Jewish World Review Sept. 8, 2004 / 23 Elul, 5764
You never know what is going to come out of that gorgeous blue sky
NEW YORK CITY Never trust a beautiful day. That was the lesson of 9-11. Three years have gone by, and the calendar has once more flipped to September. A crystal-blue sky has again replaced the muggy summer haze. But to many New Yorkers, sadly, the gift of a perfect September day is also a painful reminder.
On the surface, New York seems to be back to normal. Crowds fill the stores and restaurants. Real-estate prices are soaring to shocking heights. That means people still want to live here. (One architect has plans for a bizarre tower that would hold up 12 "townhouses" selling for, he hopes, $30 million apiece.)
But while the terrorists did not stop New York's heart, they did leave a weight in many stomachs. Three years without a repeat of the horror has made the 9-11 date somewhat more bearable, but life is not as it was before. For people who suffered directly from the tragedy, of course, it will never be and New Yorkers are now hearing those people's stories again.
Heightened security throughout the city serves as a constant reminder of the insecurity. Over the weekend, traffic was backed up for more than an hour as police inspected cars and trucks heading into Manhattan. Eerily, the local news didn't mention the roadblocks. The radio traffic reports referred to the tie-ups as "delays." On balmy evenings, police cars stop trucks from driving along a section of Lexington Avenue. A look down the thoroughfare reveals the lit-up tower of the Citicorp Building, named a possible terrorist target.
One did not have to be here on 9-11 to understand that awful things can happen on nice days. Doctors deliver dreadful diagnoses on champagne mornings. Funerals take place on sun-drenched afternoons. People who have suffered grief or shock at such times know how beautiful weather can mock them. And they understand how a day that brings enormous delight to some people recalls trauma for others.
And for many New Yorkers, the meteorological beauty of Sept. 11 three years ago undermines the finest days. It doesn't take much to remind people here of terrorism. The weather will do it.
But while there's much thought about terrorism, there is little agreement on how to deal with it. I visited with some old left-leaning friends who had been demonstrating during the Republican National Convention. To them, the war in Iraq was a Vietnam replay (and the antiwar protests a walk down memory lane). When I asked them what should be done about terrorism, they came up blank.
Although my feelings about the Iraq conflict are more mixed than theirs, I could understand their non-answer on terrorism. Iraq, it turns out, was not an immediate threat to the United States. That left as the main reasons for war removing Saddam and turning Iraq into a model for the region. Whether this costly idealism can succeed remains a big question mark for us all.
But other approaches are not succeeding, either. In trying to buy off the bad guys, France has found the price to be rather high. Despite her best efforts to frustrate American plans in Iraq, France remains in Al Qaeda's gunsights. Terrorists now threaten massive violence against France over a law forbidding girls to wear Islamic veils to her public schools. And Arab hostage-takers holding French journalists have seemed similarly unimpressed by France's foreign policy.
When terrorists on March 11 killed hundreds of commuters in Madrid, Spain's voters quickly capitulated to Al Qaeda's demands or so they thought. Spaniards immediately replaced their government with another that promised to take their country out of the American-led coalition in Iraq. But three weeks later, another bomb similar to those used on March 11 was found on the high-speed train tracks near Madrid. Spain has subsequently learned that these terror plans had been made well before the war in Iraq.
Back in New York, the Republican convention came and went without serious incident. People breathing a big sigh of relief will both notice the fresher air and remember that pretty weather can be a double-edged sword. This is the age of terrorism, and you never know what is going to come out of that gorgeous blue sky.
Froma Harrop is a columnist for The Providence Journal. Comment by clicking here.