By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
I‘ve been here in Iowa at the International Writers Program for a while now, but it took me a long time to get used to it. In Israel, I avoid shopping malls, because they are places where bombings occur. I eventually overcame this reflex and actually went inside one, and once I did I had a deep feeling of relief, one that I never had in Israel, at not having to look around all the time, not always having to assess everything for danger.
When the first explosion happened, I was sleeping, so people knocked on my door and woke me. It took me 15 minutes to understand that it was happening in America, because it seemed so impossible. I was sure that they were saying it was a bombing in Israel. When I finally understood it was in New York, I thought it must be at the Israeli Embassy.
There are writers here from many countries. Only after Tuesday’s events did I discover that most of them have experienced bombings and terrorist attacks in their own countries. It didn‘t matter if they were from the Philippines or from Serbia or from Georgia or from Bulgaria, they all experienced these kinds of horrors in the past, but none of them could believe this sort of thing could happen here, in America.
When I watch the American media, it’s clear that they are not used to dealing with terrorist acts. There is a great demand for news, but not much to tell, and it‘s exactly like the laws of economics: When there is great demand and little merchandise, the quality of the merchandise goes lower and lower, but people still buy it. So television, instead of sticking to providing information and a legitimate interpretation of it, goes through the entire spectrum of its viewers’ emotions. You have a piece that talks to hysteria, a piece that talks to paranoia, a piece that talks to mourning, a piece that talks to vengeance, and all these things are shots in the dark. When someone in the media says, “An operation like this couldn‘t have been done without the sponsorship of a country,” you don’t get facts, you get the network‘s (and your own) wishful thinking. Because if there is a country behind this, there must be someone who can pay for these actions. Such wishes disguised as information are very irresponsible and dangerous.
In Israel, both the news broadcasters and the audience really know it when there is no news to give. They are both more laid-back. The subtext there is, “We’re not giving you any more -- we know that you have the TV turned on, and if something new happens we‘ll tell you.” The American subtext is, “We will give you new information every minute.” Because of people’s thirst for news and this need to give them something, the news is given from an angle of disproportion. So everything appears under the title “Attack on America,” which is very reductive. It makes the public feel it is under constant attack. Instead of just saying, “A horrible thing has happened, and we‘re investigating,” they say, “Oh, they arrested this Egyptian guy in Florida!” and “Oh, someone saw a guy with a mustache in Chicago!” They try to keep this prime-time feeling going by saying, “It’s not over yet. Don‘t turn off the TV, because you are under attack. You should know what’s going on. You have a wife. You have a kid. And you should be ready for this.”
In most places, when there is a terrorist bombing, people go into the streets a lot more freely, because they know that the attack has been done and they are not in danger. Terrorism is like PR -- when you do one attack, you usually don‘t do many, because you’ve already proved your point, and the police and the military will have their guard up. But here they keep giving you the sensation that if they hit the World Trade Center you should wait five minutes, because they might hit the Empire State Building too, which causes people unnecessary anxiety. And that‘s not the role of the media; the role of the media is to interpret what’s going on.
But what scares me even more than this “America Under Attack” theme is the “America Unites” headline that is now replacing it. I know from Israel that the subtext of this insistence on unity is that criticism now becomes illegitimate. But it is particularly in times of danger and chaos that the role of the opposition becomes an important one, and it cannot and should not be a 20 quieted under these unity slogans. In Israel, where there really is constant attack, I‘m afraid it happens all the time. People feel that they must control the agenda, that because there is constant danger there should be a hierarchy of what we talk about now and what we don’t. And the things that you are not allowed to talk about are the things that are supposed to weaken you -- things that involve asking questions and doubting, things that are necessary for every society. They are the first things about which people say, “Not now, let‘s do it when it’s safe.” But I would say that if I‘m in danger for my life, I want to be able to ask all those questions so if I die at least I know what I’m dying for.
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