Remembering and Understanding 9/11

By El Marco

September 11, 2010, is the ninth anniversary of the morning in 2001 when a 7th century Arabian warriors’ creed struck the heart of the modern world at the dawn of the 21st century.

Today we find America in a state of confusion and disunity concerning the meaning and lessons to be drawn from the Islamist terror attacks of 9/11. This article is offered both as a remembrance of those who were killed by an act of war, and a plea for understanding the nature of the ideology that motivated the terrorists. The decision by a sharia promoting imam to build a triumphalist mosque adjacent to the 9/11 site has highlighted a great schism in America. There are those who understand the threat posed by fundamentalist Islamists and those who are unable to. Understanding the threat and confronting it effectively at home and abroad is the greatest challenge America faces today

NYCpano75-no-hueThis is the scene as I first saw it as a young photographer visiting New York City in 1975. I had no inkling that I would be drawn back repeatedly to the towers as a subject over the next 3 decades.

In the center left foreground is the 21 story Flatiron Building. I already knew of it from the photographs of Alfred Stieglitz from 1903. It is one the first skyscrapers ever built, and for years was famous (incorrectly) as the tallest building in the world. This photo was taken from the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building, itself holding the world’s tallest record for 41 years until 1972. The most famous symbol of freedom in the world can be seen in the harbor, background right. The Statue of Liberty Illuminating the World is the full name given by the French to their gift, seen between the southern tip of Manhattan and New Jersey.

Each in its time inspired the world, with beauty, size and above all the message of hope that liberty, and man’s creativity thereby unleashed, might lift humankind out of poverty and raise it above tyranny. The World Trade Center (WTC) took its rightful place among them as a symbol of freedom in 1972.


This is the scene that greeted workers if they looked up as they ascended from subway train to street level on a long spiral stairway. The human eye loves repetition, and never before had that simple truth been employed, for art, on such a scale. The quarter mile long parallel silver and black lines created Op Art moire patterns which can be seen in the photo above. At first I doubted this phenomena could be captured on film. I carefully moved my eye from viewfinder to subject and found that the moire looked the same to the eye and the lens. Later, in the darkroom, this photo distilled and revealed an image of the architect’s wild intention. Simplicity of design combined with sheer magnitude produced pure Op Art that constantly changed and attracted the eye.



The photos above show the two towers on the right and the Marriot Hotel on the left. Many escaped from the towers through the hotel before it was shorn in half by the first collapse and later the second.


On an ordinary work day this is how they appeared, serene, magnificently modern and beckoning all to come in and take a trip to the top.

Looking way up one might catch a glimpse of Jan Demczur, the Polish immigrant window washer, and his amazing scaffold machine. He spent each year going up and down, cleaning with a bucket, water, some rags, and a squeegee in all but the most severe weather. On 9/11 he used his metal squeegee to pry open an elevator door, gouge through drywall and create a hole large enough to save five men. They were able to exit the area minutes before the building collapsed.

TWO-BRIDGES-CThe Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges through a 100mm telephoto lens from atop the World Trade Center.


Brooklyn Bridge through 300mm lens.


I photographed the World Trade Center over the decades for the beauty, in my eyes, of art icons that played with light and sky. Symbolically, in my mind, they stood for international freedom of commerce and the hope that free markets could draw the world together and help foster peace and security in the world. The Islamists who destroyed them also understood their meaning and attacked them for that reason.

When first I heard, my thoughts were not of the structures at all, but of the thousands of workers who perished so violently and Islam’s obvious hand in it. As news of the devastation unfolded, what I had instantly concluded was confirmed: that bin Laden and Wahabi Islam had struck a blow against western civilization and the very promise that modernity and liberty holds out to the world.


For a brief period after 9/11 the NY Times suspended wielding its pen as a partisan left-wing dagger and did some excellent reporting and should be applauded for that. The “life sketches” done in the days and months after 9/11 offer a unique and inspiring look into what these towers really were: a great combination of individuals, in liberty, working and struggling and fulfilling their hearts’ desires. The lives of the victims are clearly described and collectively tell the much greater story of America.


The fabled teeming masses of Manhattans streets are no longer faceless. These life sketches revealed a cross section of American life frozen, researched, and clearly reported. The stories emerged slowly of a group of almost 3,000 American lives halted at the same time and place. Their families and friends live on and gave details to numerous reporters, of the lives lost, that combined, read like nothing else ever written.

All people who want to to know the truth about the American people, unsullied by ideological reporting, should read about those who perished on 9/11/2001. Their lives, their struggles, their loves, and their stories are revealed and together create a portrait of why America has long been the great beacon of hope to a world in despair.


Paul McCartney of The Beatles wrote a song on 9/11 in New York where he happened to be that day. It’s called Freedom, and he sang it at a benefit concert for 9/11 victims, to an audience of rescue workers, cops and firefighters. For this he was vilified by the radical left and “peace activists” in print and on the radio.

This is my right, A right given by God,

To live a free life, To live in freedom,

Talking about freedom, I’m talking about freedom,

I will fight for the right, To live in freedom

And do you want to try and take it away,

You will have to answer, Cause this is my right


Here’s what a Ukrainian friend who suffered tyranny in his homeland had to say about the left-wing reaction to good Sir Paul and his plucky song with it’s Churchillian tone.

“For writing this hardly political but rather morally upright song, McCartney himself immediately became the object of attacks from the self-proclaimed “peace” activists. He was maligned for wanting to “fight for the right to live in freedom” as opposed to “negotiate for the right to live in freedom” or “work together for the right to live in freedom.” McCartney would perhaps be their hero if he had responded to 9/11 by writing a song called American Idiot. But he wrote a song called Freedom, and for that New York’s own public radio WNYC (an affiliate of the taxpayer-funded NPR) arrogantly dismissed Sir Paul as a “pro-war Beatle.” Given that the same people have never denied the “right to fight” to any anti-American entity or ideology, such hypocritical piousness exposed them for what they are — immoral turncoats unworthy of the great culture of freedom that for two centuries has been the beacon for all the genuine freedom-loving people in all corners of the world (regardless of the turncoats’ claim to the contrary).

Thus McCartney’s simple, morally upright tune has inadvertently become a litmus test that continues to reveal two opposing mindsets in our society. The dividing line between these mindsets is the same line that divides the rational from the irrational, truth from fiction, reality from delusion, integrity from corruption, courage from cowardice, and moral standards from moral relativism. And in the heart of this division gapes a void that once was the World Trade Center.” – Oleg Atbashian


This is a scene from near “ground zero” in November 2001. Here we see the wrought iron fence of Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church which is directly across the street from the WTC site. The church was founded in 1766 and George Washington worshiped here before and after the revolution.


These are the words of Christopher Hitchens in an article titled, Solidarity – Our first duty is to stand together against bin Ladinism, in the Wall Street Journal on Sept. 11 2006.

“The beginning of wisdom is to recognize that the United States was assaulted for what it really is, and what it understands as the center of modernity…

But here I am, writing that it was “the United States” that was assaulted. And there was the president, and most of the media, speaking about “an attack on America.” True as this was and is, it is not quite the truth. …more than 80 nationalities could count their dead on that day. It would have been far better if President Bush had characterized the atrocity as an attack on civilization itself, and it would be preferable if we observed the anniversary in the same spirit.

The time for commemoration lies very far in the future. War memorials are erected when the war is won.

On that day, we learned what we ought to have known already, which is that clerical fanaticism means to fight a war which can only have one victor. Afghans, Kurds, Kashmiris, Timorese and many others could have told us this from experience, … Does anyone suppose that an ideology that slaughters and enslaves them will ever be amenable to “us”? The first duty, therefore, is one of solidarity with bin-Ladenism’s other victims and targets, from India to Kurdistan.”

Truer words were never written and about half of Americans and a much higher portion of Europeans, either disagree with him or have no idea what he’s talking about. This points to the greatest and indeed our only true weakness here in the west: the division between those who appreciate and understand that western freedoms are sacred, are in peril, and need to be defended at all costs, and those who don’t, or worse, support the other side.

AIRLINE-MEMORIAL-8x10-cleanAirline employees from many companies and countries signed this poster in memory of the crew of flight 175 who died when they were crashed into the WTC south tower. The scene is St. Pauls memorial fence.


Here’s what Hitchens thinks about the “peaceniks” who march in the streets and were so offended by the song Freedom.

“To be against war and militarism, in the tradition of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, is one thing. But to have a record of consistent support for war and militarism, from the Red Army in Eastern Europe to the Serbian ethnic cleansers and the Taliban, is quite another. It is really a disgrace that the liberal press refers to such enemies of liberalism as “antiwar” when in reality they are straight-out pro-war, but on the other side. Was there a single placard saying, “No to Jihad”? Of course not. Or a single placard saying, “Yes to Kurdish self-determination” or “We support Afghan women’s struggle”? Don’t make me laugh.”



A Korean man writing on canvas at St. Paul’s fence. Note “Thanks Israel for destroying Iraq’s reactor in 1991!” comment bottom foreground. Imagine how different the world would be if Iraq’s push for a bomb was not thwarted at that time.



“I was there. I looked up and my heart cried for you because I knew there was no escape” is the cri de coeur of an eye witness.



St. Paul’s was used as a staging center for search and rescue personnel. This is the front entrance barricade and directly behind the officer in the center and a little to the right is Ground Zero. These NYPD cops were the only bright faces I saw in the area that day in late November 2001. One officer told me that in the days after 9/11 three feet or more of dusty material covered the ground where they stood. The area still had a sickening odor of death. These cops had seen it all and took it as part of their duty to show a strong confident even cheerful face to the public. Or was it just their way of trying to survive all they had seen with their better natures intact?


“One man in the Twin Towers that Tuesday morning must have understood. John O’Neill, a dogged counter-terrorism guy with a whiff of the old-school G-man about him, had just quit the FBI and started work as head of security at the World Trade Center. He made it downstairs where the confabs with rescue workers were punctuated by the thud of bodies from the first jumpers landing on the lobby roof. In the plaza outside, body pieces fell randomly over chairs set up for a lunchtime concert. In the final moments of his life, John O’Neill must have felt his world come full circle. Six years earlier (as vividly recounted in Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower) he’d organized the capture in Pakistan of Ramzi Yousef, the man behind the first World Trade Center bombing and a terrorist who’d planned to crash a plane into CIA headquarters.

“In The New York Times, Thomas Friedman wrote: “The failure to prevent Sept 11 was not a failure of intelligence or co-ordination. It was a failure of imagination.” That’s not really true. Islamist terrorists had indicated their interest in US landmarks, and were known to have plans to hijack planes to fly into them. But men like John O’Neill could never quite get the full attention of a somnolent federal bureaucracy. The terrorists must have banked on that: after all, they took their pilot-training classes in America, apparently confident that, even if anyone noticed the uptick in Arab enrollments at US flight schools, a squeamish culture of political correctness would ensure nothing was done about it.”

Five years on, half America has retreated to the laziest old tropes, filtering the new struggle through the most drearily cobwebbed prisms: all dramatic national events are JFK-type conspiracies, all wars are Vietnam quagmires. Meanwhile, Ramzi Yousef’s successors make their ambitions as plain as he did: they want to acquire nuclear technology in order to kill even more of us. And, given that free societies tend naturally toward a Katrina mentality of doing nothing until it happens, one morning we will wake up to another day like the “day that changed everything.” September 11th was less “a failure of imagination” than an ability to see that America’s enemies were hiding in plain sight.

They still are.” – Mark Steyn, New York Sun, Sept. 11 2006


The graveyard behind St. Paul’s where revolutionary war heroes rest. Ground Zero can be seen through the trees. The crater created by the collapse of the towers ended exactly at the back of this churchyard, without disturbing the fence or graves.



These Ladder 10 firefighters lost six of their brothers on 9/11. The rough look of the business next door and the new concrete underfoot attests to the proximity of this station to Ground Zero.



This was the scene in the mid 1980s when I popped into Trinity Episcopal’s idylic grounds a few blocks from St. Paul’s.



Adam and Eve in Manhattan



Salman Rushdie the Indian moslem writer had this to say November 2, 2001.

“Of course this is “about Islam.”…..This paranoid Islam, which blames outsiders, “infidels,” for all the ills of Muslim societies, and whose proposed remedy is the closing of those societies to the rival project of modernity, is presently the fastest growing version of Islam in the world.

This is not wholly to go along with Samuel Huntington’s thesis about the clash of civilizations, for the simple reason that the Islamists’ project is turned not only against the West and “the Jews,” but also against their fellow Islamists. Whatever the public rhetoric, there’s little love lost between the Taliban and Iranian regimes. Dissensions between Muslim nations run at least as deep, if not deeper, than those nations’ resentment of the West. Nevertheless, it would be absurd to deny that this self-exculpatory, paranoiac Islam is an ideology with widespread appeal. – continued


An Iraqi writer quotes an earlier Iraqi satirist: “The disease that is in us, is from us.” A British Muslim writes, “Islam has become its own enemy.” A Lebanese friend, returning from Beirut, tells me that in the aftermath of the attacks on Sept. 11, public criticism of Islamism has become much more outspoken. Many commentators have spoken of the need for a Reformation in the Muslim world.

The restoration of religion to the sphere of the personal, its depoliticization, is the nettle that all Muslim societies must grasp in order to become modern. The only aspect of modernity interesting to the terrorists is technology, which they see as a weapon that can be turned on its makers. If terrorism is to be defeated, the world of Islam must take on board the secularist-humanist principles on which the modern is based, and without which Muslim countries’ freedom will remain a distant dream.” –  Salman Rushdie


NYPD and FDNY banners listing names of the fallen heroes of their respective services.

FDNY …. 343 …. killed  —–  NYPD …. 23 …. killed



Port Authority Police Dept. banner listing officers killed on 9/11

PAPD ….  37 ….  killed ………  one K-9 unit member, Sirius, was also killed.



This photo from September 11, 2006 shows a London bobby passing the Ladder 10 truck. Next time I’m in New York I’ll have to drop by and ask these guys if they saw Sir Paul’s benefit concert back in 2001. I doubt if they would have found his lyrics anything but spot on.

One aspect that has struck me about the life sketches from the Times is how different the types of people who worked in the WTC were from the terrorists. The New Yorkers were young and old, men and women, of all classes, educational and national backgrounds, races and religions. The terrorists were all Arabs, all male, mostly middle class, educated, mostly Saudi nationals and all Wahabi Muslims.

Winston Churchill in 1921 warned the world to be wary of the Wahabis.

“The Wahabis profess a life of exceeding austerity, and what they practice themselves they rigorously enforce on others. They hold it as an article of duty, as well as of faith, to kill all who do not share their opinions and to make slaves of their wives and children. Women have been put to death in Wahabi villages for simply appearing in the streets. It is a penal offense to wear a silk garment. Men have been killed for smoking a cigarette, and as for alcohol, the most energetic supporter of the temperance cause in this country falls far behind them. Austere, intolerant, well armed, and bloodthirsty, in their own regions the Wahabis are a distinct factor which must be taken into account, and they have been, and still are, very dangerous to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina”    – Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 1921, The Culture and Glories of the Arab Race


In 2005 Christopher Hitchens wrote in the british Mirror newspaper:

We know very well what the “grievances” of the jihadists are. The grievance of seeing unveiled women. The grievance of the existence, not of the State of Israel, but of the Jewish people. The grievance of the heresy of democracy, which impedes the imposition of sharia law. The grievance of a work of fiction written by an Indian living in London.


The grievance of the existence of black African Muslim farmers, who won’t abandon lands in Darfur. The grievance of the existence of homosexuals.

The grievance of music, and of most representational art. The grievance of the existence of Hinduism. The grievance of East Timor’s liberation from Indonesian rule. All of these have been proclaimed as a licence to kill infidels or apostates, or anyone who just gets in the way.

They demand the impossible – the cessation of all life in favour of prostration before atotalitarian vision. Plainly, we cannot surrender. There is no one with whom to negotiate, let alone capitulate.”  –  Hitchens


The parents of Renee Tetreault Newell visited ground zero Sept 11 2006. Renee Newell was killed when American Airlines flight AA11 was crashed into the WTC north tower at 8:46 am September 11 2001. Renee was an employee of American who was accompanying a friend who was afraid to fly alone.



Saint Nicks Greek Orthodox Church was destroyed by the collapsing towers. The Marriot is on the left.

Since the Wahabi sect consolidated power in Arabia in 1932, they have promoted their totalitarian absolutist version of Islam on a progressively widening scale. Osama bin Laden is the product of Saudi Wahabi schooling. Saudi King Abdullah or the Shia clerics of Iran are little different from bin Ladin in terms of their most cherished religious goal: an entire world which bows to Mecca and obeys Sharia law under penalty of death.

Contemporary Sunni and Shiia Islam take their place in line behind international Socialism and national Socialism/Fascism as the latest models of ruthlessly violent group insanity to threaten Western civilization. For Western leaders to believe that Islam is less dangerous than Communism or Nazism is to commit a terrible error. There are a number of aspects that make 21st century Islam infinitely more dangerous, the fanatical suicidal religious impulse being one and the proliferation of nuclear weapons another.

Some leftists woke up after 9/11 and became what are known in New York as liberal hawks. But not enough heard the wake-up call. Diverse Islamic groups and nations are doing everything in their power to obtain a nuclear device with the intention of using it on the United States. Why not on Europe? Because Islamists know that demographically they will own it, soon enough, unless Europeans drastically change immigration policies. There is scant time or collective will in Europe for any hope on that front. The U.S. is the only force of magnitude that poses a moral and military challenge to Islam’s global surge. Only a united west can hope to survive. In order for that unity to emerge millions of  liberals will have to switch sides and support the war effort.

The question remains: if 9/11 didn’t cause a great awakening among the liberal left and socialists of the west, what will?




This is a late afternoon view from the top of the World Trade Center in the mid 1990s. To the west a small pleasure craft is coming into New York. Maybe it was Dan Marino?


SEE El Marco’s June 6th rally photo-essay – Stop the Mosque at Ground Zero – Part II

Who says it’s not a MOSQUE?  Read El Marco’s photo-essay – Prayer Time at the Ground Zero Mosque


El Marco distills life and Politics into Art  at – Art and Politics

Enjoy El Marco’s Art Photography at – Looking at the


See other El Marco Photo-Essays on Islam:


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……….EL MARCO………..