Are you sure we lived the same 9/11?
That’s not likely literally, since you probably didn’t wake up that morning in Goteborg, Sweden, and fly to the U.K. to board a British Airways plane for New York’s JFK, a flight that was interrupted halfway across the ocean by the captain coming on loud-speaker and saying, “I have an announcement of utmost importance to everyone on this aircraft. At this time, would you please wake anyone to your right or your left who might be sleeping.”
That let me know he wasn’t about to give us baseball scores. The plane seemed fine, no engines flaming or smoke filling the cabin. My best guess was, they’d discovered a computer error back in London leaving us with insufficient fuel and we’d have to ditch into the Atlantic. Could you have done better with zero clues? That wonderful British accent continued.
“We are not proceeding to JFK due to terrorist activity in the New York area. We are instead proceeding to the nearest Canadian airport.”
“Terrorist activity in the New York area”! I assumed that meant there’d been a bomb scare at LaGuardia and they were taking extreme precautions. The captain did not tell us about the attack until we’d landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and come to a complete halt. Why not? Easy. Over half the passengers were probably Americans coming home. He wanted to avoid mass hysteria among passengers whose loved ones may have worked in the World Trade Center. Over 50 huge jets unexpectedly landed in Halifax, and as refugees in a huge exhibition hall we had the chance to hear what other pilots had told their passengers when those pilots suddenly became “news directors.” Some pretended a meaningless dial in the cockpit wasn’t functioning and, even though it presented zero danger, the book demanded they land at once. Others invented “runway problems” at JFK. Anything for a calm cabin!
I’ve heard zero praise for the way the Canadians responded to our difficulty and took us in. We spent the first night on the floor, but by the second night there were cots, not to mention free doctors, massage therapists, coloring books and crayons for the kids, free telephone calls anywhere in the world and round-the-clock food and drink on demand. The Canadians had only one problem. They’d appealed for volunteers on the radio and couldn’t begin to handle the thousands of Canadians who wanted to help out. They were magnificent. I’ll probably understand why the wise ones who planned the 10th anniversary memorial shoved out the clergy before I’ll understand why they shoved out the Canadians.
I didn’t arrive home in New York until Friday, Sept. 14. I recall listening in angry disbelief to what I can only call grudging admiration among some New Yorkers for the jihadists and their deeds. I don’t think the Poles voiced any kind of admiration for the Nazi bombers who opened World War II with a raid on Warsaw. I don’t think the Greeks were saying, “Man, look at those German Stuka dive bombers! They look like they’re going to go right into the ground, but then they drop their bombs on target and pull out at treetop level. WOW!” I did, however, hear Americans saying things like, “What planning! What coordination! And they didn’t even have guns; just box-cutters!” Wrong attitude. Go back and listen to President George W. Bush. He got it right.
The TV commentator was hyping the many thousands of young Americans who joined the armed forces. Sure, after 10 years the numbers look OK. The day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, millions of American boys tried to enlist. After 9/11, however, the talk of enlistment spiked. Enlistments did not.
The most invidious rumor was that all the Jews who worked in the World Trade Center were told not to go to work that day. I was amazed at the number of those who believed such a lame and easily dashed rumor. The assistant cantor of my own synagogue was lost on 9/11. I don’t leap to dash the accusations that the Israelis, or even President Bush himself, plotted the attack, because those attempts simply didn’t get as far as the one about the “tipped-off Jews!”
Finally, good-hearted, well-meaning people like me must admit we were wrong about something very big. I was on the ramparts with a broken bourbon bottle immediately after 9/11 insisting “the jihadists don’t represent Muslim feeling. We must embolden the Islamic moderates,” I railed. “We’ve fought and died in recent history to save Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq …” You’ve heard it.
I can’t imagine being a loyal American Muslim and not demanding we stage a “Million Muslim March” on the Washington Mall on this 10th anniversary of 9/11 to shout forth our love and gratitude for America and our detestation of jihad. The screaming absence of any such movement denudes and debunks piles of that noble garbage.
He was strong, but was he wrong; I mean the Muslim-born pro-American who warned us, “Sure, there are Muslim moderates. They’re the ones who want to hang you from a lower branch!”