We were having a small family pizza party to celebrate my birthday when my brother-in-law looked up from his cell phone. “Terrorist attack in New York,” he said.
He handed me the phone. I read the brief summary. Yet another jihadist had mown down people with a truck. There was mention of a bike path. “Where in New York City is there a bike path?” I wondered aloud.
Nobody answered. I didn’t expect an answer. We were in Norway, and I was the only New Yorker in the room.
My partner and I went home. Usually, when I hear about a terror attack, I bite the bullet and turn on CNN. But I didn’t trust myself not to explode at the sound of Wolf or Christiane or Anderson whitewashing a jihadist attack on my hometown. So I opened my laptop and found a Fox News live stream on You Tube.
Watching the coverage, I thought about my father. He died in April 2000. On 9/11, I found myself feeling glad that he hadn’t lived to see it. The son of Polish immigrants, he’d lived his entire life in New York City. He loved the city, and loved America, which, for him, in a world of tyranny and peril, was the great, good place—free, safe, civilized. September 11 would have shaken his worldview.
I thought about George W. Bush, who, after 9/11, could have sent police into every mosque in the country, closed those containing so much as a single page of jihadist propaganda, expelled every dicey imam, changed U.S. immigration policies, and led an honest effort to educate the nation about our enemy. Instead, even as he committed our military to a naive effort to democratize the undemocratizable, he played Islam-apologist-in-chief—a role that Barack Obama gladly inherited. Thanks to them, and to American media and schools, young people today have learned to see every act of jihadist terrorism as a burden primarily for innocent Muslims, who—because their noble religion has been “hijacked” yet again—tremble in their homes in fear of a “backlash.”
I thought about the great Mayor Rudy Giuliani—who, from the get-go, got it all right—and about the lamentable Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is less concerned about probing potential terrorists than about investigating critics of Islam (and who, to the city’s shame, will probably be reelected next week).
And I thought about my sister and niece, both of whom live in New York. The aforementioned bike path, it turned out, runs right past Stuyvesant High School. A Fox News reporter interviewed a Stuyvesant student, a girl, who’d seen body bags and mangled bicycles. My father went to Stuyvesant. My niece, born a few months before my father died, graduated from there in June.
After learning the location of the attack, I checked Facebook. My sister had already posted about it. My niece, she wrote, was worried about her friends at Stuyvesant. Later, my sister noted that those friends were, one by one, “marking themselves as safe.” This is one definition of what it means to grow up in the post-9/11 world: you just know, in the same way that you know how to cross the street or tie your shoes, that when there’s a jihadist attack in your vicinity, you’re supposed to go onto social media and mark yourself as safe.
The day after the attack, I called my sister. She said that my niece had been petrified yesterday, but that this morning she had said: “Imagine being a Muslim student at Stuy today.”
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