NEW YORK — In many, many ways it was too close for comfort. When London was bombed last week and the carnage of mangled steel and blood-covered bodies invaded my television screen again, the echoes of that terrible day almost four years ago were unmistakable. I remembered the chaos of that morning — the screams and the missing posters and the empty seats at the dinner table — and my heart went out to the city across the pond.

It must of course be noted that at Michigan, New Yorkers seem to have developed somewhat of a bad rap. Californian out-of-staters are usually considered good people, and the Texans seem to be some kind of bizarre commodity. Even some of my friends have complained of New Yorkers, “You guys think you’re at the center of the universe!”

True, we are a bit arrogant, and our accents can be painful to the ear. But just as Prime Minister Tony Blair managed, condemned and continued his work at the historic G-8 conference in Scotland last week with steely resolve and brilliant efficiency, New York City did not miss a beat after the Sept. 11 attacks. While some of my midwestern peers will undoubtedly scoff at this thought in disgust, the city has something valuable to teach to the rest of the country. Bloody but unbowed, New Yorkers did things that, in the days and weeks following Sept. 11, took great courage — they went to work, took the subways, spent eight-hour work days in 80-story sky-scrapers. Four years later we remain the same, loud, bustling, rude Gotham city.

Let me introduce you to the New York I know and love.

True, there are national guardsmen armed with automatic weapons in Grand Central Terminal. Signs on the subway urge passengers who “see something” to “say something.” And when you are below 14th Street where the city’s signature grid system is nowhere to be found and the streets seem to be placed as arbitrarily as a jigsaw puzzle, there are no towers to help you find your way.

But Times Square is still filled with tourists whose necks remain perpetually arched toward the sky. We still go to school, shop, pack into the subway cars at rush hour like sardines in a can.

We felt the Sept. 11 attacks more exquisitely than most. So naturally, the great majority of us were infuriated when the anguish and suffering of that day was exploited for political gain. We have rabidly refused to sacrifice our freedoms in the name of a sense of security we now know to be false and misleading. And last November, New York told the country that we do not believe in a president who would use fear to advance his right wing agenda.

Funny things start to happen when people are afraid. Civil rights go forgotten in the name of security, citizens with different-sounding names are taken away in the middle of the night and held without charges. And political agendas are shoved down a nation’s throat just when its mouth is gaping in shock in the aftermath of this bomb or that plot foiled.

After the recent attacks in London, security was increased on our public transportation systems and there are now two very big national guardsman at the commuter station down the road. They are currently guarding the safest trash can in the state of New York. We don’t feel any safer here in New York. Those same things that took courage almost four years ago — riding the subways and working in sky scrapers, for example — continue to take courage today, because we know just how likely another attack really is.

In New York, and more recently in London, the terrorists lost. And the definition of terrorist is extended to include anyone anywhere who uses fear to take away innocent life or inherent freedoms.

Tony Blair did a good thing when he responded to last Thursday’s terror attacks in London with the expediency and resolve that he did, Moving on in that way, looking for justice instead of vengeance, sends a message to every kind of terrorist: we may be afraid. But we will not act out of fear.

 

Gay is a member of the Daily’s editorial board. She can be reached at maracl@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.