This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com.
It happened so fast that, at first, I didn’t even take it in.
Two Saturdays ago, a friend and I were heading into the Phillips Museum in Washington, DC, to catch a show of neo-Impressionist art when we ran into someone he knew, heading out. I was introduced and the usual chitchat ensued. At some point, she asked me, “Do you live here?”
“No,” I replied, “I’m from New York.”
She smiled, responded that it, too, was a fine place to live, then hesitated just a beat before adding in a quiet, friendly voice: “Given ISIS, maybe neither city is such a great place to be right now.” Goodbyes were promptly said and we entered the museum.
All of this passed so quickly that I didn’t begin rolling her comment around in my head until we were looking at the sublime pointillist paintings of Georges Seurat and his associates. Only then did I think: ISIS, a danger in New York? ISIS, a danger in Washington? And I had the urge to bolt down the stairs, catch up to her and say: whatever you do, don’t step off the curb. That’s where danger lies in American life. ISIS, not so much.
The Terrorists Have Our Number
I have no idea what provoked her comment. Maybe she was thinking about a story that hadbroken just two days earlier, topping the primetime TV news and hitting the front pages of newspapers. On a visit to the Big Apple, the new Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi,claimed that his intelligence services had uncovered a plot by militants of the Islamic State (IS, a k a ISIS or ISIL), the extremists of the new caliphate that had gobbled up part of his country, against the subway systems of Paris and New York and possibly other US cities.
I had watched Brian Williams report that story on NBC in the usual breathless fashion, along with denials from American intelligence that there was any evidence of such a plot. I had noted as well that police patrols on my hometown’s subways were nonetheless quickly reinforced, with extra contingents of bomb-sniffing dogs and surveillance teams. Within a day, the leading officials of my state, Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, were denying that they had any information on such a plot, but also taking very public rides on the city’s subways to “reassure” us all. The threat didn’t exist, but was also well in hand! I have to admit that, to me, it all seemed almost comic.