I count myself intensely lucky to be in New York the very week that the first tenants move into the 104-storey Freedom Tower, built on the site of 9/11s most ghastly attack.
Many New Yorkers say that everyone in the city is walking a little taller. Hard to be sure on that point but Dennis Kneale, former managing editor of Forbes and former CNBC and Fox Business anchor, says he always thought that rebuilding right there, on the site of the Twin Towers “was key to our reclaiming our strength: It would show the terrorists that no matter what they do to us, we will rebuild. We will come back. We will not falter; we will not give in to fear. That is why I love the Freedom Tower: It’s like one giant, upstretched middle finger aimed at the sky.”
Mr Kneale’s enthusiasm may seem slightly over the top, but he does at least tell a good story.
He recalls guest anchoring a CNN programme just a couple of days after the Twin Towers collapsed and asking Mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg on-air: “Shouldn’t we build it again?” Mr Bloomberg offered an answer that Mr Kneale describes as disappointing. No one would be willing to rent space in a new tower, he said.
Upon which, Mr Kneale responded with the robust suggestion that New York should, in that case, “cut the rents in half and subsidize them, if need be, and that because the mayor-elect was new to politics, he didn’t yet appreciate the value of symbolism.”
He’s not wrong about the power of augury though I’m not sure about the arguments he advances for wanting to see a re-built tower at Ground Zero.
“The attack on the twin towers was also an assault on capitalism itself,” argues Mr Kneale, “It was a strike at world trade and the forces of modern commerce that have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of stark poverty in the developing world. Radical Islam thrives where poverty is worst; it gives some form of hope to people who have none. Capitalism is a rival force that arguably has done a far better job of lifting up the poor; thus, it had to be taken down, too, in the attack on America.”
Thirteen years after the attack, it has been parsed, interpreted and re-interpreted over and over. It’s a moot point if militant Islam is fighting the West because of economic beliefs or on account of the very real sense of injustice that comes with the plight of the Palestinians.
Even so, Mr Kneale is right to celebrate all that the new Freedom Tower augurs. In ancient times, the very word ‘augur’ meant a Roman priest, soothsayer and official whose main role was to interpret the will of the gods by studying omens, the flight of the birds, the behaviour of animals, interpreting dreams, natural phenomena or oracles referred to as ‘taking the auspices’.
Rebuilding augurs renewal, an auspicious omen for a people’s mental well-being and – in the 21st century – a happy guarantee of commerce.