Editor's notebook

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Home > McGill News > 2001 > Fall 2001 > Editor's notebook

The fall issue's deadlines were made hazy by four-day summer work weeks and the languor of the season. But with classes back in session and the excitement of a new year, we're firmly back on track. By the end of the day on September 10, I finish the last editorial task - fact checking with Professor Jim Torczyner whom we interviewed about the escalating violence and fading prospects for peace in the Middle East. We're ready for the next day when we'll do a last read-through and make final corrections.

The next day is September 11, and early that morning, all hell breaks loose in the United States. Within minutes, word is on the street. I run into Andrew, my associate editor, and we walk up the hill to work. He's just bought a breakfast doughnut and been told by the shop owner of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. Suspected terrorism. We're skeptical - it sounds so far fetched.

We arrive at the office and begin a day that I'm sure is shared by millions. We switch on our computers, log on to the Internet, and discover that the doughnut lady was dead on. It's not even 9:30, but video is already available. The horrifying footage has to be seen over and over again to be made real. The sky is too postcard blue. There's no sound. Puffy smoke, orange ball - at first the mind just can't grasp it. We're used to action movies with special effects; exploding buildings are nothing new. The brain keeps slipping out of gear, recognizing the images as familiar, then jolting back again. Dear God, it's true!

Colleagues steal into each other's offices, trading snippets of horror. The South Tower is down! More hijacked planes are still in the air. The border is closed. We all migrate to a boardroom to squint at a snowy TV. There's comfort in being together as we absorb the breaking news. Some can't sit still, the ones with family and friends in New York or Washington. They leave to check email.

Early speculation by commentators lays blame at the feet of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi militant supposedly waging a holy war against the United States. He's suspected of being behind earlier terrorist incidents, including bombings of American embassies in Africa. For the moment, anyway, it seems that the Middle East conflict has become global.

Then I remember our Q&A interview with social work professor and Middle East expert Jim Torczyner. In it, he speaks of his optimism for eventual peace in the region. He's not naïve on the subject. He travels frequently to the Middle East and has friends on both sides at all levels. He oversees a unique graduate program at McGill that brings Arabs and Jews here to train in social work practice. The program operates on the principle that building a civil society in each country will help promote peace in the region. If the people who are usually marginalized - the poor, disabled, women - are included in policy-making processes and their living conditions improve, they will be more interested in developing themselves, their children and their communities than in going to war. When people are more comfortable, they have something to lose, he says.

But if the TV commentators' theorizing about the source of the terrorist acts proves true, the dynamics of the Middle East may shift so dramatically in the next few weeks that by the time the News is delivered, our "hot" article will be irrelevant. We decide to pull the two-page piece. Unfortunately, pages can only be removed in fours, so we have to lose two more. There's little flexibility at this stage of production, so we regretfully sacrifice our obituaries and review pages, which will be doubled up next time.

It's mid-afternoon, and we've learned that the people we worried about are among the lucky ones. They're safe and well, although two living in New York will spend the night in a downtown shelter. Each announcement brings sighs of relief, hugs and tears. Other calls come in, family and friends making contact, not surprising at a time when we've been shown so brutally how vulnerable we are.

By the end of the day, the adrenaline drains away, along with some of the cushioning shock. We become withdrawn and anxious as the reality sinks in. Our "Good nights" are subdued, no one lingers. Thoughts are on the refuge of home and the comfort we hope to find there. Because as President Bush sums up later that evening: "Today, our nation saw evil." All of us did, and we may never be quite the same.

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