Filling September 11th

Why the rush to move on, absent adequate time for thought, healing and investigation?

The "pit" which constitutes the site of the World Trade Center remains many things to many people. For some, a crime scene; for others, a battlefield of war. For some, the sacred space of a burial ground; for others, real estate. For some, a rallying point for the president's re-election; for others, a tourist destination. Since nature abhors a vacuum, I can understand the gravitational pull this empty space exerts on everything from the Hudson River to political figures.

Yet at the same time, there is an odd value to empty spaces. Two years after the September 11th attacks that took my brother's life, it is astounding to consider the extent to which those attacks remain unexamined: not just the circumstances of that morning, when terrorists ruled our skies, unchallenged, for two hours, but the facts that surround those attacks and those who planned and financed them. These spaces remain empty of information, just like the empty spaces in this summer's "Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001."

While these unparalleled attacks on US soil might have provided a lifetime diet of red meat to investigative journalists, we are told that the media this year will be cutting back its September 11th coverage. Instead, the focus will be on family members who have "moved on"--reminding me of a newspaper headline a few days after the fall of Baghdad (and the dropping of 14,000 bombs) which announced that Iraq was "returning to normal."

Why the rush to move on, absent adequate time for thought, healing and investigation? The past two years have shown us. The vacuum that persists around the events of 9/11 remains a gray area into which anything can be suggested about anyone: that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the attacks; that Osama bin Laden was a Saudi outcast rather than an ally and business contact; that we had no warning of the attacks, and no way of deterring them; that the terrorism that day signaled a millennial clash of civilizations, rather than a crime committed by 19 hijackers; that the air quality in Lower Manhattan was safe, and life should go on uninterrupted; and that only more bombs could prevent the creation of more holes like the 18-acre site that remains so empty and yet so full of innuendo, insinuations and half-truths.

September 11th will serve to fill other spaces as well. On that day--surely no accident--London will be hosting Europe's biggest arms fair: "Defence Systems & Equipment International," a global trade show for weapons dealers. Even as I'm horrified by the poor taste, I'm heartened that one of the conferences there will be entitled, "Multinational Defense in a Connected World," even if the topic seems a few years too late and a few clicks outside of Donald Rumsfeld's radar.

Yet back in New York, as I descend into the "pit" that day, I will be filling the hole in a different way: with memories of the thousands of people who died there, and the millions of expressions of love they would have brought into this world; with the realization that our losses are linked to the losses of thousands of families around the world, not only in Afghanistan and Iraq, who have suffered death, dislocation and economic suffering as a result of terrorism and war; and with the acknowledgment that this space belongs to no one but the victims--all of them--of September 11th.

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