Letter from New York

New York correspondent Joe Jamison predicts an authoritarian backlash after the tragic events of 11 September 2001

Today is Thursday 13 September, the second day after Armageddon. For most New Yorkers the scale of the carnage is sinking in as the city government orders 11,000 body bags to wrap the corpses trapped in the World Trade Center (WTC) rubble.

Talk about 'search and rescue' has ebbed. Temporary morgues are going up on the Chelsea Piers, which stretch into the Hudson River from the West 20s.

The oldest part of the city, below 14th Street and Union Square, with winding streets like London but, unlike London, overbuilt with canyon-creating skyscrapers, is mostly shut down and sealed off.

Otherwise the large earth-moving equipment and the tens of thousands of rescue workers cannot work. Buildings near the WTC are still crashing to the ground. An acrid smell of dust, smoke, and asbestos hovers over much of Manhattan, gagging those in midtown walking from subway to office.

The weather has been clear so far. Satellite photos show the gaping hole in the Manhattan skyline, with plumes of smoke rising to the stratosphere from the cratered southernmost tip of the island.

More than 300 fire-fighters perhaps were entombed when the two towers collapsed suddenly on rescuers at their base or crushed those inside trying to pull people out of the inferno.

Irish-Americans, for historical reasons, are numerous in the New York City Fire Department. The preponderance of Irish surnames in the list of fallen fire-fighters is extraordinary.

If opponents of imperialism need another lesson on the counterproductive nature of terrorism, come to my stricken city of New York. The events of 11 September gave every American jingo and warmonger a political windfall. Irish Democrat readers in London and Birmingham will surely nod with understanding.

Since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the mood of ordinary people has gone from disbelief to anger. Some of it is spontaneous, much of it manufactured by the media.

Predictably, the right-wing tabloids are screaming for the blood of suspect-in-chief Osama bin Laden. Not too subtly, the tabloids are venting hostility, by extension, to all brown-skinned people of Palestinian or Arab or Islamic background.

Racial incidents against Arab and Muslim people have already occurred and are likely to rise. A generation ago the Islamic 'other' was distant. Today, New York City proper, the five boroughs with eight million people, holds about 800,000 Muslims, most of them recent immigrants in low-paid jobs.

Bush's generals are pounding the war drums for quick strikes against terrorist strongholds in Afghanistan -- or anywhere convenient. Spineless congressional Democrats are echoing such sentiments in all too many cases.

In New York the large Jewish community is generally a bulwark of liberal and progressive opinion. Substantial sectors of that community, especially its intellectuals, are critical of the Sharon government's brutality against Palestinians. But now those rational voices are drowned out by the right-wing of that community.

The twin towers of the WTC were a highly unionized workplace; so this was a slaughter of building cleaners, construction, delivery, hotel and transit workers, of clerical, secretarial and support staff, and of building security staff.

The giant buildings held government offices, the financial services industry, and several trade union offices too.

The unionized civil engineers who plan the metropolitan transportation system were housed on the upper floors, not to mention the thousands of tourists and commuters passing through below.

One hundred feet below the buildings lie the main subway lines and commuter rail links. My daughter was on a subway train beneath the WTC five minutes before the first jet crashed into it. On her way to work, off Washington Square, she saw the second jet's fiery crash against the second building.

Democracy in this city has taken a blow. The New York labor movement has waged a strong campaign in the months before 11 September to affect the municipal elections. They were suspended. Their rescheduling later this month will, probably, be an advantage to the more conservative, better-funded, non-trade-union-supported candidates.

Many New Yorkers are reacting with rage at the crime against an 'innocent' America.

Those who have never travelled here cannot grasp just how ill-informed ordinary US people are.

The reality that the US government is far from innocent in the Middle East, that it is -- quite reasonably -- hated by tens of millions of people for propping up injustice, eludes them.

Television is replaying again and again a scene of Palestinian kids rejoicing at the attacks. Far less frequently does TV air the words of Hannan Ashrawi, the Palestinian spokeswoman, who with immense dignity expressed the solidarity of her people with innocent US victims.

The day (after the attacks, the tabloid headlines screamed: It's' War (The Daily News), Act of War (the Murdoch-owned New York Post); Acts of Mass Murder (Newsday); Acts of War (USA Today); Freedom Under Siege (the Hearst-owned Albany Times-Union); US Attacked (The New York Times); Terrorists Destroy World Trade Center, Hit Pentagon in Raid with Hijacked Jets (The Wall Street Journal).

The last is a give-away to the mind of the establishment. The rulers of the empire have been humbled by the desecration of the symbols US military and financial power. A terrorism expert declares on TV: "To be strong, America has to curtail its freedom". Threats to civil liberties and constitutional rights will mount.

On the second day after Armageddon my first thought is: we're in for a rough ride.

Joe Jamison is a trade union official who lives and works in New York.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2001-11-28 11:51:53.
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