PROTECTIVE BARRIERS are placed along a bike path near a memorial to remember the victims of the New York October 31 attack, in New York City..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Je suis New York.
When Islamic terrorism struck Paris on January 6, 2015, targeting the staff of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and simultaneously a kosher supermarket, the world was caught off guard. 9/11 had, by then, become more of a mantra than a memory. Terrorism happened elsewhere, in the Middle East, in particular in Israel – it just wasn’t done on the streets or in the offices of cosmopolitan Europe. As people around the world struggled to come to terms with the new reality, the expression “je suis Charlie” was born. That succinct phrase connected the world to the people of France as they grieved and struggled to pick up the pieces of their lives.
On Tuesday October 31, 2017, New York City, once again, came under Islamic extremist attack. In mowing down and murdering eight innocent people along a bike path in Lower Manhattan, Suyfullo Saipov gave the world a “je suis New York” moment. Despite his intention, most of those murdered by Saipov were not New Yorkers, they were tourists – but that, as we know, is just so very New York.
New York City is a magnet. It is a tourist magnet, a culture magnet, a financial magnet. Like Disney World, it is a place everyone wants to visit at least once in their life, a place some of us are privileged to live in. Even people who have never visited New York City have a link, a connection to the world’s most exciting city being attacked. In the now-classic movie Casablanca, with a storyline that dates back 1942, there is a scene that encapsulates the power New York City has on us all.
When Major Strasser, played by Conrad Veidt, asks Rick, played by the incomparable Humphrey Bogart, “Are you one of those people who cannot imagine the Germans in their beloved Paris?” Rick replies “It’s not particularly my beloved Paris.” When Major Strasser asks, “How about New York?” Rick quips, “Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.”
Today’s Islamic terrorists have not heeded that warning. This past week, after the worst terrorist attack in the city since 9/11, the Big Apple was transformed into a center of compassion and a symbol of resilience. It wasn’t the first terrorist attack since September 11, 2001, but it was the worst.
As Israelis know all too well, there is nothing honorable about being a terrorism target. The challenge is how one handles that role and it is in that capacity that New York and Israel are linked, arm-in-arm. In the fight against terrorism, both Israel and New York know that neither the threat nor the reality will cease. Just as our enemies do not wake up one morning and decide to hate and attack us, they are not about to simply put down their weapons and choose to live together in peace. Terrorists, blinded by hatred, are bent on causing as much damage as possible.
To understand how terrorism impacts New York City it is essential to understand the paradox of NYC. New York is the most populous city in the United States, but at heart, it really is a tiny town. It is a series of neighborhoods with people shuttling from one to others. In that way, New York is not dissimilar to Israel.
And like in Israel, it becomes even more apparent after a terrorist attack. If you yourself were not present at the site of the attack, you know someone who was, or you were just there yesterday or a week ago. Everyone, locals and people from abroad alike, know someone who was just there or just missed it. And everyone knows 30 people who were stuck in traffic or whose commute was disrupted by the attack.
After terrorist attacks in Israel, the sound of ringing phones begins. So, too, in New York. The big difference is that at the memorials that begin to take shape immediately after the site is deemed safe for people to visit, Israel’s yahrzeit candles are replaced with flowers, in this case, bicycles decorated with flowers.
Terrorism is a blight on the world. Not exclusive to the Western world, it is a blight on the entire world and that includes the Arab world, Africa, Asia and South and Central America, too. Becoming the victims of terrorism, even by proxy by being a citizen in a country that has been attacked or a resident of the city in which the act was perpetrated, creates bonds. Years ago, only lovers of Israel cared when Israelis were attacked. Islamic extremism is promoting the slow erosion of that divide. The world needs to unite in the fight against our common enemies. It is unfortunate that it takes the murder of innocents at the hands of terrorists to revive that message. Like Israelis, New Yorkers know that the terrorist threat is not waning, it is growing in power and in motivation.
Je suis New York, je suis Israel.The author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.