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NY Journalist Explores What's Changed Since September 11th
Emily Gertz, 12 Sep 07
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It's difficult to find measured and informed perspectives on the 2001 terrorist attacks on the US -- how they have affected this nation and the rest of the globe, how to prevent new attacks, or even how much it's wise to change how we live to prevent attacks. Instead "Nine-Eleven" gets invoked -- typically at an ear-shattering volume -- to support everything from a divergent assortment of (arguably questionable) political policies to purchasing a so-crass-it's-amusing tchotchke * from a sidewalk vendor near the World Trade Center site here in New York City.

You don't need to be a New Yorker, a Pentagon staffer, or live near the Pennsylvania field where United 93 crashed to feel a lot of frustration with this lack of signal to noise.

So all the more impressive that commentator and radio host Brian Lehrer got so much good information on the air yesterday in an extended edition of his epoymous show on WNYC-New York Public Radio titled September 11th: What's Changed? Instead of stimulating our autonomic nervous systems by flashing back directly to that terrible day, Brian took what I would argue was a worldchanging approach considering as both a city and a nation what we've learned, what has gotten better, and what we need to learn from what hasn't gotten better:

  • With Yvette Clark, one of New York's Congressional Representatives, he examined how local emergency response has changed.
  • Then he covered the nation's unsolved vulnerabilities with Clark Kent Ervin, former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Roger Cohen, a columnist for the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times, considered whether or not there might have been a way to keep a positive image among foreign countries while the US engaged in its post-9/11 military response.
  • Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New Yorker, discussed the changes in buildings since 2001.
  • And finally, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg considered how 9/11 has altered the political and social rhetoric, and what that means in our lives.

One thing I loved about this broadcast was that throughout the morning, Brian read comments from readers to the show's website on what has changed in their lives since 9/11. There were a lot of people who recounted changes for the worse, of course, from being dismayed about the politics ("Since the 9/11 attacks, I have lost much respect for this country and the American public...many people think that the fighting is happening “over there” and as long as nothing is going on here, it is business as usual."), to simply dissapointed ("All the fun has been taken out of flying.").

But some listeners shared widened perspectives, like this one:

Billions across the world have become more "globalized," more aware of the people around them who are different, in the past 10 years.

Americans have too. Through the prism not of Chinese electric cars, of fresh New Zealand lamb, of Indian bankers buying chunks of 718 but of one thing, by itself:

9/11.

When we've finally "recovered" how different will we discover the world around us has become?

And this great story:

After 9/11, I decided that I wanted to have more Middle Eastern friends in my life. This eventually led me to start exploring music from Arab countries. I fell in love with the songs of Oum Kalsoumm, Fairouz, and Farid Al-Atrache, and then one day I decided to take a bellydance class. Long story short, I ended up falling for it hard, and have since become a performer of Egyptian dance. I study with people from all over the world, have made friends with musicians and dancers from here and from there, and have also learned a great deal about the overall history and culture of that vast and diverse region. If you want to understand a culture, listen to its music. And incidentally, terrorists hate music and dance. I decided to take my stand against them by celebrating and connecting.

This broadcast is well worth a listen from anywhere in the world -- and available to download in MP3.


* tchotchke: pronounced "t'chawch-kuh" -- a Yiddish word that means knick-knack, one that's on the tackier side of taste

Image: Radio tower, from Wikimedia Commons

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