Eyewitness to disaster

Language of terror

For a couple of hours on September 11 I, along with a lot of other people in southern Manhattan, had to face the real possibility of sudden and violent death as buildings collapsed and the streets filled with choking dust, fumes and falling debris. I remember the strong feeling, “Now I know just a little of what it is like for so many human beings, Israelis and Palestinians now, and Iraqis a few years ago.”

And, thinking about it in the hours and days afterwards, it seemed that there was a clear word here. This moment of terror and extreme vulnerability brought us close to others—we’d have a language in common, even though our experience was less and our danger short-lived. How could such a common language become normal, the ordinary currency of human beings?


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