What is Terror? The Personal and the Political

Activist Tami Peterson talks about her own personal experiences of terror and its relevance to the student movement, in this beautifully articulated piece. Thanks to Tami for letting me share this.

There’s been a lot of talk about “terror” and a lot of people saying that what happened with the siege of the aid ship and the wars that continue to rage in Afghanistan and Iraq are nothing to do with students and should not be of concern. Well I’m a student and these issues do matter to me, and not only do they matter they effect me dramatically both personally and politically. While I don’t expect people to agree with me, I do expect to not have my experiences discounted. So for all of my fellow students who cannot speak out about their experiences of terror and the private outrage they feel that their experiences and views are considered “not relevant” I share my own:
What is terror? For me it’s something incredibly personal. The memory of my heart thumping, chest pumping, stopping and my blood running cold. It’s shouting, screaming, chaos. It’s watching people jump out of buildings twisting and turning grotesquely before hitting the ground, burning paper fluttering slowly down like a confetti parade and fireballs high above your head. It’s desperation. It’s “MISSING” notices which fill the square a few days later. It’s knowing most of them weren’t “missing” at all. It’s looking down into grey dust and seeing shoes and glasses and not remembering if I saw a body. It’s that police officer who saved my life by screaming at me to run the other way and not knowing if they perished themselves. It’s looking into the face of death and thinking “Ok, that’s it, I’m dead” and then always feeling a bit guilty that I actually made it. It’s the shopkeeper being threatened for being a “fucking terrorist” the next day as I stood there impotent. It’s the shame I felt at not having jumped to his defense. It’s the cowardice I felt at having hid my political books in a box under my bed the next day just in case they finally did make use of that file they’ve had on me since I was sixteen. It’s the fear of not having any idea which titles would be considered subversive. It’s yet another apocalyptic nightmare where I am trying to escape from more terror, bombed out city landscapes and US military jets never knowing if they are there to protect or harm. It’s the eternal sound of a screeching descending plane, PLANE #2, as it heads towards the WTC, a sound which relives itself daily, hourly in the flight path above my head. It’s wondering if the fear I feel upon looking up will ever leave or if I am stuck with it forever. It’s the inability to live without feeling terrible anxiety at low level noise, a horrendous rumbling like when they fell, a rumbling so loud it reverberates forever in my brain. It’s the embarrassment of jumping when there’s a sudden noise. It’s the shame of being unable to take a bus without a panic attack after 7/7 for weeks. It’s the shame of being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s the embarrassment of nearly passing out on the stairs during a fire drill because of having a flashback. It’s being monitored on the health registry watch list just in case we all get sick from breathing in the dust. What is terror?

What is terror? For me it’s something incredibly political. It’s the understanding that government officials on the television are telling me, yet again, that that horrible day is somehow a justification for the unleashing of shouting, screaming, chaos, descending planes onto others and that the context doesn’t matter, because it’s all to fight terror. It’s the feeling of helplessness that this appears to be accepted. It’s the mental images I get of people, people, people, huddled, scared, crying, thinking they will die, it is nightmares come to life. It is the apocalypse made real, but for others. It’s the media pumping out yet again more justification for terror. More terror, pure terror. It’s leftists telling me that they didn’t condemn 9/11 because there are lots of bad things happening in the world. It’s people telling me they shouldn’t condemn Israel’s attacks on Gaza because Israel is always against terror and the Palestinians are always terrorists. It’s my government telling me that I should support sending terror to Afghanistan and Iraq in order to end terror. It’s people calling me a supporter of terrorists because I oppose terror while using the actual terror that I’ve experienced as a reason for calling me a terrorist supporter. It’s every attempt by a regime to impose terror on its people. It’s every attempt by a group to terrorise others in an attempt to claim they are responding to terror by using terror. It’s getting screamed at as myself and other protestors stood on the streets of NYC to oppose the US war in Afghanistan because they say we support terror. It’s my great frustration with their belief that I was standing there to support terror when I was trying to oppose it. It’s fellow demonstrators yelling at me on anti-war demos because I tell them that their conspiracies about 9/11 are offensive, particularly when they don’t give a damn about supporting workers dying from the toxic dust. It’s Muslim students being harassed for being “terrorists” when they have never touched a weapon by those who have been trained in weaponry. It’s women having the hijab ripped off by racist thugs on trains. It’s people I love being considered suspected terrorists in the name of protecting me from terror. What is terror?

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    • Tharlam Gyatso
    • June 5th, 2010

    Thank you.

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