|MY PARENTS HAD A WARTIME WEDDING. I've always wondered,
idly, what it must have been like for them, making a commitment to each
other in the midst of a global catastrophe. Now, I guess, I'm going to
At the same time, life goes on as before, at least as
far as the banal, the day-to-day. Every siren, every low-flying plane,
makes us tense, look up, then shake our heads at our skittishness, a small
squirming worm of rueful anxiety turning in our stomach, like some newly-grown
organ, evolved to cope with the change in our lives.
I spent three days barely tending to my life, poring over
three newspapers, flipping incessantly between news programs, desperately
grasping for something that would make sense of it all and, shamefully,
something that would help me make a connection with the loss, something
that would drag my experience of the tragedy from abstraction to reality.
Finally, one of the papers ran a page of photos -- victims
on the planes, in the towers, at the Pentagon. Snapshots, headshots, Sears-portrait-studio
portraits. Posed smiles and offhand grins; big, toothy party smiles and
beaming summer vacation smiles. Four-by-six glossy reprints pulled from
one-hour-photo envelopes, slipped out of frames, scanned and wired and
colour-separated and pressed into newsprint.
Just people. All dead.
MY BROTHER-IN-LAW, A FIRE CAPTAIN, is devastated. He knew,
as he watched both towers collapse, that there would be firemen in there,
making their way up the stairs, burdened with respirators and axes and
first-aid kits, fighting the frantic exodus down. He knew exactly how they
died. He could imagine himself, his crew, anyone he works with, among them.
It wasn't a leap he had to make, with any aid or effort.
K. has relatives working for the FBI, at the Pentagon.
Her cousin, Barb, was looking forward to the wedding, to seeing K. again
after more than a decade. Her husband has been assigned to the morgue at
the Pentagon. He's FBI; right now, it's the FBI's war. Barb sent K. a said
e-mail regretting that she won't be able to make it, now. Three young boys
and husband who's away most of every day; at home, he's haunted, muted
by the effort to keep what he's seeing quietly inside, to segregate it
from his life.
In the meantime, I'm struggling to make the connection.
MINUTES AFTER THE ATTACK, a Sikh businessman runs from
the towers up the West Side Highway to escape the scene. He's being chased
by three young men screaming threats. He escapes to a subway, where he
slips his turban into his briefcase and struggles through the rest of his
day in his bare head and ponytail, aware of the shame of being forced to
abandon a precept of his faith.
A story I read in the New York Times that may prove
to be apocryphal. Not so apocryphal is the Sikh gas station owner in the
Southwest who was shot and killed. I'm sure there are hundreds of stories
by now. Never mind that a Sikh is not a Muslim; action is being called
for, and in times of action, the ignorant can strike first, unburdened
by the need for proof, for justification, for justice.
I have a lot of time for Islam. The Koran, well translated,
is as poetic a piece of theology as we have. I can understand the appeal
of Islam, even in its more conservative forms, though admittedly my interest
has always strayed to its mystical fringe, to Sufism, and to cosmopolitan
writers like Naguib Mahfouz. I adore the sinuous melodies, the pentatonic-minor rigorousness of its music; I have an inherent sympathy for the fatalism
of its culture, for the striving for dignity, for its demand for hospitality
to strangers. I can't forget that, through the dark ages, Islam kept alive
much of the classical wisdom and texts we now consider cornerstones of
"Western" civilization. I have always thought that the west didn't end
at the Bosphorus, but stretched as far as the deserts of Babylon and Mesopatamia.
A war against terrorism is a tall order, whose success
remains to be seen; a war against Islam is, in some very basic way, a war
against some part of ourselves.
AM I WRONG IN ASSUMING THAT IT'S THE CIA'S JOB to anticipate
and prevent an assault on its own country? Is it already heresy to point
out that the CIA was at the forefront of the dirty wars and black ops that,
brick by brick, build the timeline of history that led to over 5000 innocent
people dying in the most spectacular incident of terrorism ever? Doesn't
it seem ironic that the CIA -- probably the most incompetent multi-billion
dollar intelligence service in existence -- is being unleashed to act in
the offensive by acts of government?
Once upon a time, it was fashionable in certain circles
to compare the CIA to the Jesuits. Like the Jesuits, the CIA was not only
the home of brilliant, ambitious misfits from business, government, and
the military, but also the chaff of the establishment; the dim and thwarted
younger sons of good families, victims of primogeniture, clubable flotsam
in need of a niche. These are the men who gave us the Bay of Pigs, Nicaragua,
El Salvador, Allende, Stroessner, Shah Pahlevi, poisoned cigars and unmarked
graves full of priests and nuns. Among the last vestiges of their policy
was the training and thinly covert "aid" to the mujahadeen in Afghanistan.
Among their contributions to the vocabulary of geopolitics is the word
These stray sparks of the Ivy League have been replaced
in the last generation by a new generation of technocrats, some of whom
profess shame at the megalomania and frequent ineptness of their predecessors.
They have sought to distance themselves from their world -- a world that
might have been imagined at different times by either Graham Greene or
Ian Fleming, then tossed in the trash bin for being either implausible
or laughable -- by building "eyes in the sky", by dismantling networks
of distasteful contacts and moles with unreliable motivations in favour
of cutting edge technology, assuming that their enemies were in thrall,
or aspiring, to the same technology.
I'm sure it won't be known for months, maybe years, but
right now the U.S. is relying on every scrap of intelligence they can get
from Mossad, from the British and Germans, from the Turks, Indians and
Pakistanis. Dick Cheney mused on some weekend chat show that the CIA might
have to get in bed again with "some unsavoury people". I'm amazed that
he'd think of doing anything right now but sending the CIA to bed without