me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to be free,"
wrote the poet Emma Lazarus in 1883 in her ode to the Statue of Liberty
whose triumphant completion she sadly never lived to see. I may only be a
tourist, and not one of the weeping, grateful immigrants washed up on
these teeming American shores but as I looked up at Lady Liberty's
classical Grecian face, I was tired all right, and yearned for freedom
from the city's claws which I felt as grim officials went through bags of
tourists wanting to visit this symbol of freedom.
could be the heat-the sense of claustrophobic airlessness triggered by a
profusion of concrete, the wind wheezing between the high rises, or the
fact that New York has been horribly bruised-I didn't realise how badly
until I actually stood on the site of ground zero.
should have paid more attention to the signals of ongoing trauma, the
anxiety, the feeling of menace.
sense of foreboding starts at airports where every second person is
searched brusquely (especially if they are dark-skinned and have a name
the young officers can't pronounce), closely scrutinised, made to miss
their flights, interrogated like potential criminals.
be fair, even a prominent white American politician has been a victim of
"a terrorist list" of names-practically prevented from getting
on his flight.
there are the flashing signs on the subway that ask you to report any
suspicious activity to officials, reminding you again that America is a
target for terrorist activities.
city is also swelling with the influx of anti-war protesters -thousands of
ordinary people pouring, driving and flying in from around America,
scrimping for fares and hotels, all to demonstrate their disapproval of
the senseless war, post-9/11, embarked upon George Bush and his toothy
American people demonstrating at the Republican National Convention are
angered that they were deliberately misled by the fiction of weapons of
mass destruction, that their own American sons and brothers have been
sacrificed, and all that random blood letting (thousands of Iraqis dead)
was about as effective as a fly swatter. The terrorist monster is still
palpable generalised anxiety here is understandable. And so was the
initial support for Bush's "war on terror".
felt it while peering through the steel fence at the rubble on which once
two of the world's tallest buildings (and a cluster of smaller ones)
stood. Eight months to clear it away-to account for the nearly 3,000 dead.
The violence, the scale of the drama hits you forcefully as you have to
crane your neck to see the tops of the surrounding buildings on Wall
Street reflecting a hard, glittering beauty way up there in the sunlight,
casting miles of shade here on the ground.
remember one particular image from the day that rocked the Western world.
That of a couple who jumped, holding hands, from one of the buildings set
ablaze by a crashed plane, hurtling through the air.
although the video footage of that horror couldn't have been more than two
seconds long, it lingers in the mind like a slow-floating slow motion film
that never ends. The horror of the choice that couple made.
along the site there are billboards with photographs showing us the
buildings as they were, how they were destroyed, the names of every person
who died from that attack, the merciless dice of chance that put people on
the terrorist planes-they took the early flight, or because they missed
the previous night's flight-heartbreakingly simple human situations. On
one billboard it is written that this large hole will soon be the site of
a memorial fit for the ordinary people who woke up that day and didn't
expect to die-not like that. On another, drawings of a spectacular
building to replace the towers. The bravado, the courage of America-coming
right back at you-bigger and better.
cynical amongst us will say, "what about Rwanda, and Bosnia and
Iraq-hundreds of thousands of people died there. What about America's acts
of invasion and violence on vulnerable countries?"
but one death doesn't cancel out another.
so standing there, looking upon the rubble of ground zero, I stumbled upon
the real tragedy of this country. Each side-Bush and the
terrorists-believes it has the moral authority: God is on its side. It's
not dissimilar, sadly, to conflicts that have no end. I remember once
asking a group of Jewish people gathered to celebrate the anniversary of
the first Kibbutz in Jerusalem of how, they of all people, having known
what it's like to be persecuted, knowing the horror of the Holocaust,
could fire so mercilessly and with absolute loathing at the
Palestinians-deny them a homeland? (The choking anxiety of that city where
Jews, Christians and Muslims live in perpetual disquiet is not dissimilar
to what I feel, now, in New York).
old woman answered me "Well, you see most of us here lost entire
generations of families in the Holocaust.
The Palestinians are just another group of people shooting at
us." We have to defend ourselves from them.
in Israel takes the form of Israeli soldiers standing on mosques pointing
guns at stone-throwing boys.
in America means bombing other countries.
in Palestine means human bombs.
in Iraq and Afghanistan means human bombs.
is defending themselves.
has God on their side.
innocent people, Muslims in Iraq, commuters in New York, are wondering
when the next calamity will strike.
lines are drawn -indelibly. I remember Gandhi again- "an eye for an
eye makes the whole world blind. "
that's not stopping the world.
every story has its redemption. Mine came from watching an open-air film,
Breakfast at Tiffany's, in Central Park, amongst the deep green rustle of
trees and a half moon, when the lovely heartbroken Audrey Hepburn flings
away everything that has the potential to hurt her-her pet cat, the man
she's in love with, her native New York-and prepares to escape to South
tells her then, this man who loves her, that she's too chicken to take
chances, but in the end it is that trust in people, in your loves-that's
the only thing that makes living worthwhile.
our time, ordinary people like you and me, not caught up in the hate of
conflicts, have to struggle every day to remember that - to live with
caution but without fear.