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Jewish World Review July 31, 2002 / 22 Menachem-Av 5762

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
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Consumer Reports

Journey of discovery starts at Ground Zero

The writer, who lost his nephew on Sept. 11, is traveling to three Arab countries in an effort to make sense of the tragedy and to find answers to unanswered questions. Below is his first dispatch. | NEW YORK Light rain slanted down on a soft breeze the day I finally went to Ground Zero here to see where my nephew died Sept. 11.

For more than nine months, I had thought about ground zero every day, had almost memorized some of this killing field's terrible mathematics.

As of late June, the numbers stood this way: 2,823 people dead at the World Trade Center; 1,092 bodies recovered (not, however, my nephew Karleton's); 20,000 body parts recovered; 1.8 million tons of debris removed; a 10-story pile of ruins turned, in 8 1/2 months, into a seven-story-deep pit.

But as I stare at those numbers now, a few hours after being at ground zero, they convey almost nothing to my bereaved heart. I find, in fact, that I am nearly emotionless, silenced by what seems like the meaninglessness of the loss of not just Karleton but of all the others who perished that terrible swift day.

I had thought that when I saw ground zero - when I looked at the photo displays about victims, all the tributes on fences that still encircle nearby St. Paul's Chapel - I would want to shout obscenities. But I screamed nothing. I simply stared at the earth-moving machines still in the hole, at the men in hard hats, at the mud. And at this sign just inside an entrance to the site: "No exit."

Ground zero is where I began my journey to three Islamic nations - Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uzbekistan. My goal was to try to understand why the terrorists had misused Islam, to try to see whether we are experiencing the "clash of civilizations" described by author and scholar Samuel Huntington or whether something else is going on, something more manageable, more hopeful, less cataclysmic and apocryphal.

I traveled with about 25 American and Canadian journalists from other newspapers' editorial pages.

There is no exit from Ground Zero for my nephew or for many others. But maybe there is an exit from the path of militant, extremist, violent, utopian religion that the 9/11 terrorists followed.

Partly for Karleton and partly for all the others who died Sept. 11 - but mostly for the rest of us who are left to understand what happened - I looked for that alternative path on my trip.

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JWR contributor Bill Tammeus' latest book is "A Gift of Meaning." To order it, please click on title. To comment on his column, please click here.

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Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2002. All rights reserved