Opinion Context

EVERYBODY said we would wake up to a “new and different world” in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy. One strong indication of that is that David Letterman, appearing on his “Late Show” for the first time since the disasters at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, could barely summon his sense of humor in front of the live and TV audience.

Instead, he opened with a soliloquy, apologizing in advance for having to say what so many others had already said before him, “much more eloquently,” but that it was the only way he could proceed with the show. He himself felt it still wasn’t right to do the show, he said, but he was responding to New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s appeal for New Yorkers to go about their normal business. When comics can hardly bring themselves to laugh, or to share laughter with their audience, then we can conclude the psychic wounds run deeper than would be immediately obvious.

But I dare not even try to measure the depths of grief and loss of Yem Atienza Aaron, a classmate in high school, who in an e-mail to friends and family, confesses that “it’s very difficult to hold up hope” for her husband Jack knowing what she knows about the WTC tragedy. “I learned that no one in the 91st floor and up has been heard from. I learned that the plane entered the north side and that Jack’s office is on the West side. From other e-mails from other Marsh (the firm where her husband works) relatives, I’ve read that the plane hit directly into Marsh floors.”

Her son Tim joined her in coming to Manhattan, passing out flyers about his Dad, being briefed by a counselor on helpful answers to questions he’ll doubtless be receiving in school, and even allowing his inner cheek to be swabbed for possible DNA matching. Things not every young man may have the emotional stamina to do, but as Yem put it: “I want him to grow up and remember that he tried to help find his Dad.” Please add to your prayers a special mention for Yem and Tim and Jack.


ONE of the most provocative images in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 tragedy was that of young Palestinians cheering and celebrating allegedly upon hearing news of the horror that visited Manhattan and the Pentagon.

Nigel Parry, a writer on Mideast affairs who has lived for some time in the West Bank, offers to place this disturbing scene in context.

First, he said, “there are three million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank including Jerusalem, one million Palestinians living inside the borders of Israel, and another four million Palestinian refugees living elsewhere in the world, including the United States. The footage in question depicted between 20 and 40 individuals.”

Parry notes that the Palestinians in the footage were mostly children, who behaved much as they did before “when foreign journalists turn up in their towns, crowding and smiling at the camera and giving the victory sign that has been a symbol of Palestinian steadfastness under Israeli military occupation.”


PALESTINIAN anger at the US, where genuine, say Parry, could also be explained in the context of the present state of siege in the West Bank, where the Israeli army conducts nightly bombing raids on residential communities, with the use of American weaponry. Says Parry: “the US media broadcast the footage without explaining any of the above, something that is neither new nor-any longer-acceptable in light of the anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and the anti-Muslim sentiment it creates. No organization of journalists who seek to bring their viewers an accurate representation of reality should be broadcasting contextless, unrepresentative images that encourage racism against nationalities and their associated ethnic groups.

“As those of us who live in the US are currently feeling justifiable anger at the perpetrators…let us not misdirect it at an entire people who continue to suffer through one of the darkest periods of their already bleak history. The Palestinian people, who sit glued to their television sets in disturbed silence like the rest of the world, are actually better placed than most to understand what those of us living in America currently feel and are finding it hard to express.” In a postscript, Parry notes that soon after, “a million Palestinian schoolchildren observed a minute of silence for the victims of the tragedy.”


LIKE Palestinians, the people of Afghanistan are also feeling the “heat” of American and perhaps international anger in the wake of the Sept. 11 atrocities.

Making the rounds of e-mail groups is a plea for understanding and, again, context, from an Afghan-born academic residing in the US, writing “as one who hates the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.”

But, he stresses, “the Taliban and Bin Laden are not Afghanistan. They’re not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who captured Afghanistan in 1997 and have been holding the country in bondage ever since. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a master plan.”

What would a war with Afghanistan as a staging ground accomplish? Says the Afghan writer: “We come now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble with that scheme is, it’s already been done. The Soviets took care of it. Make the Afghans suffer? They’re already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? There is no infrastructure. Cut them off from medicine and health care? Too late. Someone already did all that.

“New bombs would only land in the rubble of earlier bombs…flying over Kabul and dropping bombs wouldn’t really be a strike against the criminals who did this horrific thing. Actually it would be making common cause with the Taliban-by raping once again the people they’ve been raping all this time.”