The incredibly detailed timeline and graphic photographs of the 9/11 attacks are likely to evoke strong feelings. And perhaps conflicting feelings: Horror at the attacks, but maybe also resentment about the anti-Arab and anti-Islam backlash that followed.
Some of the images have become permanently seared into our memories: American Airlines flight 11 crashing into the North Tower at 8:46, United Airlines flight 175 crashing into the South Tower 17 minutes later, Chief of Staff Andrew Card whispering into President Bush’s ear inside that Florida classroom, a man in a business suit carrying a briefcase and so completely covered with soot that he looks like a statue, a perfectly formed steal beam cross standing among the rubble and later turned into a memorial for those who perished on that fateful day. The cross is only one of several “mysteries examined on this website, including the recurrence of the number 11, the occurrence of demonic and angelic faces in the smoke after the collapse of the twin towers and other alleged paranormal phenomena which would be laughable in any other context, but which poignantly reflect the shock and awe of a nation. In the entire history of the United States, only Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) bears comparison.
Also memorialized are the speeches of both George Bush and Osama bin-Laden, from which these gems are culled. Bin-Laden: “What America faces now is insignificant compared to what we have tasted for decades. Our nation (the Islamic world) has endured humiliation and degradation for more than 80 years. Its sons are killed, its sanctuaries are attacked, and no one hears and no one heeds. Bush, in a September 20th address to Congress: “Americans are asking, ‘Why do they hate us?’ They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
That was then, and this is now. We have come a long way baby; to paraphrase the Virginia Slims slogan. But have we? We are still a little too keen to blame anybody but ourselves for the wretched state of our roads, schools, economies, and so on down the line. And Americans, well, let’s say that I’m reminded of talk show hostess Kathy-Lee Gifford, who in 1995 pleaded ignorance when she was told that the line of clothes bearing her name was being manufactured under Dickensian conditions in a Honduras sweatshop. The young women working the sewing machines at her Global Fashion plant were found by the National Labor Committee to be 13 to 15 years of age. They were allowed only two bathroom breaks per day and had to pull 12-hour shifts if the plant had a deadline to meet: all for the equivalent of 31 cents an hour. Likewise, Americans by and large do not want to know how their country wields its political and corporate clout overseas, and would rather continue to think that any criticism of the US has its roots in simple envy.
A little introspection on both sides is in order.
An urban legend is a humorous or horrific story that spreads spontaneously through e-mail forwarding or other means. It often takes the form of a cautionary tale, and is usually false. Sightings of angels or demons in the smoke from the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings are some of the simplest forms of urban legends around. And so is the steal beam cross. Neither are hoaxes, but they appeal to superstition, so qualify for inclusion at Snopes dot com.
The sole purpose of Snopes dot com is to document urban legends, and it does that very well and entertainingly. Take the enduring story of a missing 9-year-old girl named Penny Brown. It has been kicking around on the Internet since 2001, scaring a multitude of parents. “Have You Seen This Child? the message asks, with a photo of poor Penny underneath and some information that seems specific and convincing about her family. The message concludes with an appeal to all recipients to forward the message to as many people as possible so that the child might be located. Snopes does a good job of debunking that hoax and many others, and also identifies some true stories, such as one about a construction worker who accidentally poked a drill bit through one eye and out the side of his skull and survived. Other persistent myths: Alligators prowl the sewers beneath New York City, giant catfish lurk in the catch basins of various dams, a zookeeper is killed by a defecating elephants. And sad, but true: Pins, needles and razor blades are indeed occasionally found in Halloween treats, a 33-year-old masturbator catches his penis in a hotel swimming pool suction pipe, and a prisoner uses playing cards (yes) to commit suicide.
You will laugh. You will squirm. You will shake your head in disbelief. Hours of questionable fun are in prospect.
Mohamed Ragheb is a freelancer writer and filmmaker. You may contact him at [email protected]