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The events of September 2001:

A viewpoint from Paris

—by David Henry

This is a terrible event, and it’s hard to take it all in and digest it. It was four different attacks, each so devastating, and all within a half hour. The first two nights I watched so much TV I started getting headaches. I gave up after a while after the news coverage started following the usual pattern in disaster stories of repeating the same few details known at a given moment, over and over.

It’s so awful, the whole landscape of southern Manhattan has changed. It’s a huge scar that will last as a painful reminder for many decades. One commentator said, “The Empire State building is once again the tallest building on the east coast.”

The only world leader who didn’t outright condemn these attacks was Saddam Hussein, saying United States reaps what it sows. He should know, the United States supported Iraq militarily through the 1980s as a counterweight against Iran, only to be confronted with these same weapons in the early 1990s, in the Gulf war. And now the newspapers are reporting that the United States was supporting the Taliban as a counterweight against Iran and the Soviet Union. This I didn’t know, and it’s saddening considering what we’ve learned about the Taliban over the last year.

So many people are calling what happened that Tuesday terrorist attacks and acts of war, and this is very obviously true… I hope people will mull over what the Pentagon has been up to since that building was constructed fifty years ago.

I really hope people will start wondering why others in the world could dislike the United States so much, and take more of an interest in the country’s foreign policies. No other country has ever had such a severe terrorist attack (as opposed to an “official” war action), why us? Somehow I have the feeling that this sort of attack wouldn’t have happened if Bush were not president, it’s much more of a Reagan/Bush tragedy. Another commentator said “Well, so much for the Star Wars anti-missile shield”.

I’m sure people really want some sort of response attack and this is only natural. I saw a picture of a banner that said, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth only makes the world blind and toothless”. The terrorists obviously had a message they wanted to convey to the United States, and anyone has the right to send messages, especially if they are spoken or written, but the manner in which they sent their message is so crushingly definitive and brutal. It’s like the death sentence, once it’s done, there’s no going back. A response attack from the United States is likely to be just as definitive and brutal. So I’m quite divided in my opinions about how the United States should respond.

The more I think about it, the more I worry about the American response to the skyjackings. The attacks have naturally aroused huge amounts of anger, fear and desires for revenge, and with good reason. Does our country really want to respond in kind, arouse all these same kinds of emotions elsewhere, and make people in certain parts of the world dislike Americans that much more? Does the Bush regime really want to lower itself down to the practices of these terrorists? But I’m at a loss, obviously there has to be some sort of response, but I can’t imagine what sort of response would be appropriate. And “appropriate” is such a relative term, it most likely means all sorts of different things to people across the United States.

I spoke with my family a bit about the attacks, and it appears that the American media never cover the reactions in the rest of the world, aside from Palestinian celebrating in streets and reactions in Afghanistan and Pakistan. When something serious happens, one wants to know why, and when it is just too devastating, one wants to hunt down the culprits. We are not supposed to blame the victims of an attack, but in States, there is no feeling that we brought these hateful attacks ourselves. We Americans are always right, it is always “they” who are wrong.

There were pictures on TV of a huge plume of dust floating away from lower Manhattan, and it immediately made me think of asbestos. Rudy Guiliani said there was no health danger shortly after the attacks, but I remain circumspect. Using asbestos for building insulation is just another practice from an earlier, more “innocent” era that is coming back to haunt us.

I read that there was some suspicious trading on the stock markets in the days before the attacks; the values of insurance and airline companies fell, and the prices of oil and petroleum futures were going up. I find that sickening.

Parisians responded to the attacks the way most in the western hemisphere have. The country has gone on high alert, with fighter jets ready to take off. The «Vigipirate» plan, first developed in response to the attacks here in the early 1990s, has been put back into effect. All the garbage cans have been sealed up, and there are lots of police and soldiers with machine guns at the train stations and other big public places.

—David Henry, September 2001

The plaque reads, «À la mémoire des nombreux Algeriens tués lors de la sanglante répression de la manifestation pacifique du 17 octobre, 1961».

A memorial plaque was placed on Pont-Marie on the 40th anniversary of the brutal repression of a demonstration march of people protesting against a curfew prohibiting Algerians from circulating after 9 pm during the Algerian war of independence. The plaque was put up in the morning, with plenty of speeches by politicians, and people stayed around until late in the evening. The plaque reads, «À la mémoire des nombreux Algeriens tués lors de la sanglante répression de la manifestation pacifique du 17 octobre, 1961».   —photograph by David Henry

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