What did watching a stage play telling the story of 911 in the voices of survivors and volunteers teach me? This: People are not numbers. People are not countries. Every life is special, every life is a story, and so every life should be treasured.
I’m sharing this because I believe my story – my perceptions of the event – have things to teach both Americans and people all over the world something about how to see it.
So, here goes.
When I first saw 911 go down on CNN, live on TV in my office at 24.com in Cape Town, South Africa (we were in Parow then) I didn’t get how it was going to change the world. If I’m honest, I didn’t get it was going to ruin the world.
There was something thrilling about it. Sort of like how I think the crazy 50% of Republican voters (and a few Bernie bros) feel about Trump: What could be worse than what we have now? Let’s shake it up man! David and Goliath!
Don’t trust that feeling. I shouldn’t have. I am shamed by it today.
No, thousands of people dying is not nothing, but it does happen, all the time, all over the world, and America often doesn’t care. So at the time, I didn’t understand why I should care, when it happened to them. After all, they still hadn’t apologized for killing millions of Japanese people, when they dropped atomic bombs on Japan to scare Russia. (Still haven’t).
Yes. People are not numbers. People are not countries. Every life is special, every life is a story, and so every life should be treasured.
Back to my story. I was South African then. I still am, but then, my identity was more firmly part of a world in which America was the asshole boss that you hated when they bossed you around, but smiled at when they bought you ice cream (or movies, mostly, in this example). America had not yet taken Nelson Mandela off the terrorist watchlist.
The point is, Americans themselves weren’t the enemy. I’ve always been a passionate liberal, which means negotiation, negotiation, marches, protests… and a few tantrums. But Americans weren’t special to me. Why should they be? American deaths weren’t (and still are not) more tragic to me than those of Rwandans, Afgans, Nigerians, South Americans, Syrians, or any other casualties over the years of the thirst for oil (or the lack thereof), or the economic colonialism disguised as patriotism, or the blundering of prideful wars, however well intentioned they may be to the brave veterans who fight them.
So 2000-odd Americans died, and I thought it was terrible, but I didn’t realise how terrible it was, because I didn’t realise what would happen as a result, and I didn’t realise how I’d feel about it now, 15 years later.
The first consequence I didn’t forsee was that afternoon was that Bush, in his megalomania, would ensure that thousands more Americans would follow, and that, more importantly, the entire middle east would be wracked with extremism in response to America’s gung ho vengeance. I didn’t realise the terrible prejudice against Muslims that would alienate many in the middle, and put my own country on yet more watchlists. I didn’t realise that, for months and years afterwards, discussing the topic, or questioning the US war on terror, would be seem treasonable – or pro-terrorist.
That night, I was in a bar, and the owners were film carpenters who’d moved to Cape Town, and ran a cool scene in the winter off season (this is before they built the massive studios in Khayalitsha, so big and so state of the art, that US effects films do a lot of their offshore work there). They said: “Don’t joke about this. This will ruin the world you know. America will strike back 100 fold.” They were right. America got Dubya re-elected with blood money, literally.
I also didn’t know then that I’d be sitting in a theater one day, weeping, for the first time ever at a live theater event. I tend to avoid drama. Bad drama is not only depressing, but embarrassing and boring. That over the top theater thing just makes me want to giggle. But this wasn’t that. Aside from one performance, I believed every moment of the 110 Stories told by great actors like Robert Forster, Elizabeth Greer, Nicki Micheaux, Mark Pellegrino, Emilio Rivera, Stelio Savante, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Diane Venora, Michael Welch and Brian White (Mira Sorvina replaced Elizabeth Greer on Sunday). I wept more than once to the great work of playwright Sara Tuft, which never once mentioned Islam.
I was left with this, reminded that people are not numbers. People are not countries. Every life is special, every life is a story, and so every life should be treasured. It may be exhausting, but we have to care. The pain is worth it, because it helps us stand up against this kind of thing. I wish this kind of play was written about every tragedy, and required viewing for all high school history students.
And finally, I wish people wouldn’t even consider voting for Donald Trump, or for anyone who helps him come to power. That includes the Greens, or the Libertarians.
ISIS couldn’t have designed a weapon more dangerous to America than a man who makes everybody in the world hate its president – and trust me, we worse than hate him. We fear him. He’ll make America everybody’s enemy, because he’s said we’re all America’s foes, more times than I care to count.
I went to New York a couple of times, and it’s an extraordinary city. That this place, the immigrant capital of America, the most welcoming place in the country in many ways, was the target, gave me a personal reason to be more appalled than I can tell you.
Info about these pictures of murals by Mr Brainwash, who the article calls a “wannabe Banksy”, like I care, you snobs, available here.