[Reader-list] Whitman's World (from Midday)

rehan ansari rehanhasanansari at yahoo.com
Thu Oct 4 22:07:32 IST 2001

Whitman�s world!--> By: Rehan Ansari
 October 3,2001
"I am with you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence. Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt". 

I read this inscription, a quote from Walt Whitman's poem 'Leaves of Grass', on a building near the Brooklyn Promenade. The building looks like a warehouse and a fortress and used to house The Brooklyn Eagle, a powerful newspaper of the middle late 19th century. The young Walt Whitman was its editor, 1846-1848. The inscription also said that Whitman, for his stand against slavery, was fired by the owner. 

A short walk took me to the promenade of Brooklyn Heights. Brooklyn Heights is an upper middle class neighbourhood and the promenade was full, that sunset, of exclusively white professionals out in mourning, lighting candles and feeling vulnerable. Several hundred wealthy people in one place. The kind of people who usually look through you. The most successful people in the world. 

In the same neighbourhood the bookstores have, displayed in the windows, books by Edward Said and Noam Chomsky. Their politics are liberal, or fashionably liberal. I cannot tell the difference these days. I say this because from the well-to-do and liberal New York commentators I have heard so much about Iraqi women and children these days. Even Salman Rushdie, who is living in New York, upper eastside no doubt, remembers Iraqi women and children, after the WTC bombing. 

(Have we all run out of time?)

A 20-minute walk takes me to exclusively black Fulton Mall, where it seems as if nothing is amiss: young men are laughing and joking and people are walking in and out of shops. Around the corner, on Flatbush Avenue, lurk the Army, Marine and Navy recruiting centres. 

A block away is Atlantic Avenue where Osama bin Laden's operatives used to run a recruiting centre for the Afghan Jihad in the early '80s. The only relief to be had from this black and white picture of who is going to war and who is not, against an enemy who was once was an ally is that I still have Walt Whitman in mind.

Resigned to death

Lissa Richardson is a friend of mine and teaches English at a community college next to the military base Fort Hood in Texas. She wrote me: Were you in Brooklyn on the 11th? What was it like? I sincerely hope you have not experienced any racism because of this. White Americans are being very ugly. A news story circulated about a Pakistani man from San Antonio who tried to fly home to his brother's wedding but the pilot of his plane refused to fly until he disembarked. I've personally seen the racism in subtle ways. 

A student of mine (Lebanese) told me that a classmate made a joke that he was responsible for the World Trade Center attacks. I felt totally inadequate as to know how to respond, but it made me furious. Working next to Ft Hood gives me first hand insight into the mobilisation Bush speaks of. All last week it took me two hours to get to work (it's a 45 minute commute normally) because all cars going on post were being searched completely. 

I had to sit in the traffic until I could turn in to the college. Some of my students are preparing for deployment. They are missing classes because they have to get their shots, prepare power of attorney, etc. They have no idea where or when they will be leaving, or for how long. They don't know if they are being sent on combat duty (extra pay, no set return date) or not. 

They do know they could be gone within a week or within a month. It's very nebulous and frightening. I see tanks and men with guns every day now, patrolling the entrances to post. 

Until this time in my life, I have never been face to face with so many people who are soldiers, which means that I have never had to confront so many people who may soon have to fight or die. This is the worst case scenario, but I fear that many people agree with me, even the soldiers, who are resigned and not sounding very patriotic. There will be a peace march in Austin next Saturday. I will go.

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