The life of a magazine sub-editor rarely gets more exciting than a plane crashing into a building. Drama in our job is usually a missing semi-colon or full-point spotted too late, or a misspelled contributor’s name, the closest subs come to terrorism.
But on September 11 2001 we were all huddled around the TV on the news editor’s desk. The images of destruction in New York were so powerful that even in Farringdon, London you expected smoke to billow from around the next corner. My boss and I sat back at our desks. He mumbled something about Cambodia and how “America can’t just do what it wants and expect the third world to sit back”. (Although, to be fair no Cambodians were among the terrorists.) He, like the rest of us, was slightly concussed. I’d never heard him say anything political – we only talked about punctuation.
That day I accidentally placed two identical stories on to one news page, high drama on a normal day. But my boss understood – the mistake was clearly trivial given the tragedy across the pond.
“TV CHARTS TERROR” our headline screamed, slightly odd, but we were a broadcasting trade weekly. After work I wrote my first piece for this site and then took a long walk to my favourite Chinese restaurant in Soho. I ordered monosodium glutamate with aubergine and pork and hot and sour soup to cheer myself up. Then I plodded home and wondered about the futility of existence. I always do that after work, but this time I had cause. Thugs with piloting skills had managed to affect the world in a way no writer could hope to – I imagined Marquez thinking, “Why do I bother? Wouldn’t terror be easier?” Perhaps this is what recently inspired Martin Amis to examine the last days of Muhammed Atta.
Six thousand people were supposed to have perished at the time and the internet jokes erupted within hours. The best was an animation of the Twin Towers bending sideways to avoid the approaching plane. The worst was a map where in place of Afghanistan was a blue expanse called “Lake America”. I don’t know where I was when the war on Afghanistan started, or how many were killed by the US-led assault.
The US has since colonised Iraq, allowed Israel to punish the people of Lebanon anew and the Palestinians further, and has set its sights on attacking Iran.
Five years ago I was turning 30. Now, as I approach 63, I wonder if it is not better to turn rightwing in old age. Look at Christopher Hitchens, Salman Rushdie or Amir Taheri. Being allied to power is surely good for the old boys’ blood pressure. Edward Said railed against the system and look what happened to him.
Meanwhile, George Bush, the non-Islamic fascist, remains in charge and Osama Bin Laden is still missing. Where is the old life-coach for suicide bombers? If Iran is to be attacked, we’ll probably be told there, but I suspect he’s hanging out with my semi-colons and full-points.