September 11 is, in our collective understanding of the past 10 years, inextricably linked to Guantánamo. The confusion and fear we felt after September 11 was co-opted and fostered by local and federal government. It led to that nebulous, transnational war on terror, to suspicion, arrests, and to yet another use of GTMO’s peculiar American-yet-not-American position in the name of national security.
Our panel will be located in downtown Manhattan, on Washington Square Park. There, on September 11, students, teachers, tourists, and neighbors gathered in confusion, fear and misery. I think it’s important that the panels engage the connection between the September 11 attacks and the use of GTMO as a detention center for America’s “war on terror,” particularly in the context of the attack’s specific impact on the space in which the exhibit will take place.
One of the most interesting connections between Guantánamo and New York City is the concept of spatial relationships. A born and raised New Yorker, I remember post 9/11 New York as a profoundly new, startling, and sometimes terrifying place. The impact of the attacks was immediate, visceral, deeply emotional, and, for many, completely life-changing. Our physical environment was polluted, literally and figuratively. We have seen how the attacks and their aftermath have reverberated in the city in the past 10 years, in ways small and large. New York’s office and apartment buildings take new security measures, we submit to bag checks on the subways, many survivors and brave rescue workers are experiencing grave physical and mental health problems. The landscape, the shape and texture of our beloved skyline, is completely changed and a constant reminder of what happened.
GTMO, on the other hand, is far away and barely understood. For most of us, what goes on there has little or no impact on our daily lives. When I discuss what I have learned through this course with my friends—brilliant, socially aware and informed people—they are shocked. They don’t know where GTMO is, they don’t understand who is there and why, and they don’t know its long history as a useful bulwark of American imperialist interests. The physical remove of GTMO is, I think, a major reason for the lack of understanding of what happens there. We don’t have physical or emotional encounters with Guantánamo in the way we do with the September 11 attacks.
This is what makes this project so important. As students, faculty, residents, and others walk along Washington Square Park, they will be physically confronted with panels asking them to consider Guantánamo. In this sense, this project is an attempt to remove the spatial distance of Guantánamo, and place it in the direct physical context of the 9/11 attacks. I think if the panels can, in some way, engage in examining this spatial relationship, they will be more successful and have a greater impact on the New York audience.
Posted by Lily Nathan – M.A. Candidate at NYU
NYU is participating in the Guantánamo Public Memory Project‘s National Dialogue and Traveling Exhibit. Opening at NYU’s Kimmel Center for University Life Windows Gallery in December 2012 and traveling to 9 sites (and counting) across the country through at least 2014, the exhibit will explore GTMO’s history from US occupation in 1898 to today’s debates and visions for its future. The exhibit is being developed through a unique collaboration among a growing number of universities as a dialogue among their students, communities, and people with first-hand experience at GTMO.