Home Towers in Twilight
Home Towers in Twilight

Towers in Twilight

In the first few years it seemed as if they were still there, stark lines rising into the sky, tall shadows falling on the streets, a missing space that your eyes filled in without even thinking. You walked past, and your eyes said, "Of course they're there. They're always there" and for a moment you saw them as they were, grey ghosts of steel rising above the rubble. You saw the city as it was and then you remembered that city is gone.

Manhattan, that far down, is a lonely place. It is not a human place, but a huddle of buildings where men and women commute to and from, its stores are there for office workers to shop at, its sidewalks go dark when the trains head out to New Jersey again turning it dangerously low rent. That is what made the pretense of a Ground Zero Mosque, in a neighborhood where you can hardly find enough Muslim residents to start a game of Buzkashi, so nakedly dishonest.

But the site has always attracted its share of exploiters. On a good day you can see South American and African vendors peddling commemorative patriotic knickknacks and on a bad day the Truthers show up howling their contempt for the site. Tourists stop by and pose for snapshots with their families. Office workers walk by without thinking. The site, like the towers, is just something that's there. And lately even the vendors and Truthers hardly bother showing up anymore. Like so many others, they have already moved on to exploiting the next tragedy and the next outpouring of grief. 

The neighborhood had grown less grim over time. The 99-cent stores and shops selling used clothing have given way to cafes and chain stores. The months during which the entire area was closed down, in part or in whole, took its toll on local businesses, but over time they bounced back. And so has the city.

Tonight and the night before as the towers of light cast blue beams across the sky, we remember but memory is a destructive medium. Each year the memories grow fainter. At lunch counters people ask each other where they were that day and exchange stories. But the stories grow fainter each year and the memories of walking across the Brooklyn Bridge or stumbling through the ash or handing out sandwiches to rescue workers have grown dimmer too.

This was the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. How many people are still moved by that date, how many less so than were in 1822 or 1862? The anniversaries that we hold on to are the ones that mean something to us. And what does September 11 mean to us? What did it mean to us eleven years ago and what does it mean to us now?

The fundamental narrative of war is, "We were attacked and we fought back." It's the same story for everyone regardless of how true it may be. But it is mostly true in this case. We were attacked and we tried to fight back. But we weren't attacked on September 11. We were attacked long before then. That was just the date when one of the attacks got out undivided attention and the enemy elevated itself above a petty nuisance.

To walk through the darkness toward the towers of light is to pass through a city of shadows. In a stray glimmer of light reflecting from a storefront or a puddle you can still see the old MISSING posters and see khaki trucks tearing apart the street asphalt. You can still see glimpses of a city that was still reeling from the incomprehensibility of what had happened to it. It isn't reeling anymore, instead the incomprehensibility has become routine.

New York City is used to tragedy. Terrible things happen here all the time. The oldest photos of the city show the same stunned faces, the legs lying in a puddle of blood, the gawking children and the police frowning at something we cannot see. And relentlessly the blood is washed away, the tears are dried and the city moves on. September 11 left behind more blood, more broken legs and more frowning police than ever before... but the ashes have still been dumped in a landfill, the tears dried and the city moved on.

September 11 has become a tragedy and tragedy is an experience, not an explanation. It is a bonding experience that gives way to catharsis. The dead are mourned, the grief is expelled and the horror of it takes on the faint silvery tinge of memory. It is no longer what is, but what was. It is not how we live now, but how we lived then. There is no longer a need for answers and that for many is also a relief.

"It is ridiculous to set a detective story in New York City. New York City is itself a detective story," Agatha Christie said. That detective story is one that most people who live here have given up on solving. It is a trademark of the weathered New Yorker to meet the odd and inexplicable with a shrug of the shoulders. Everything is strange but the strangeness is the point. We are all living in a postmodern detective story with no solutions and no need for them. Not only are there no answers, but even asking the question is an invitation to ridicule. There are no truths here, only shadows.

In Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot arrives at the solution by realizing that only in America could such an unlikely collection of characters have met. By America, he means New York, and the city is still the ideal place to find unlikely characters. There is still a murder to be solved here and the suspects come and go in the streets below. The crime did not end with the murder of 3,000 people and the destruction of two towers and several lesser buildings around them. New schemes of mass murder are hatched every day across one river or the other. Maps are studied, charts are drawn up and the tools of the trade are gathered up by the latest man who would be Bin Laden.

New York cannot move on, neither can the country, because the murderers are still on the loose and what happened on September 11 was not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of attacks taking place in a clash of civilizations. New York, the crossroads of civilizations, is a natural target for the attacks. New York is to the world what Mecca was to Arabia and the new Mohammeds are eager to do to it what Mohammed did to Mecca.

The crowds will cheer the hundredth time they are told that Bin Laden is dead, but the man in the turban was irrelevant long before he was killed in his hideout, and the Muslim Oilsphere is full of wealthy sons looking to lead a war against the West. Bin Laden is dead, but his backers are very much alive, and the drone attacks that kill Al Qaeda leaders don't touch their money men in the Oilsphere. The clerics who teach young Muslim men about the glories of martyrdom have little to worry about from drone strikes, unless they help them plan those attacks a few times too many.

This is a conflict of ideologies, a collision of cultures and a war that for the enemy encompasses the religious and the racial, that is nothing less than a primal battle against the Other. And where better to wage that war than in the places where others meet others every day? What better target than a World Trade Center for a violent ideology built on merchants turned robbers and robbers turned merchants?

In a city where everyone is different, it can be difficult to understand that the attackers were motivated by those differences. Their war against us, at a primal level beneath ideology and faith, is an attack on people who are fundamentally and incomprehensibly different than they are. Islam is xenophobia written into scripture, a long chain of conquest, subjugation and cultural destruction by desert nomads who know how to drive a sharp bargain, but have never been anything more than the jackals sniffing around the ruins of greater civilizations. It is as natural for them to attack us as it is for us to wonder why we were attacked.

Americans hold the peculiar belief that life need not be a zero sum game. That we can learn from other people without turning them into our subjects. That we can make more of something instead of stealing from a finite amount that someone else has. That is the great creative power of American exceptionalism. It is a transcendent force that turned a land full of refugees into a world power brimming with technological wonders.  

New York, that strange part-Dutch, part-English, part-Everything-Else city, runs on the creativity of the impossible. Starving artists, aspiring actors, failed musicians, real estate mavens without a dime and brokers trading thin air. This is a city that always seems on the verge of total anarchy and destruction. It is the city that filmmakers repeatedly choose to destroy in alien invasions and other catastrophes. And yet it is the city that keeps going on that strange half-mad creativity of making things happen.

For Islam, the game is strictly zero sum. If American civilization thrives, then their civilization is shadowed. If people are happy here, then their own happiness is marred. If there are two towers in New York City, then that takes away from the glory of their civilization. Islam is the bitter beggar forever looking to steal what it cannot have, worrying over the imaginary history of its own greatness and cursing the upstarts in the streets of a foreign city for taking what was rightfully theirs.

The American who shares his good fortune with the rest of the world cannot understand that there are some people who would rather steal than accept a gift, who would rather destroy than build and who would rather drown the world in darkness than accept someone else's light. With difficulty he might accept the existence of a small number of people who think this way, but the notion of a civilization built in this mold is too obscene an idea for him to accept.

As with so many other strange things that wash up in the concrete streets of a strange city, it is easier to leave the mystery unsolved, to let the blanket fall back over the clash of civilizations and go on forward. It is the way that things have always been done in the city and as twin rays of light bisect the sky, they remind New Yorkers of their own fortitude, and not of the enemy waiting outside the light.


  1. Anonymous10/9/12

    Tick Tock

  2. Several times in the last ten years I've had 'the voice' just sort of drop a label into my consciousness.

    9/11 was The Dark Epiphany.
    When the face of Satanic Evil was revealed to all who have eyes to see it.

    What followed seems to be this terrible polarization in our culture- a declaration of irreconcilable differences:
    The Alignment of Sides.

    With GWB's second term came the phase that we are
    in now:
    The Great Inversion
    where all that is evil is called Good and Good called evil.

    With this last Blue moon I got the next phase-
    The Reckoning.

    It's coming


  3. When Satanic Evil Incarnate stalked the whole earth, stoking ovens, no eyes would see it, no ears would hear it all doors were closed to the Stalked.
    Now the Second Coming of Satanic Evil Incarnate is almost upon us. Will there be a repetition?
    Stella Barbut.

  4. We cannot move on while our leaders blather on about Islam being a 'religion of peace'. No, no, no! Islam is a religion of war. We have to know our enemy & name it, then we can start to fight back.

  5. If Pearl Harbor had been destroyed by the Japanese, and had we not retaliated but instead cleared the Harbor of the sunken ships and after a lot of political squabbling wound up building a yacht marina to replace the Navy base, and attached to it an amusement park (in which was erected a modest "remembrance" plaque, which the Japanese found "offensive"), where would we be today? Precisely where we are now. Defeated by our own hand and by doubts about the greatness of our country and the inviolable sanctity of our own lives.

  6. Anonymous11/9/12

    Very nicely written, as always. Thank you, Daniel.

  7. Here's what you do that I appreciate so much, Daniel. You pan with an aerial view and sum it all up tidily. Whether or not anyone agrees with the content, your gift cannot be denied. For Americans, the ramifications of 9-11 are constant, our understandings (if we choose to notice) go ever deeper and wider. For New Yorkers, we will never forget the stunning terror and frustrating anger. Thanks for this unique tribute.

  8. steve11/9/12

    The enemies of life and love and liberty, for that is what those people are despite what they and their apologists say, took a product of civilisation -- a vehicle that lifted people to new places for trade or pleasure or love -- and aimed that at the heart of freedom.

    They were surprisingly successful because they caught the west off guard and did more damage than they thought they might. But although they enjoyed that brief moment of triumph, a chance to dance in the street where the local religion forbids dancing, they exposed themselves for what they really are.

    With 9/11 they revealed, if we had not noticed, that they only wanted to destroy. They and their cult only wanted to return the world to a primitive time where progress was arrested. A world filled with destruction and narrow-mindedness and where only fear rules.

    Those people who 'masterminded' this atrocity may have achieved a momentary delight, but they also gave civilized people a clear example of what little they have to offer and what their regime truly stands for. They sent a clear signal for all of humanity to understand, and in the fullness of time they will wish they hadn't.

  9. When God lowered his defense and allowed a great city in ancient Judeia to be destroyed, it was a warning. When the warning wasn't headed, he destroyed the Great Temple.

    The Trade Towers was a symbol of America as much as the Temple was a symbol of ancient Israel. Our Nation was blessed for over 200 years but we have allowed filth to overcome our lives and God has warned us.

    The next attack will certainly be far more henious than 9/11, and my gut tells me that will be soon.

  10. Anonymous11/9/12

    Daniel, your writing is exquisite. This article is pure poetry. Thank you for articulating what most of us can't.

  11. Anonymous11/9/12

    "Islam is the bitter beggar forever looking to steal what it cannot have, worrying over the imaginary history of its own greatness and cursing the upstarts in the streets of a foreign city for taking what was rightfully theirs."

    Oustanding, probably as concise and truthful a description as I have ever read.

  12. Anonymous11/9/12

    Excellent writing and we all pray for those lost on 9/11/01. I also pray for clarity as to the true culprits and agenda for this tragedy.

  13. New Yorkers will never forget, eh? Sept. 10 NY Times op-ed, Keller suggests that Iran having a bomb is less of a hassle than stopping them. Sept 11, attack on G Bush because he should have known. Nothing about Islam. Just politics as usual. New Yorkers, and America itself, have already forgotten in the same way that American Jews give lip service on Pesach to remember that once we were slaves in Egypt. Sounds good, but when do we eat?

  14. Anonymous11/9/12

    I have enjoyed your writing for some time. Today, however, your writing has reached brilliant levels.

    How can your heart not comprehend this:
    Islam is the bitter beggar forever looking to steal what it cannot have, worrying over the imaginary history of its own greatness and cursing the upstarts in the streets of a foreign city for taking what was rightfully theirs.

    Thank you,

  15. Anonymous11/9/12

    Very relevant and timely article, as Muslim Brotherhood (enabled by the Obama administration) members storm our Embassy and tear down our flag in Egypt, and Leon Panetta decides to publically opine that we have " a year" to deal with Iran in order to cut off Israel at the knees, sending the clear message that we are never really going to do anything about it, like North Korea. Clearly it is no longer just the crazies that need to wonder whether we have a Commander-In-Chief or a Muslim supremist facilitator.

  16. M Hirsch11/9/12

    On the whole a good article but paragraph 17 is a load of historically blind garbage. Your "refugees" stole your country from it's original inhabitants killing them by any means they could including starvation and handing out disease infected blankets. You cannot make more land so the entrepreneurial "refugees" stole all the best land and herded the surviving natives onto miserable reservations where they tried to suppress their language and culture. Part of the reason many people dislike Americans is because they are arrogant and are only too happy to forget that their great country was founded on genocide.

  17. jimvee11/9/12

    M Hirsch seems a foolish fellow.

    An excellent article Mr. Greenfield. Well said.

  18. Anonymous12/9/12


  19. Anonymous16/9/12

    "But the site has always attracted its share of exploiters. On a good day you can see South American and African vendors peddling commemorative patriotic knickknacks and on a bad day the Truthers show up howling their contempt for the site. Tourists stop by and pose for snapshots with their families. Office workers walk by without thinking."

    Very sad:(


  20. Cheesy16/9/12

    M Hirsch,
    Name a single civilization that hasn't been built on the ruins of a previous one.
    Up until recently, the civilization that is least technologically advanced usually fails in competition with the more advanced one.


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