Featured Blog, I: Last Flight
A 9/11 Thank You
David Corn/April 13, 2006
My office is a block from the U.S. Capitol. On 9/11, there was chaos in the surrounding streets. Congressional staffers were running out of the Senate office buildings. As I walked toward my building, I asked one woman running out of the Hart building what was going on. "They're bombing us. Everywhere. New York. The Pentagon. The White House. The Mall." She kept moving. I rushed to my office, turned on the television and saw that the World Trade Towers had each been struck by airliners. I called home and then headed outside to see what I could learn. Senators had been told to vacate the Capitol and their offices, but they did not know where to go. Senator Robert Byrd was told by a Capitol Hill police officer to get away from the Capitol as fast as he could. How? he asked. Find a car, the cop said, and start driving down East Capitol Avenue.
I asked this officer what he knew. The word is, he said, that a fourth plane was heading toward Washington and toward the Capitol. We were in the shadow of the Capitol when he said that. Really? I asked. That's what I'm told, he said. He turned to tend to other business. I ran back to my building and went floor to floor, telling anyone who was still there what the officer had said. An airliner aimed at the Capitol was an airliner aimed at us--literally. Senator Russell Feingold had moved his staff from his Senate office to an apartment in my building. Others in my building were transfixed in front of television sets. I didn't want to be a hysterical rumormonger, I told everyone I could find, but here's what one cop was saying. After working my way through the five floors and the basement--yelling my news rather loudly--I grabbed my new assistant (it was his first day on the job) and fled.
Yesterday, the transcript of the final thirty-one minutes and sixteen seconds of Flight 93 was released. This was the fourth plane, the one apparently heading toward Washington, perhaps to attack the White House, perhaps to strike the Capitol. (Several experts seem to think the Capitol was the primary target of the Flight 93 hijackers. Perched on a hill, it certainly would be an easier target to hit than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.) As I read the transcript, my eyes filled with tears. The heroic actions of Flight 93 passengers become rather visceral when you read--and mentally hear--their words and those of the al Qaeda hijackers. It remains unclear whether the passengers made it into the cockpit or were about to break in before the hijackers decided to roll the aircraft and crash it into a field in Pennsylvania. But there's no doubt that the passengers did force this action and thwarted whatever attack the hijackers had in mind.
All of us who work on Capitol Hill--in the Capitol or not--owe these passengers our profound gratitude. Having heard about the attacks in New York, they decided to take action. They probably realized that the lives were already lost, but they would go out fighting--to save others. They were not soldiers, not cops, not professionals paid every day to risk their lives to help someone else. They were just folks on a plane, brought together only by their travel plans.
I thank them and their families and friends (anyone who had taught or inspired them to do what was right and courageous). I will keep their actions always in mind.
Featured Blog, II: Civil War Fallout
Confessions of an Ex-Neo-Nazi
Blogging the Middle East / April 12, 2006
I don’t know how to start this entry. It’s difficult enough to talk about one’s present/current identity let alone one’s past identity/identities and experiences. Although I haven’t been active in mainstream politics, I have gone through some excruciating phases. The point of this entry is not to arrive to a conclusion about where I’m at now. That is clear enough, I think, from my writings. The point is to tell the story of how I got there, how much I agonized over my inability to fit in at all times and in all places, and how I finally arrived to the conclusion that I neither fit in anywhere nor in fact had any need to do so. I have not told anyone - even those closest to me in real life - this story. Partly because I felt embarrassed about the things I’ve done. You, my readers, are getting an exclusive preview of who I really am. I hope you would read this with one thing in mind: that although I have recanted my past and would never adopt its peculiarities and idiocies again, I am at a point where I can confess it with relative ease, and openly denounce it - something I haven’t done before - with the hope of achieving some peace of mind. I don’t seek praises, and I expect that you would not heap hateful words on me either. At least I hope so. If you do, it will perhaps be understandable; but keep in mind that one must always forgive - if not forget - and give people the benefit of the doubt. Always. This is a lesson I learned and a message I always try to pass on to critics and supporters alike.
As someone of Armenian origin, born and raised in Lebanon during the war, and having lived in a shell of a community, I have always felt a burning hatred of myself, my family, the community, and anything and everything Armenian. I felt that my identity was being imposed upon me by the mere fact that I had a ‘ian’ ending in my surname. I had no Lebanese friends (although the building we lived in was half-Armenian-populated and half-Lebanese, and there were many Lebanese kids); we had no Lebanese family friends. Now can you imagine living in France and not having French playmates, friends, and so on? At any rate, I felt an intense desire and need to deny my identity, because if I couldn’t be Lebanese, then I didn’t want to be Armenian. It’s possible that it makes no sense. Identity crises are often complicated, complex phenomena, and to be honest I have not yet fully understood my problem. I am more comfortable now with my identity, although not completely at ease with it yet.
I am a depressed human being. Depressed not in the clinical sense of the word but in terms of human relations, identity, and so on. Depressed because I feel as if I always go round and round trying to figure out who I am and where I’m going with that “who-i-am”, get tired, catch some sleep, get up again, and go round and round again. Anyhow, I do not want to get into psychoanalysis, and I don’t want you - my audience - to feel that I am using you as a sounding board (but isn’t that what blogging is about?).
On to more eventful bits. I was 18 when I graduated, and I was one hell of a rebel. My hatred of my Armenianness had shaped my attitude towards my parents, and vice versa. I had always been the first in class, but in my last year of studies, I started ignoring everything; Although I did pass the official (baccalaureate) examinations, I got miserable scores. And I was fed up. I wanted to leave, and leave I did. My parents thought it was the best thing to do, because things would’ve probably turned uglier had I stayed. I left for “the West” in August 2001.
A whole new world. But is that it? Is that “the West” that is praised to the skies? What was I doing there anyway? I missed Lebanon. I started identifying myself as a Lebanese, whenever anyone asked me. Previously I would say “Armenian” in reply to “what’s your background?” Where possible, I would introduce myself with an “ethnically neutral” name. I looked up information on Lebanese politics, and found the Lebanese Forces to be very “appealing”. I was active. And at last I felt that I was fitting in. Of course, I had forgotten that I had not told the Lebanese Forces people that I was Armenian by origin. They didn’t know. And I didn’t want them to know. Until, that is, one day, when they started bashing Armenians. That is when I “came out”. A debate ensued, and I was told that I was “not Lebanese” (or “not Lebanese enough”), and that I should go back to “my country”. But where is my country? Where??? Can you point to it on a map? Ottoman Empire? Gone. Modern Turkey? Persona non grata. Armenia? I don’t want to! Yes, I didn’t want to! And I don’t want to, still. And what about my citizenship? Should I tear up my Lebanese passport? What to do? Apply for a “travel license” like the Palestinian refugees have to do? Become a refugee in the only country I’ve ever known? The country I was born and raised in?
The Lebanese Forces, out the window. But actually, I had done much damage. Much damage to my feelings and to the feelings of others. During my time as an advocate of the Forces, I had said many a racist thing about Palestinians and Muslims, advocated the brutal treatment of Palestinians by the Israelis, supported Israeli actions, justified Sabra and Shatila, Qana, and on and on goes the list of my disgraceful activities. Guilty as charged. Guilty always, in my conscience. Doubly guilty, once for doing that, and once for feeling guilty about it only when my Armenianness was attacked. Doubly guilty because I realized the wrongness of my way only when I felt the pain I was causing others on my own skin.
But if the donkey falls into the hole once, I fell twice. No, more than twice. Following the Forces scenario, I became fiercely pro-Palestinian. Or maybe it wasn’t pro-Palestinianism as much as it was anti-Semitism. I was, in all senses of the word, a neo-Nazi. No, really, I am not kidding. It was a difficult time. A very difficult time. Arrested once for attacking a policeman, chased another time by policemen, hospitalized, and after much pain and agonizing, trying to shake off the venom of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, I decided to turn a new page (it sounds so easy, doesn’t it?). Read the Rest at Blogging the Middle East...