and made me glad I use them. I'll try not to use products from the other folks who advertise there. He can say whatever he likes because that's what our country is all about; I can also choose to let those who sponsor him know that they alienate me by doing it. Maher and Falwell have both been on all over major and minor talk shows saying that they were misinterpreted. Yeah, sure. What a country.

     Alien thinking.... The fact you must not forget is that at least nineteen people committed suicide by driving those planes into those buildings, or trying to. They weren't religious fanatics. Two of the leaders were known to go on nightclub binges and were very mean drunks. They weren't some poor fellow whose relatives had died on the West Bank who felt he had nothing left to live for. The ones we know (and we know almost all of them now, although I can't help thinking there's a 20th someplace, five per plane) were upper middle class, raised in more comfortable homes that I had, and in countries that had little in the way of combat and terror. They were educated. Almost half had lived in the U.S. off and on for many years and knew us well. And they had things to lose. Many were married and with children, some young children. But when the trigger word was given, they did not hesitate to comandeer those planes in tight military coordination, slit the throats of some of the flight attendants and pilots, and then calmly fly and crash those planes into big office buildings. That was pure hatred of us and of our values. They didn't go after the best military targets, or those whose foreign policy decisions they found odious. They went into buildings that maximized casualties. Yeah, I know, the Pentagon sounds like it should be a great military target, but was it? It barely even closed down. And if they'd destroyed it, all of the headquarters commands and the chain of command would have remained in tact. But as the symbol of the American military, and right next to the nation's capital, well, there are few better ways to send a message.

     Fascinating to hear about all those "heroes," isn't it? The fire department, the police department, the Port Authority Dispatchers who refused to leave until they'd rerouted all the trains away from the WTC complex, the teachers who refused to leave their schools right under or next to the complex until all the kids were out, many of whom lost their lives saving others. When media and politicians rushed to one bruised and bloody firefighter just pulled out of the wreckage and started heaping praise on him, he silenced them. "Hey!" he yelled in his best New Yowkese, "we was just doin' our jobs!" Most of those folks of the current generation who think that making money is the be-all and end-all and the hell with government and the hell with stupid concepts like dedication, service, and sacrifice now seem genuinely surprised that these extremely poorly paid and not very well respected professionals were there and "doin' our jobs" trying to save the necks of the people who never thought twice about them and probably opposed the last couple of meager raises for those folks because it would (*gasp!*) raise their taxes! Don't sing songs about the heroes and wear their numbers and let them come out at Yankee Stadium for photo shots with the bigwigs and famous; how about showing them some long term respect and paying them what they're worth? Note to Libertarians: none of these guys was drafted, and none of them sent a bill to the folks they rescued or checked to see if the rescued ones were paid up. And not a single one of those folks digging out the rubble or supplying and supporting the operation is rendering a bill, either. I bet they even saved some sorry assed Libertarian privatizers and anti-government Republican pure capitalists. Com'on! Be honest at least and not assholes! Let's hear you now come out and say what suckers these public service men and women were to have risked or given their lives to save you! Hey, all you Ayn Rand worshippers! Look at what happens when a bunch of individuals want to strike a blow against society interfering with their own personal vision. You should be applauding them. What's that? I can't hear you....

     Now everybody's saying about how this will change everything and how different the world will be. Nope. Sorry about that. Unless something like this happens to us at home about every few months or so, you'll forget, just like the world wasn't changed after the Oklahoma City bombing or a dozen or so other "catalysmic" happenings within my lifetime. Oh, we'll build monuments and plaques, we'll rebuild, we'll have songs and stories, but we'll go back to complacency and all those idiot isms and ologies soon enough. We always have. Oh, for the next couple of years it'll be tough getting on planes without searches and stuff like that, but those will be home front inconveniences. We'll get used to those. Otherwise.... Want to bet? Remember Cassandra's record, kiddies....

     When last seen, associates of the dead terrorists were all over the U.S. looking at crop dusters and taking crop dusting lessons. A half dozen countries with no liking for the U.S. have been experimenting with anthrax cultures, and even though there's a vaccine rumors about it spread around the military so much that many resigned rather than take it even though it works. We civilians don't get it at all. Costs too much for our HMOs....

     Here's a modest proposal on one problem. We've had the usual idiots attacking and doing even worse. Big, brave guys who would rather attack or kill helpless local people who probably wouldn't harm a fly because they look different or sound different or are from the wrong country. Note that none of these cowards has any idea what their targets look like, and could never even spell Afghanistan if that were an excuse, and they sure aren't the ones rushing down to enlist to fight Over There. Might get hurt. These are the same little neofascist minds that started as the leaders of gangs bullying in school and just got bigger and badder. A Sikh gentleman, whose religion has little to do with Islam and who isn't in any way related to the bin Laden folks was murdered because, like bin Laden, he wore a turban. How ignorant can you get? I hope they have the murderers making little rocks out of big rocks until my son dies of old age.

     Still, there is the problem of appearances, not just to the cowardly idiots of this country but the average culturally ignorant people who are now getting an unremitting sense that Islam is a religion of nut cases and maniacs. People haven't been able to compare any other way since history and geography haven't really been manditory in the U.S. in twenty years in the name of Political Correctness. We can't re-educate a shocked adult population even now, and there's no move to revamp the cirriculum, so how do we switch this around and make the masses understand before it gets drilled into them the wrong way that Islam is one of the world's great religions, kin to Christianity and Judiasm, which hasn't been a fanatical threat to anybody since the Christians were doing Crusades and burning people at the stake? But what can people not taught the truth believe if all they hear is fatwahs to kill authors Imams far away don't like and with everybody with a political cause declaring Holy War against the west?

     Now, maybe I'm out of line here, and nuts to boot, but when I studied this faith it didn't say that fatwahs and jihads could only be declared by radical extremists. Indeed, they were to be very sparingly used and only against the most serious of religious crimes like blasphemy. Now, I submit that al Qaida and bin Laden have done more harm to Islam around the world than any nation of blasphemers. They have caused hundreds of millions, perhaps more, people to think of Islam as a religion of fanatics and nut cases stuck in the Thirteenth Century. If this is not blasphemy and an offense against God I don't know what might be. So might I suggest that, instead of acting fearful and coming on TV and saying, "This isn't Islam!" that religious leaders who truly want to demonstrate just how far away from Islam the bin Ladens and Talibans of this world really are might consider publicly declaring these disavowed nut cases as blasphemers and those who support them as Satanic? In other words, how about a fatwah on the leaders of these organizations and a Holy War against those who have so harmed the image and so tarnished the truths of Islam? Hearing only words, seeing no actions, what are the ignorant to think? It is an action that, to western eyes and ears, would say volumes and would mean more than a division of troops or landing rights or whatever. All it would require would be come courage.

     If I get any more bright ideas, I'll let you know,

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© 2001 Jack L. Chalker. All rights reserved worldwide, but you can quote from it or link to it without permission.

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