Sounds of Silence

Why I stayed home on September 11, 2011….

Because I couldn’t stand to see another American flag, to hear another story about our sacrifice, our heroism, our strength, to watch George Bush, the purveyor of so much death and destruction, given legitimacy one more time, to watch the thousands of news cameras and reporters seeking profundity in 30 second bites, to watch us, the USA, ignore over and over and over again, the brutal truth that September 11, a horrible, painful, unforgettable day, was used to unleash violence and death on a scale so enormous and ongoing, to make the towers’ demise seem almost small by comparison.

For those who lost loved ones on September 11, their grief will never be assuaged. They are forever bonded with millions of others around the world who suffer the enduring pain of war and violence.

But America never tells the story of the rest of the world. I realized this more clearly than ever before, after viewing the special magazine issues, the special TV reports, all with their focus on individual tales of resurrection, that there is no place in the USA today, except in the deepest margins, for another story to be told.

As I stayed home, away from downtown Manhattan, I considered all the veterans I have met who lost their limbs, their brains, their marriages, their future, who are still sick, poisoned, with little help and few answers, some who are in jail, or homeless, who were sent to attack/befriend (explain that configuration) a country that caused us no harm. Yet we were told again and again that Iraq was somehow responsible, that we were a target, that war was inevitable. Where are you now Judith Miller and company? Are you there at Ground Zero?

I think of the Iraqis, the millions in Syria and in Jordan, the thousands struggling in the USA dislocated forever. Where is their anniversary, where is their commemoration? I think of Salee Allawe who lost her brother and her legs to a US missile. Where is her day of mourning?

I think of the thousands of Muslims who were forced to line up at the federal building in NYC after September 11 to register, like Japanese Americans in World War 2. I remember the terror in the eyes of those on that line, the fear that once inside the building, they might never be let out. People did disappear. Neighborhoods in Brooklyn disappeared. I think of the Metropolitan Detention Center where detainees were held in the most horrible conditions, a preview of Guantanamo. I think of Guantanamo. I think of a man I met in Washington D.C. proudly wearing an orange golf shirt with Club Gitmo stitched above his heart, as though there is something funny about torture. I think of Abu Ghraib.

If only the USA was capable of discussing its own war crimes, of reviewing its own history, of realizing that our madness for global military dominance has destroyed and impoverished this nation and so many others, I would have joined the thousands at Ground Zero, cried for those who died, for a city violently attacked, but the corruption of that day, kept me away, and made me want to hide.

Instead, last night, I watched the towers of light, beautiful blue creations, not the blue of the American flag, a blue of a different hue, a gentle, elegant, poetic and astonishing image of life and beauty reaching far higher then the trade center towers ever reached. I thought of the creativity and artistic daring of Philippe Petit who tip toed across the towers in such a brazen act of ecstasy, and I cried while listening to Paul Simon , appearing so modest, quietly strumming an acoustic guitar to the Sounds of Silence.

©Photograph Nina Berman, 2011

77 thoughts on “Sounds of Silence”

  1. Were thousands of Muslims really forced to register at the Federal Building after Sept 11? I have no recollection of this.

    1. yes. I remember dropping my husband off at the San Antonio INS building and the fear that only a 3 month first time pregnant working Muslim woman could have had at that time. We drove from Austin where we lived because the nearest registration was taking place in San Antonio. I remember waiting in the car for what seemed like hours and praying to see him out again. Thank God, he did come out, after no harassment or delay- but it was scary. 9/11 also brought an economic downturn in the USA of which I was a victim

  2. Nina, I find your words and your photography negative, patronizing, and hypocritical. Why are you living in this country if you are fuming with so much hate, meanwhile pretending to do social justice with your camera? You’d be better listening to the sounds of silence somewhere else.

    1. Anita – Nina and the rest of us that call the US our home, live here for we live to love freedom of expression, freedom of thought and FREEDOM itself.
      It was this hunger for freedom and a democratic way of living that made our nation the greatest nation ever.
      If all it wanted to be was another country clipping the wings of those that it thought hardly mattered, it would not have made any difference in the dynamics of the world.
      It took a stand towards equality and liberty, towards justice and freedom – for all – that made it a bastion of what a civilized world ought to be.

      As a New Yorker of 18 years, and as a Hindu – I have no bone in this battle against what we think is terrorism. It has sadly taken on very ugly faces, especially to those that spend time to study, scratch beneath the surface and even more for those that see the world in all its many colors and hues, especially those dark grays and those light grays that are on either side of black and white…. life is lived in those hues.. .not really where we can notice every detail.

      I wish you would live, let live and dream – and also allow Nina her own life, thoughts, dreams and passions. That would be the best way of remembering the life of the innocent men and women who died without any action of their own on September 11th. If we start taking away our own civil liberties, we allow those forces that want to divide the world and incite hate to win and defeat the very tenets behind the greatness of this great nation.

    2. Thank you for being a breath of fresh air to these anti-american hypocrites! I am appalled at this article. Nearly 3,000 people died on Sept. 11th, are we not to mourn them? Thank You for having some sense.

      1. Leah,the U.S ,for your info, is not the only nation on earth , as you ,& a lot of ilk tend to think. Stop being so selfish,broaden your outlook,yes it was terrible the events of 9/11,as were the misguided reprisals of George Bushs’ military,& the hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths that ensued,where’s their days of commemoration ??I am certainly not anti-American, though I can understand why millions of people in this world are….Michael..

      2. Leah would you argue that Thomas Jefferson was one of the greatest of all public American figures?

        He argued and implored on MANY occasions for Americans to be diligent in making sure that we stay aware of the danger of giving TOO much power and too much significance to any single person or event. He also prophesied that we might at some point have to fight to get our country back, a revolution of words.

        That time for many of us is here. An evolved human being can have two conflicting feelings and opinions and accept them both as valid.

        You can be hurt and angry that 9/11 happened without giving in the the desire to kill. We have the technology and the intellegence to act humanely at every turn. As a country we allowed fear and anger drive us to make some poor decisions.

        As adults we need to own that to get back to the ways of living that made this country free, which is what made it great!

        I would doubt that you would let one of your kids get away with saying they did not hit the other one when you clearly saw it. To lash out and lie is frowned upon an we try to teach them to get along and see better paths to solve their problems. As parents we ask our children to own their actions both good and bad and it is right to do this. As a nation we need to do the same!

        We are a young nation and still finding our way in the world, carrying a lot of responsibility for global peace and international prosperity. That is tough and we are not doing everything right….nor could we if we tried. That is ok…but to fix things we need to own them.

        Being great does not mean being perfect. It means owning our imperfections honestly and graciously and realigning ourselves to our core mission statement of being a country composed of equal and free people.

        When we imprison and fight without regard for transgression or the consequences (even if that fight seems justified in the moment) that is not in alignment with our mission statement…unless you think both the constitution and declaration of independence are useless old rags.

        Sending a message of dominance does not protect us, it just makes us more like the people we “detest” on a political level. It robs us of our freedom and our integrity.

        You can be angry and reasoned at the same time, it is a choice. To give in to rage and hate and fear and pain is a choice. To rise above it and make a better decision, one that benefits all Americans including loyal patriotic Muslims and members of our armed forces is also a choice.

        All that many of us, who you would deem as unAmerican, are asking is for is that this country regain its moral composure and make better decisions for us as a people.

        And nothing is more American that standing up against the great masses for what is right, deciding to change something from within for the good of the few and the many. Nothing is more American than believing that no one event, no matter how atrocious, could ever redefine what it means to be a free people without our tacit approval.

        I feel very strongly for the people who lost a loved one on September 11, 2001. And I feel just as strongly for all the families who lost their soldier in a war that changes nothing, and I feel very strongly for those that lost a loved one in silence to the round-ups and the persecution that followed. No matter what race or religion they were, they were all Americans who had lives and dreams and families and futures. They were all protected by our Constitution yet none of them got the protection they deserved. Some were taken away from us, but others were sacrificed like lambs without a defensible reason by our governement on our behalf. And that makes it our responsibility to change things.

        As an American it is my job to be outraged at the inhumanity of it. So even if you are too afraid to fight peaceably with your neighbors and your country to make this land of abundance live up to its purpose I am not.

        If you would rather label us Un-American for believing that we can do and be better then feel free.

        You can mourn all you want, you should. I have done so, as have all the people writing here today. We all had to deal with this loss of life, and liberty and the perception of security in this world.

        But that sadness, pain and loss just not justify cruelty. Real Americans are better people than that and democracy demands more of us than to stand by and let the weak among us lead by tyranny.

        It is fine to mourn, but while you are mourning spend some time thinking about how our actions in the world, how our reactions to these grave and horrendous events have let loose on the world vile and despicable evils. We must own that and change our course, or the consequenses will be SO MUCH WORSE than anything you have yet to seen so far.

        It does not make us weak to admit that we are flawed…it makes us stronger. And being American has always been about doing the HARD things, about being better than that and about allowing others to decide thier own course.

        How can we be a democracey based on freedom of choice if we DICTATE the actions of others. Either we are all free or no one is. That is undeniable.

        I hope that you find the peace you seek and come to see the people you are disparaging as the heros that they really are. Becaus they are fighting for you with more courage than you could imagine without resorting to violence!

    3. It’s funny how different things can strike different people. I didn’t read this as “fuming with so much hate” but as a cry of the deepest pain and sorrow for the loss of critical morals and values in her country, a dirge for all of humanity.

  3. Why, I wonder, did the story fail to mention one of the most evil men on the planet? George Bush featured, yes, but without his mentor and helpmate, the lies and deceptions that led the USA to play out the little game that led us to the spending binge that has destroyed our future, it couldn’t have happened. So raise a glass to the man with the crooked smile, Mr. Halliburton himself, the author of the most self-aggrandizing memoir of the century so far. We all know him, don’t we? Here’s to him, the most evil man alive.

  4. People are constantly manipulated and brain washed by goverments. But the facts are there…
    I had the same impression, watching the same images over and over, and hearing the same stuff…!
    In another hand, I dislike also the attitude of most of Europeans, that find a certain pleasure remarking all the mistakes of the US, when they are not even capable to solve their own problems!

  5. So sensitively expressed, Nina. I heard one commenter recall the outpouring of sympathy Americans received from all over the world, including expressions of condolence from people who had lived for far longer than we have with fear, anxiety and the constant threat of violence. The question is: Did that experience broaden our awareness of need and want and fear beyond our borders, beyond our own experience? Have we as individuals and as a powerful nation reciprocated their empathy?

    1. The question remains to be questioned and answered – both.
      I too often wonder if tragedy, sacrifice, mourning and anger are the ownership of any one people, nation, religion or community?

  6. balance is everything, those that disagree with this piece are exactly the kind of meddling self righteous bigots who caused this whole situation in the first place. they have the freedom to not read this blog, just like nina and i had the freedom to not watch the yesterday’s blinkered and one sided events. pity the iraqis don’t share these freedoms too.

  7. For every media outlet, political hypocrite and washington pundit, there are millions or possibly more who can not be silenced in their resolve to use their sorrow and understanding , and channel it creatively towards perspective, and responsibilty. A commitment to let go of pain, anger and frustration and actively pursue compassion, unity and peace. I would be delighted to hear more of those stories and commentaries. However disgusted and betrayed one may feel, it is our benevolent duty to press on, explore solutions and ways of thinking and acting to prevent not just the tragedy of war but instill and cultivate a passion for peace.

  8. Very brave of you Nina Berman to write and share what you have here.
    It is not popular to be one with such opinions, especially in the American of today. Which only got further polarized after 9/11 and became a safe-haven for the ugliness that comes when patriotism and jingoism go too far.
    I salute you for being so daring and for sharing your thoughts unfiltered. I wish you do not have to pay a price for your honesty, for your candor and for your humanity.
    Empathy is one of the most important celebrations of a civilized society, but empathy is pathetically absent for the most part in our great nation.
    Can it come back? Of course… but it will take honest exchanges such as you have posted to bring us back to being a relevant people with relevance in the global stage.
    Until then we surely have economic and military might, but any true moral standing in a world that is not brainwashed by the same kind of patriotism and religious bigotry that we are slowly losing our magic to.
    I applaud you and stand luckily at your side, in silence for the lives that were lost on that day to those heinous crimes committed by horrendous people. And I also stand at your side for acknowledging the suffering of the vast many others that have suffered similarly, some more, some less, and in greater number – who have never been memorialized or even given just one day of epic honor. They too are our own fellow citizens of the world. Their sacrifices are not any lesser, some even greater than those made by lives we mourn.
    We have these unknown martyrs in our own nation and outside of our borders. Till we can find a moment for them, we almost defeat the sacrifice of life made by those that tragically were in the right place at the wrong time. To allow bigotry, war, hate and patriotism to somehow reflect the sacrifice of those that loves lives on 9/11, would be perhaps the greatest suffering those innocent souls could suffer.
    Maybe 9/11 can help us mature as a nation and become not only the oldest democracy, but also a democracy that is mature, vibrant, rich in diverse thoughts and proudly a part of the larger world order of civilized nations and peoples.
    Until then, some of our knee-jerk and shooting from the hip reactions to the larger life of the world – can only show us as a bully with money and military might – but void of intellect, intellectual curiosity and the gravitas that comes from being part of a world that truly is one big body that must function well as a whole, for each part to be safe, successful and relevant.
    I am glad I found you on my friend Aaron Lee Fineman’s wall. He is a gem of a man. And now I am in even more debt to him for having brought me this wonderful piece of writing. A reflection not only for those lives we lost so tragically on 9/11, but also of the lives after that are connected to our actions after that day, and also of the lives lost before and after in the world at large.
    You make us all very proud to be American. You might have become a minority this moment in America’s history. But if this nation wants to come back to its past days of glory, men and women like you will need to be the majority and a very verbal and demonstrative one. Till then, we can all work hard, knowing times of tough sacrifice are only ours to embrace for a long time to come.

  9. brilliant and lovely post. i’ve tried hard to tell people why the commemoration of the day was so loaded for me, and found it difficult to put into words. thank you.

  10. Thank you for expressing my feelings, Nina.Like you, I could not go to any official commemoration because my stomach turns at the jingoism that passes as patriotism in this land. Blessings to you.

  11. After reading these comments , it is obvious a huge number of patriotic Americans are sympathetic to Ninas’ views ..I only hope for future hope ,some of this extends into U.S foreign policy…..

  12. Thank you Nina, I’m an Australian, and I’ve visited your country. The people I met there were gentle and generous, but your persona to those of us outside is warlike and belligerent.
    Australia as a friend of the US joined the “Coalition of the Willing”, went to the Middle East and got involved in the war on terror. So many of us here thought that a real friend would have sat with you a moment and done what any friend would have done when a friend seems likely to do something that is nasty and surely out of character. If one of my mates wants to drive drunk or get into a fight in a pub, as a good mate I try talk sense to him, and as a nation, i don’t think we did that.
    Attacking the US was an act of hatred that shouldn’t be forgotten, but I’d hope that the costs of the war that followed will some day show us that one act of hatred isn’t cancelled or made any better by another, bigger act of hatred.

  13. Nina,
    Your post is a wonderful example of objective reflection. It is so easy to become tied to a visceral response, and we undermine our own humanity when we do.
    The events of that September morning were and remain beyond most people’s comprehension. Those who died and continue to suffer did not ask for their fate, and it is right that we pause to reflect what befell them. But equally, the magnitiude of those events, and the kneejerk reactions made in our name mean that we are all, every man woman and child, victims. All of our lives have changed as a result, and the world will never have the same innocence that it once had. For that reason alone it is imperative that we pause to reflect the greater loss of humanity that came as a result.
    Just as the men and women in the World Trade Centre did not ask for what happened to them, neither did the vast majority of innocent people who have suffered as a result of the reprisals. They too must be remembered, for it is the failure to recognise them as equally innocent victims that will lead to a never ending spiral of hate and mistrust.
    You know the most powerful thing I heard on Sunday was a young man who thanked his deceased father for having taught him to catch a ball. He said he wished he had been there to teach him how to ask a girl out, and that he had tried to take his father’s place in teaching things to his younger brother. As a father of three sons it made a huge impact, and we do well to remember that that young man has a counterpart in Iraq and another in Afghanistan, and the deliberate taking of life demeans us all.
    Perhaps, when looking for a monument to this decade of folly, the thing that should give us the greatest sense of hope and peace is the Arab Spring. Bin Laden may have wanted to push the “infidel” out of the Arab world and set up his own Caliphate, but he never forsaw (nor did we) the beautiful sight of average people standing up to their own tyranny and saying “we want out freedom”. We in the West may worry about the form that those nations will take, but surely it is the right of those people to choose their own path, and we should celebrate it with them. They may not always make the right decisions, but Lord knows, neither do we.
    A world of peaceful cooperation and mutual respect – that would be a fitting legacy to the last ten years.

  14. Dear Nina,
    I heard of you by a friend of mine who shares the same feelings so well explaned in your article.
    Let me say you are wrong. Completely wrong.
    I live in Rome, Italy and I deeply know the meening of watching the reality throught a camera lens.
    Start with a good deal and end slicing reality at your own use and comsuption.
    Dear Nina, in the towers have died Muslims, jews, christians, mens women and childrens, but overall died americans. And those americans were not guilty nor for the Bush faults neither for Osama Bin Laden faults. They and their families were just victims.
    Throw out your camera, Nina, take a walk in graund zero, and possibly start to cry when reading the names of those who died on 9/11.
    Otherwise your hate will kill you.

    1. Dear Fabio,
      I have cried for the victims of the September 11 attacks, more than once, many times, over the years. I am sorry that my post made you think otherwise. I do not blame those who died for anything.

      1. Dear Nina,
        From Italy I heard of a day with no rhetoric, in which newyorkers and americans tried to reconstruct their unity.
        Wasn’t it?.
        I deeply igree with your criticism against Bush and the impious iraqi war that followed 9/11. But 10 years have passed, and Bush, now, is out of the game. From my point of view war in Afganistan is completely different from war in Iraq.
        What I mean is that not always is possible to offer a flower when the other is pointing you a knife.
        Part of what have been done in America after 9/11 was inevitable. The other part was a big distortion in a democratic system.
        Nearly 60 years ago, during world war II, If the americans stayed home (instead so many have died in France, Italy and many others european countries) Mussolini and Hitler now were still laughing in their graves.
        In Italy always remember our liberation from fascism on april 25th, and believe me I never stay home.
        For those have died.

  15. I really appreciate this piece. Thank you for stating your thoughts so clearly, poetically, simply. You’ve bravely said what should be said by all of us who understand our country is deep in denial of the fundamental change 9/11 has wrought on us.

  16. Thank you for writing this, Nina. It is written with dignity, with care, with a calm rage. You echo exactly what I have thought all along, even during the hysteria that followed the events of that day, when everyone around me seemed to be losing their minds and believing all the lies that Bush and his cronies were spewing.

    Thank you once again.

  17. Not only Nina’s article, but all the comments posted here (with a couple exceptions) seem to indicate that Americans are really beginning to progress in their feelings of compassion for all of humanity. I hope it will continue to snowball and start affecting the machinery of our government. Thank you, Nina, for speaking out publicly. It certainly expressed a lot of my own heretofore largely repressed feelings.

  18. You are not alone! Yes, there are people who don’t swallow the propaganda and know that everyday of our lives we must strive for a better future for humanity and not the one that is served out of a black box on a daily basis. Siguen luchando tenemos mucho que recorrer todavia!!!

  19. This is such a direct, honest and beautifully presented piece that I wish everyone would read. I write a blog on 9/11 that gets into evidence and the internal battles within the 9/11 Truth movement, as well as the worldwide consequences, but I couldn’t possibly have captured the devastation of the 9/11 lie better. (

  20. A wonderful articulation, thank you Nina. While politicians pat each other on the back claiming justice or redemption for lives lost during 9/11 and while “opportunists” across a variety of mediums find a way to make a buck… WE should really mark this day with as little fanfare as possible and rather find ways to focus our time and energy towards educating our global society… as the strength of knowledge is the only thing worth celebrating.

  21. Fabio, I don’t get you. First you “talk” soothingly to Nina, the author, then you take it all away. You must be living in some alternate reality. Today, Afghanistan is a complete MESS, and American (or western) foreign policy is largely responsible for it. And even the Democrat hasn’t gotten our military out of there (it’s our nation’s longest war). Hell, he hasn’t even gotten us out of Iraq, started by the Republican! And a reminder: Afghanistan is often called “The graveyard of empires.” Do you really think The Superpower could be exempt? I don’t. I strongly suspect Nina doesn’t, either. Nina and I are just simply Americans who don’t believe we have the right to set our country up as the cops of the world. Why would an Italian citizen think differently, I wonder. And sorry, Nina, I just had to get involved in this sort of sidebar discussion.

  22. democratic profundity is ours to reap and nina has stimulated the seed… there is no denying poetic honesty and the generous heart of the people who care and care deeply..

    thanks nina…………. larry fink

  23. I see a lot of ways to agree with the this piece. But that is too simple. We are tangled in the details of the results of what we should really be studying. We as a country are anxious to be angry. We argue about and react to the results of our tendencies because it is easier than addressing our basic need as a country to be frustrated. I know a remarkable, gifted, beautiful girl of 17. Opportunity beats a path to her door and she can choose by interest, not by lack of ability, any path that she wants to pursue in the world. The skin of her left arm is covered with a row of deep scars from elbow to wrist. She did this to give physical presence and focus to a profound pain that could not be understood but also could not be ignored. In spite of all she is and could be, she could not find safety. The cutting made perfect sense at the time. We as a country have a similar tendency that is being exploited for politics and profits. I feel sad for what the rest of the world sees in America, and for what the exploiters would have us consider our country to be. I don’t get angry anymore. I get disappointed. I get worried. I get sad. From here in Montana those buildings didn’t exist for me until they were falling dust in pictures. I am only an observer to all of this, but I saw myself in Paul Simon’s performance. That is all I watched of the day. There was no vengeful defiance or anger left. Just a very real resignation to the reality that what we have in the world are a lot of people who are getting very weary of the demands of required hatred. He voiced a powerful wisdom that comes from living past the obvious. It is encouraging that it resonated so well with so many people everywhere.

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