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The Sound of … 

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Silence. That’s what thousands of people in Great Britain and Europe observed in honor of the 52 innocent killed and 700 injured in this month’s terrorist bombing of London’s transportation system.


For two minutes at noon on July 14, all that could be seen in London, Leeds, Brussels, Berlin and Rome, according to news reports, was the sight of people standing in soundless thought. Subways, trains and buses stopped. Restaurant diners swallowed and sat still. British soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq lined up and stood still. Bureaucrats of the European Union in Brussels formed a cadre outside, clasping hands to stare at the ground. Hospital patients in Leeds, home to the suspects in the terrorist bombings, stood at windows and looked out into the silent proceedings of others in the city’s Millennium Square.


In a culture as noisy as ours, there’s something icy and almost horrifying about silence. Not just states of quiet themselves, but the attempt to quiet our souls. Put simply, a lot of us don’t want to hear it. That’s because if you want to hear something truly loud and monumental, you will leave your television, stereo and conversational partner alone and listen to nothing but the sound of your own thoughts and feelings. Do you like what you hear? Is it unsettling? Are you at peace, or is it hard to sit still?


Experimental composer John Cage played a game with silence after making the obvious'but still interesting'discovery that silence never sounds the same way twice. Neither does recorded music, if you’re listening carefully. But silence by itself'and there is no other kind'is a special sort of music. When a performer sits behind a piano for four and a half minutes to play nothing at all, something wonderful happens. We hear music where we thought none existed, and we hear it through sources from which we never thought it would originate: from the office air conditioner, the cars outside, or the rhythms of a muted conversation in the next room. Silence is the liberator of unimagined possibilities, visions and thoughts. Or it can be nothing at all. Just long, dead silence.


Forget anthems, pageants, symbols and slogans. Silence is the most appropriate response to terrorism not because it disarms terrorism’s barbarism. Not even thousands of foreign troops in Iraq have accomplished that. Silence is the most appropriate response because it recalls the substance of peace or, if no peace exists, it might expose the tremors of latent violence. Silence is one big “time out” for humanity. It’s a pity we don’t participate more often.


We might ask ourselves why, so far in this “war on terror,” only the victims of 9/11 and 7/7 are deemed worthy of such an honor. Because, like us, they live in the developed world? Why not the 1,000 Palestinian civilians killed in Lebanese refugee camps in 1982? Why not the 8,000 men and boys killed at Srebenica in 1995? The scores of Israeli civilians killed in the second Intafada? The scores of Iraqi civilians killed during and after our invasion? The noise of death and terrorism lashes out, and we honor and acknowledge but a small portion of its victims. If we honored them alongside the fallen in London, the silence would be, as they say, deafening.

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