A Grain of Saul: New Yorkers aren’t freaking out. You shouldn’t either
On Saturday night, I was less than a mile away from where the Chelsea bomb went off.
By the time I’d heard about it, I was already back at my girlfriend’s apartment in Brooklyn. Concerned texts came in from friends and family over the next 24 hours.
We now know that the device was made with pressure cookers, a flip phone and Christmas lights. The bomb itself was filled with shrapnel to create maximum “chaos and fatalities,” according to The New York Times. Yet the explosion, which injured 29 people, killed no one. By the time most of the world heard about the bombing on Sunday morning, all 29 injured people had been released from the hospital.
Five suspects were brought into custody in a matter of hours, and as I am writing this piece, reports are confirming that the prime suspect — Ahmad Khan Rahami — was arrested in Linden, New Jersey after exchanging gunfire with police.
Since the bomb went off, it appears panic and fear have broken loose just about everywhere except in New York City. The texts that flooded my phone were all from people who didn’t live in New York, thinking I’d be running through chaotic crowds of scared civilians. But even since the bombing happened, I haven’t had one conversation with a New Yorker about it: every single time it’s been brought up it’s been by someone who lived somewhere else. In the one instance a New Yorker did mention it, it was only to ask me if I knew whether a certain subway was closed or not.
Don’t want to take my word for it? Just ask one of the most senior New York Times columnists:
When I was watching CNN this morning, Carol Costello asked a reporter standing live in Penn Station why it looked like nobody in the background was panicked. Her tone seem puzzled. Shouldn’t everyone be running around like chickens with their heads cut off?
The best the on-site reporter could manage in dramatizing the scene was to mention that it “felt tense” and there seemed to be increased security in Penn Station, as if armed soldiers in full gear with machine guns haven’t been the norm there since 9/11. Meanwhile, morning commuters and foreign tourists roamed the train station behind her the way they do every single day of the year.
Truth is, New Yorkers aren’t panicking about Saturday’s explosion. They aren’t calling for the governor to shut down the city. They aren’t hoping flights from Arab nations get suspended. They aren’t imploring the police to stop and frisk every Muslim they see. They aren’t packing their bags and fleeing for the suburbs. They aren’t even jumping to blame a group or politician or person.
All this calm and unity comes despite the fact that no American city is more likely to be a target of terrorism than New York. So the question is, why are we so calm? Or how? And in a city with so many Muslims, why isn’t there rampant Islamophobia in the wake of terrorist attacks like there are in so many other places across the country?
There are a few simple answers.
For one, few cities have the kind of connection to Muslim nations like New York does. Every day here, New Yorkers encounter people from countries in the Middle East that are so often demonized on the news and by Americans. Almost 10 percent of New York City public school children are Muslim. Estimates are that 600,000 to one million of the 8.4 million New Yorkers are Muslim. We laugh, talk, work and hustle to the subways with Muslims on a daily basis, so we aren’t biased by premature news reports that a suspected terrorist has “foreign connections” to a radical Islamic group.
That’s in stark contrast to the rest of America, which is made up of only one percent Muslims. A 2011 Public Religion Research Institute study found that 68 percent of Americans had “never” or “seldom” spoken to a Muslim in the past year, meaning millions of Americans are being led to believe all Muslims are like the ones you find in the news.
It’s also because New Yorkers are used to diversity and all the context that comes with it. Experts say up to 800 languages are spoken in New York. And with that diversity most New Yorkers have come to understand that evil people of all colors, creeds and backgrounds do evil things.
This understanding is why the man who screamed at two Muslim women in June to “go back to their country” was quickly yelled off an F train by “a black man, a Romanian, a gay man, a bunch of Asians, and a score of others” as one witness put it. It’s why we aren’t lining up behind proposed Muslim bans as if we were living in a dystopian universe where shunning a certain group of people out of society will somehow make them treat us better.
We’re calm and resilient because we know we live in a city full of heroes, heroes that have come in all forms. We know in Elizabeth, NJ, just hours after the Chelsea bombing, it was two homeless men who found and reported a book bag full of explosives to police. We know good cops and good detectives and good counterterrorism units were responsible for tracking down all the prime suspects in the Chelsea bombing and apprehending them before more damage was done. We know it was an older woman and longtime New York City resident who found a second device underneath a post office box just a few blocks away. We know citizens, cops and journalists everywhere are in this fight against evil together.
New Yorkers are also calm, resilient and carrying on because we’ve been here before. We’ve seen the Twin Towers knocked down only to watch the World Trade Center rise from the ashes, larger and more bustling than ever before. We’ve seen a Times Square bombing, hatchet-wielding madman attack NYPD officers, and the general mayhem that’s produced by cramming millions of people onto one tiny island.
New Yorkers aren’t panicking because we know it wouldn’t do us any good. New Yorkers, more than any American residents, know that terrorists want terror above all else. We know that they win if they force us to change our daily routine, or look over our shoulder when we walk down the street, or think twice before entering a crowded subway. New Yorkers have accepted that dangers exist in this world and know that staying unified in the face of those dangers is the best course of action.
The rest of the country should follow our lead.
By A Plus’ Isaac Saul. Saul is a reporter for A Plus and author of his weekly column “A Grain of Saul.” You can follow him on Twitter and catch his weekly Facebook Live show every Friday on the A Plus Facebook page.