French-Israeli Artist Who Documented 9/11 in Photos Compares Event to Pearl Harbor; Says Not a Day Goes by Without His Remembering It (INTERVIEW)
A New York-based French-Israeli artist and activist — who spent many hours at Ground Zero on and after the fateful day 15 years ago when the World Trade Center was toppled by terrorists – compared the event to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and told The Algemeiner that not a day goes by when he doesn’t think about it.
“America was taken by surprise,” Ron Agam said on Sunday, the anniversary of what came to be called the 9/11 attacks. “Nobody knew where it came from; what it was; how it happened. But the minute I saw those two planes hitting the Twin Towers, I knew that it was a case of radical Islamic terrorism.”
Agam, who is also a photographer – and took hundreds of pictures during and after the mass assault on American soil – attributed his certainty to “intuition and instinct.” He said that it was a phenomenon he “recognized immediately” from his upbringing in Israel.
“It was clear that something like this was bound to happen,” Agam said. “With all the vicious propaganda in the Muslim world against Israel and the United States – which Iran dubbed the ‘Great Satan’ and the ‘Small Satan’ — sooner or later there would be repercussions.”
Agam’s having grasped which forces had perpetrated the travesty aside, however, what initially motivated him to get on his bicycle and ride from his apartment on the Upper East Side of New York City to the site of the travesty in lower Manhattan was “to try to find victims and help people in need.”
However, he told The Algemeiner, “When I arrived, I saw there were very few survivors. Most had already disappeared. It was totally surreal. I could not believe what I was witnessing.”
Alongside the shock and horror of it all, Agam said, “The emotion that really overtook me was awe at the firefighters and policemen going into the buildings, knowing they were not likely to come out alive. Just recounting their pure heroism gives me the shivers.”
Watching what he called the “beauty of a country coming together during a tragedy,” Agam likened Americans to Israelis.
“They have many things in common, such as great courage and a sense of brotherhood,” he said, differentiating them from Europeans, among whom he also spent a chunk of his life. He said that for the latter, “Everything is political. So for a couple of days after a disaster, people are unified, but it doesn’t last.”
Furthermore, he said, “The Europeans have a very soft belly, and for internal political reasons, they are in a delicate situation. Their countries have large Muslim populations, and they are trying to figure out a way to differentiate between those who pose a threat and those who don’t. But no European country has the manpower to keep security at the required level. And there is no attempt at preemption.”
Agam said that Israel is different in this respect, as “it is tiny and keeps its borders under strict surveillance, and because it has developed policies and technology that enable it to be in a more preventive mode than other countries.”
Taking a broad view from the perspective of hindsight, Agam said, “Nothing has changed for the better since 9/11. On the contrary, everything has become more dangerous than it was before. Today, radical Muslim terrorist groups don’t even need to dispatch killers to the US, because sooner or later, they know they will be perpetrating horrors on a much larger scale – via the Internet. Today, the tools of technology in the hands of sophisticated radical terrorists pose a threat to the world’s banking system, trade, the electrical grid, you name it. We are facing an enemy that has the capacity to manipulate the Internet in ways that we haven’t seen yet. We already see how they are able through the web to manipulate the minds of young people around the world. This is nothing compared to what they will be capable of doing in the not-so-far future.”
In the past, said Agam “We had war between countries. Today, we have small terrorist organizations that inflict damage on a global scale.” And 9/11, he said, was the turning point, the defining moment of that paradigm shift.
“The problem is that this kind of terrorism metastasizes like nothing that preceded it,” he said. “Without the resources to go after this thing, we have to pray that the terrorists make more mistakes than we do. We especially have to pray that these organizations never have the ability to strike with weapons of mass destruction. On 9/11, thousands of people were killed, but with WMD, such terrorists could wipe out whole cities in a day.”
Though such a scenario is “unthinkable,” he said, “It is also possible, particularly in light of North Korea’s recent breakthroughs in nuclear technology, which is being researched and developed with Iran.”
This situation, he added, is nothing like that of the Cold War, when the United States and the Soviet Union were in a state of mutually assured destruction (MAD),” when it came to the use of nuclear weapons. “With these countries, MAD does not apply, due to the impetus of religious fanaticism.”
The only thing that will keep Israel safe, he said, “is the paranoia that something as monumental as an Iranian nuclear attack could actually happen, because Israel will not wait for it to happen. It will act preemptively.”
One key aspect of 9/11 that must be stressed, Agam said, is that while it was a disaster for the West, “There are millions of people around the world who cheered it then and continue to see it as a hallmark of terrorism today, with each new attack, wherever it occurs, reminding them of it.”
Agam is the son of renowned Israel artist Yaacov Agam, whose kinetic sculptures are part of the landscape of the Jewish state.
Ron Agam’s approximately 1,200 9/11 photographs were displayed in an exhibit called “This is New York City” at a Soho gallery. They were subsequently donated to the Ground Zero memorial museum.