turn to Internet to learn news, express views
by STEPHANIE SCHOROW
Staff Reporters of THE BOSTON HERALD
Heartwrenching cell phone calls from doomed airplanes. Tourist videos that became headline news on the networks. Frantic e-mails crying out, "Are you OK?" Rants and rage in chat rooms and on message boards. Instant reporting on news Web sites matched by instant reactions on personal home pages.
The highly orchestrated, yet low-tech assault on America produced a technical response unparalleled in history. Bizarre as this is to contemplate, Tuesday's attack was the first interactive American disaster.
Though the computer can't match the TV for sheer impact in breaking news, many folks turned on both TV and computer. With images pouring in on the TV screen, they poured out emotions online, in the Web diaries known as blogs. Hour by hour, these gut-level, unedited excerpts were posted by a blog compilation site: page.blogger.com/ search (underscore) attack.pyra. Here are some:
"When I woke up this morning, after I took my shower and got dressed, I turned on the television. It just happened to be on NBC. I saw the most horrific scenes I think I have ever seen in my 18 years alive. It was 9:10 and the World Trade Center towers were on fire."
"Oh my God, it's like a page out of Revelations."
"I was just becoming conscious of what was going on and we saw the 2nd plane fly into the 2nd tower. I couldn't believe it was real."
"Everyone is in disbelief. We look out the window and see it; we can't look away. The World Trade Center isn't there anymore. It's insane."
"I keep thinking about the shy secretary or that photocopy guy or whomever that was just sitting at their desks this morning."
"I just wanted you all to know I got out of there OK, aside from a little smoke inhalation and fiberglass shards. Our building is right across the street . . . or should I say, WAS right across the street from the World Trade Center. After the second plane hit, we ran down 14 flights of stairs to the street, where I saw things I hope I never see again. I ran two blocks, then turned around to watch people jumping from the 90-100 floors. Two people jumped together and held hands the whole way down, never letting go. That's when my heart officially broke."
"I can't believe that only a few months ago I was standing on the roof of the World Trade Center and walking around in it and now it's gone. Those streets that are now buried under ash and debris were the same ones I walked. Who hates us this much?"
Know thine enemy
Who indeed? The Internet's vast resources on terrorism and Middle East politicscan begin to provide some answers. Among the many academic articles on terrorism, I found one by Harvard lecturer Jessica Stern, who has studied how terrorists organize and mobilize. Stern quoted Pakistani parents who were happy to "donate" children to the cause.
A father told her: "Everyone treats me with more respect now that I have a martyred son. And when there is a martyr in the village, it encourages more children to join the jihad. It raises the spirit of the village."
This and other articles can be found through ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/ people/Jessica(underscore)Stern.
Other insights into the minds of terrorists can be found in a 50- page national report on terrorism posted at www.fas.org/irp/threat/ commission.html. To the question of what terrorists hope to accomplish, I read: "Terrorist groups are driven by visions of a post- apocalyptic future or ethnic hatred. Such groups may lack a concrete political goal other than to punish their enemies by killing as many of them as possible, seemingly without concern about alienating sympathizers."
Information on groups such as the PLO can be found at www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/indiv/mideast/culvm/viol.html, posted by the Middle East and Jewish Studies at Columbia University. Those who want to check out what Middle Eastern groups themselves say about U.S. policy can browse the links at www.fateh.net. In the days to come, such sites may help us understand just exactly who the enemy is - and is not.
Web of action
As shock faded and the urge to "do something" emerged, folks began mass e-mails to friends, families, colleagues - even former classmates - extending prayers and good wishes. A number of Web sites listing survivors' names sprung up with the hope of comforting family members; some names mistakenly posted, however, caused deep pain for some. For a list of these sites, accesswww.mediamap.com/Sept11.asp.
For many, the Internet was one big flame war as users e-mailed or posted opinions, unfettered by societal niceties. The Net was also used as a conduit of specialized information. Jerry Falwell's statement that "God gave us what we deserved" was the subject of a mass e-mailing the next day.
American Islamic groups also seized on the Internet as a way to prevent acts of violence against mosques or Muslims; www.islamway.com called on officials to protect human rights "during this tense and emotional time." The site also quoted a prominent Egyptian scholar as saying Tuesday's attacks were "haram," that is, strictly forbibben and illegal under Islamic law.
Well-established sites, such as www.military.com, quickly mobilized to create a comprehensive, full-service package.
Other groups, not known for restraint, showed some. Members of the 20-year-old hackers group, the Chaos Computer Club, urged fellow hackers not to attack the Web sites and networks of Islamic groups. Other felt no qualms in exploiting the situation with self-serving commercials (Active Logic Corp. is offering free e-flags for home or business pages) or outright fraud. "Yury Mikhnavets," for example, would like you to contribute to his group's efforts to decrypt Osama bin Laden's communications and pinpoint his location. Only $160,000 needed!
In its noncentralized configuration, the Internet was originally designed as a military tool to operate even under nuclear attack. It certainly withstood the traffic and trauma of last week's events - not as a communication tool for the armed forces but as a massive citizens' band that melded hope and heartache.
Military.com is 10 million members strong. As the largest military membership organization, Military.com empowers members to make the most of all of the benefits they've earned, advance their careers, enjoy military discounts, and stay connected with their buddies, unit, and service.