In March of 2001, I saw a procession of people marching behind a fire engine down a street in Greenwich Village. I followed to see what was happening. It was a 90th anniversary commemoration in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which remains one of the deadliest event of its kind in New York. Firefighters stood at attention near their fire engine as people read the names of the 146 young women who perished.
Less than six months later, the September 11 attacks became the deadliest day in New York City history (displacing not the Triangle Shirtwaist fire but the General Slocum disaster, which killed more than 1,000 people).
What lesson I take from the September 11 attacks is that New York City’s spirit can’t be defeated and that New York City will be here forever.
The crucible of city life creates a population that can’t be broken. While crime is lower, it doesn’t mean survival has gotten easier. People are too busy to be scared, and New York was back up and running in less than a week. We pause to honor the dead but realize it would be an insult to the memory of those lost for us not to continue our lives.
Terrorist work to create fear in a population, which makes it all the more pointless for them to attack New York, a city that overcame collective fear a long time ago.
What we keep from the attacks are the demonstrations of our valor and courage. Every year in September, people come from around the world to run or walk the Tunnel to Towers 5K, which traces the route of Firefighter Stephen Siller, who ran through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel on September 11th to get to the site of the attacks where he gave his life for our city. Firefighters from every corner of the globe will often run in full firefighting gear as Siller did. If you’ve never taken part in one of these, you owe it to yourself to do. You won’t regret it, I promise you.
One of New York’s greatest punk bands, The Bullys, lost a founding member, Firefighter John Heffernan, in the attacks. Every year they commemorate his life with an awesome punk rock show. The defiant sounds of blaring punk rock and The Bullys incessant musical “fuck you” to all manner of poseurs and pussies defines New York more than weeping and flowers, though those have their place too.
People I had worked with, immigration inspectors at J.F.K. airport, went to Manhattan on their own time to do what they could, people lined up for hours on end to donate blood. New Yorkers stood on the West Side Highway into the wee hours of the morning to thank first responders heading home from long shifts on the pile. These are the images and lessons I remember about New York City from those days.
New York City is older than America. It was a force on this continent before it was even New York. It will still be here two thousand years from now. Live in it to the fullest or leave.
For the first time since 1920 the New York Times put an editorial on its front page calling on the U.S. to ‘End the Gun Epidemic in America.’ The editorial came in the wake of an Islamic terror attack by a husband and wife team in San Bernardino, California that killed 14 people and wounded 21 others.
The bodies were still warm when the name of the lead suspect in the massacre was made public, and the New York Times played dumb for a few days. The paper first noted that the suspects left “no clear motive” but a day later said that terrorism was an “aspect” of the investigation. After every other newspaper in the world said it was terrorist attack, the Times noted that the F.B.I. was treating it like one. Watching the Gray Lady perform the mental gymnastics of wondering aloud about the motive of these shooters over several days was sad to see. Don’t hurt yourself thinking too hard, New York Times, most of us had it figured out early.
But while the newspaper of record was too chickenshit to call a terrorist attack a terrorist attack, it wasted no time in its front page editorial painting the exercise of Americans’ constitutional rights as a “moral outrage and national disgrace.” The editorial called for “eliminating large categories of weapons and ammunition” and saying that citizens would have to surrender some of their arms “for the good of their fellow citizens.”
What’s galling about the Times’ editorial, among other things, is that the motive of religious terrorists was very relevant when a Christian fundamentalist shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic, but somehow discussing motive is shameful of the wake of the latest Islamic terrorist attack within our borders. The anti-abortion crazy who killed three people at the women’s clinic was spurred in part by anti-abortion propaganda that hinged on fraudulent videos. It’s not anti-Christian bigotry to call out the role of religious extremism in the Colorado terror attack, but somehow Islamic extremism isn’t quite news fit to print, at least for a few days and then qualified by citing the F.B.I.
There are a lot of issues that need to be discussed in the wake of this terror attack. We need to have a more restrictive and security-driven immigration system. Muslim Americans are more susceptible to violent religious fanaticism than people of other religions and rooting out these elements is going to be a very tough and brutal effort.
But the culture war dictates that the gun control issue is pushed to the fore. So let’s address it then.
What gun control advocates don’t understand is that gun ownership is an integral part of America. We wouldn’t have America without individuals owning guns and it’s no coincidence that the first British troops fired upon in Lexington and Concord were there to confiscate guns. The Second Amendment gives the right to bear arms to “The People” and cites the need for a militia because our country’s founders didn’t want what we already have: a standing military with bases in more than 100 countries. The authors of the Second Amendment viewed such professional militaries as a threat to democracy. Getting rid of “certain kinds of guns” is going to be fruitless because technology will not stop developing and there are already many guns on the market that straddle the line between hunting weapons and assault rifle explicitly for this purpose. We can’t eliminate the right to bear arms without amending the Constitution, and anyone who wants only the police and military to have guns is either extremely naïve or harbors some kind of odd uniform fetish.
What some of my fellow gun enthusiasts don’t understand is that we already have the worst of both worlds. Our guns aren’t stopping the government from undemocratic policies and we have horrible levels of violent crime. If the government wants your name they are going to have it, and it won’t take them long to find our guns if we bury them. The law enforcement officers or soldiers we’d be fighting are often gun enthusiasts themselves so I don’t see some great gun confiscation coming, despite the wishes of the editorial scribes of the New York Times.
So here is a solution that might actually work if it’s ever implemented. What would work is to have one federal system for keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill and extremists. This would be one standard for the entire country. One set of rules for everyone to follow. It would mean passing a basic safety course and background check, and making sure that there were proper training for different weapons (e.g. – operating an assault rifle takes more training, especially with models like the AR-15 so popular in the U.S.). There are safety and security protocols everyone must follow and these would be subject to spot inspections in order to keep your certification. A basic mental health evaluation would be included. How this entices gun owners and manufacturers is that this would END the bans on assault rifles and “high capacity” magazines popular in many liberal states. It would END the absurd and unconstitutional red tape that many cities and states put around the exercise of our constitutional rights (the cost of the gun permit in New York City is more expensive than many guns).
Trying to take entire classes of guns and ammunition out of Americans’ hand is not only going to be unconstitutional but unsuccessful. But creating a system that both embraces our rights and regulates against the very real danger of violent crime will be a welcome solution.
Among the things I write that are the most fun are the Sherlock Brett stories. I began writing these quite some time ago when my stepbrothers Brett and Lyle were still very young. As they have grown the subject matter has become more mature. Today there are both college graduates and Brett is a married man living outside Atlanta. They continue to read my stories though I’m not sure they are always happy with how they are portrayed.
In the mid 1990s I wrote a screenplay, Sherlock Brett and the Case of the Missing Ding Dongs. The film began shooting on location in suburban Atlanta but creative differences between
This story I actually wrote for Christmas last year and it was originally titled “Sherlock Brett and the Secret Toast.” However, with the increasing reach and horror of the Islamic State, I believe the subject matter is very appropriate to publish commercially today.
At some point I will publish collections of Sherlock Brett stories in large volumes. These perhaps will survive all of time and begin the mythology for a future age. Sherlock Brett and his faithful, trusty sidekick Watson Lyle will be like the Arthurian legends years from now. One can only hope for such literary immortality, but putting this story on Amazon is an important first step.
The recent terrorist attacks in Paris will see New York on a higher security alert than usual. There will be more armed soldiers and more heavily armed police in some of our transit centers and crowded tourist areas.
New Yorkers this week will go to work as they normally do. The buses will be too slow and the trains too crowded. New Yorkers will continue to secretly and openly hate one another as is our birthright.
But what we won’t do is let savage lunatics keep us from doing what we need to do. We’d love to stay home and watch the news while eating cheese in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in France, but we can’t afford the time off from work.
And, to borrow an over-used phrase, if we deviate from our miserable daily routines, the terrorists have won. Let’s observe a moment of silence for the victims of these horrors, but don’t dare be silenced by fear. Don’t let the fear of terrorism affect how you live your life and don’t let the fear of being labeled or maligned stop you from speaking your mind.
New Yorkers will be divided on what the Paris attacks say about Islam and the Muslim world at large. My social media news feed is filled with people wanting to bomb all Muslims back to the stone age (some are already there!) and people trying to shame us for caring more about Paris than Beirut. All of this is nonsense. New Yorkers care more about Paris because Paris is more like New York and it resonates when people more like ourselves are harmed. That’s not xenophobia, that’s human nature.
The five boroughs are home to as many as 1 million Muslims and most of them are peaceful people we interact with on a daily basis without incident. It’s Muslims who are the biggest victims of Islamic fundamentalists and Muslims who are doing the most to take the fight to these extremists. And it’s also realistic Muslims who will admit that there’s a real problem with Islam today. It’s the religion that has most dialed up the crazy factor something terrible and the Islamic Uma has been home to an ideological war for decades with too many moderates sympathizing with the other side.
New Yorkers are a generally liberal lot and the usual suspects have expressed more angst about possible backlashes against Muslims than about how we go about preventing another terrorist attack. We’re a divided city just as we are a divided country, but after all the hand-wringing and shouting, we’ll still be a buzzing metropolis. We’ve seen terrorism at its worst and we’re still here.
New Yorkers will pause to honor the victims of terror and then keep going to work and coming home every night. We’ve been down this road before. There’s too much life to live here. We can’t afford the fear.
New York is a city that lives on the freedom of expression. It is the place where people come to from all over the world to be free and to be themselves. There are many thousands of Muslims in New York and no one has been killed here over a cartoon.
New Yorkers were aghast that people in a civilized country like France could be massacred because they published cartoons of a religious figure. Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of lots of religious figures, it was their depiction of the prophet Mohammed that got them killed. True to form, the newspaper has vowed it will publish again.
If I were a better artist, I’d draw up some nice Mohammed cartoons of my own. But cartoonists quickly reacted with great artistic aplomb and there are now many great works of art depicting the Islamic prophet in a host of inventive poses. More power to them.
That there is any reluctance to embrace the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ movement is a troubling sign that the cowardice in the face of Islamic extremism is already firmly rooted among many in the West. Some media outlets are even declining to publish the controversial Mohammed cartoons that Charlie Hebdo published. Those editors are cowards.
Each terror attack generates more pathetic coddling of Muslims than backlash attacks against them. The bodies at the Charlie Hebdo offices weren’t cold before the Internet was littered with the usual moral scolds warning us against “intolerance.”
Intolerance is actually OK when faced with the intolerable, and murdering people for publishing cartoons is as intolerable as it gets. It is right to be intolerant of any ideology that feels justified treading on the freedoms of others. It would be wrong to paint all Muslims with such a broad brush, but not acknowledging Islam’s greater propensity for violence is being willfully ignorant. The immediate calls for “tolerance” in the face of terror cross the line from reason to submission.
There’s also a big difference between criticizing and satirizing the tenets of Islam and attacking Muslims. People who burn down mosques are attacking Muslims. Publishing a cartoon that makes fun of the prophet Mohammed is par for the course. Like it or not, Mohammed’s success in founding one of the world’s largest religions has made him a public figure and public figures are subject to ridicule regularly.
Most of my family and friends are Christians and they can take seeing Jesus ridiculed. Christians believe Jesus forgave the people who crucified Him, so posting a cartoon of Jesus giving Mohammed a reach-around has got to be forgivable.
We should have as many Charlie Hebdos as the newsstands and Internet can hold. We should saturate the market with as much blasphemous imagery as possible and let religious fanatics see their icons desecrated every day.
The idea of killing a cartoonist or a writer over satirical work is so appallingly immoral that it demands we double down on the blasphemous satire. There should be no publication in the world not running offensive Mohammed cartoons.
Islamic fundamentalists have now made it a moral imperative to insult their prophet in the most objectionable manor possible. No one should hesitate to publish a single one.