What I Remember
That unforgettable morning.


September 11 would have been a memorable date for me even if the terrorist attacks had not happened. This was the first day of fall-semester classes at Ave Maria College (soon to become Ave Maria University), which had just added me to its literature faculty. I had flown to the United States from my native England four days earlier and was understandably a little nervous at my first day in my new job, especially as this was my first teaching position.

In a strange new country, in a strange new job, and still recovering from jetlag, the day already had an aura of surreal strangeness about it. And then I heard the news. My students asked me what we should do, and I responded that we should carry on with the day’s classes as if nothing had happened. I realized later that this response must have seemed really bizarre. How could Americans carry on as if nothing had happened when nothing had ever happened like this before?

It was then that it dawned on me that I was really an outsider in a strange new world. I could not feel the collective shock that all Americans felt on that day because all Americans had taken the 9/11 attacks personally. I was not an American and realized that my feelings were not at all like those of my neighbors. I was horrified by the scale of the atrocity, of course, but I saw it with the battle-scarred perspective of one who had grown up with IRA bombs exploding in my neighborhood, and with the tribal memory of Hitler’s blitzkrieging bombers fresh in my mind. My father had experienced the Blitz and every cockney prided himself on the way that he had carried on with daily life in spite of the best efforts of the Luftwaffe to browbeat him into submission. The best way of defeating Hitler, and the best way of defeating the IRA, was to carry on as if nothing had happened.

Today, after ten years of experience of living in the United States, I realize how crass my response must have seemed to my traumatized students. I was an alien in their midst, one who could not see or feel as they did in the face of such horror.

Joseph Pearce is the author of Through Shakespeare’s Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays.

A television producer called and told me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, so I ran to the den, saw the second plane crash in real time, sped to the TV station, went on air occasionally, and mostly sat in a dingy office angrily writing an article (“U.S. Failure”) on American policy mistakes which National Review Online published that afternoon.

Two contrary responses see-sawed in me on 9/11: a heart swollen with misery over the (initially reported) 7,000 deaths and a mind swirling with strategic implications, notably the hope that Americans would focus on the Islamist threat.

The latter offered some solace. Unlike most Americans, I felt safer on 9/11 because I expected the day’s atrocities finally to wake my countrymen to the “Death to America” movement that had already caused some 800 deaths since it first struck in 1979 at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
However imperfectly, that awakening did occur. The anti-Islamist reaction now under way assures that those who died on 9/11 did not do so in vain.

Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.


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