September 09, 2011

9/11 Retrospective

Ten years ago, the name "Osama bin Laden" was elevated that Tuesday morning in my mind from a vaguely dangerous terrorist responsible for attacks "over there," to the foremost terror mastermind and financier of our time, capable of orchestrating the unthinkable. He was a bogeyman, able to disappear into mountainous regions and repeatedly sending out "tapes" of his ongoing terror objectives and worldly grievances.

That lost its "terror" luster over time. By 2007, sending a donkey through the mountains to deliver a VHS tape was kind of like. . . sending a donkey through the mountains to deliver a VHS tape. Bin Laden's resurgent Elvis-like "appearances" eventually led me to believe he had been reduced to a crimson stain on some cave wall somewhere, but I was mistaken.

This year, Osama was discovered hunkered down in a double-wide "mansion" in Pakistan, draped in a shawl, reviewing his copies of "Osama's Greatest Hits" on a legacy tube television, when he wasn't, apparently, perusing his collection of infidel pornography. After the searing hot kiss of Seal Team Six lead to his noggin, his body was dumped out to sea. While it would have been nice to have tagged him at the height of his notoriety back in 2001 - 2005 or so, there was some schadenfreude in knowing the terror mastermind had been reduced to the roll of the annoying college bum who didn't know he had long since worn out his welcome, and his roommates called the cops--or at least didn't try too hard to stop them.


Ten years ago, radical fundamentalist Islam became the focal point of a worldwide discussion about the unlikelihood of a regressive and viciously misogynistic religious offshoot ever being able to adequately assimilate into the progressive world of the "West," and what, exactly, to do about it. At some point, the discussion shifted to "not all Muslims are terrorists," which was never really in doubt in my mind; that seemed pretty obvious.

But gradually, that discussion further shifted so that being Muslim or having Muslim roots oddly became both a badge of authenticity AND something that had no implication, depending on the situation. In Minnesota, it meant Keith Ellison became a U.S. representative, almost solely based on his Muslim heritage. In the race to the White House in 2008, mentioning "Hussein" was Barack Obama's middle name was enough to get hissed down for even noticing such an irrelevant bit of biography, but it was also trotted out as an indication we've transcended that sort of debate. Odd, that.

Today, Islam occupies a conflicted pedestal status of sorts in Western society compared to its brothers of the Book, Judaism and Christianity. Whereas jokes and visually humorous or even shocking presentations of Christianity and Judaism are basically considered fair game, Islam is regarded with an uncertain caution. Consider the Danish Muhammad cartoons from 2005 that too many news organizations worldwide refused to reprint lest angry Muslims took to the streets, yet depictions of the Christian God and Jesus are very often used for off-color humor, ridicule and disdain, while Jewish parodies have a rich tradition going back at least to Hanukkah Harry--but then, I'm only 36. Muslims in the workplace are allowed excuses to pray every. . . well, whenever they pray; it's a lot. And they don't have to touch pork products if they don't want to. And traditional Muslim wear abounds--just walking around the local mall today is like attending a convention dominated by colorful ghosts and fat ninjas.

It's as if it's been silently and unanimously decided Islam is the moody and unpredictable teenager religion that's best left alone to work out its issues on its own, upstairs in its room, blaring terrible music, while Christianity is the unhip parental religion downstairs trying to hear the television and just get through this difficult stage in Islam's life. Meanwhile, Judaism just wants to be left alone in its old age, free to await the Messiah, without having its sole remaining retirement home driven into the sea.

Whether I like to admit it or not, in some ways bin Laden got exactly what he wished for, teenage-minded terrorist that he was--an elevated, feared position when it came to Islam, at least in its most virulent form, which regrettably just happened to spill over and slightly taint its more peaceful Islamic off-shoots.


Ten years ago, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center came crashing down in a nightmarish man-made pyroclastic flow and, despite predictions it would take years to clean up, eight months later it was cleared and ready to send a big re-construction middle finger to the assholes responsible for the murderous deed.

Those towers seemed eternal. Even today, when I find the odd free time to play the old Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 New York Twin Towers mission, it's difficult to imagine those towers are gone. I mean, you could send in troops to secure the two buildings and soldiers fortified inside could take out TANKS for crying out loud.

Today, surprisingly, construction remains incomplete at ground zero. Hopefully some day. Hopefully soon.


Ten years ago, the administration occupying the White House was blaming the previous administration for the dot-com bubble pop and challenging economic woes.

Today, the administration occupying the White House is blaming the previous administration for the housing bubble pop and challenging economic woes.


Ten years ago, political rhetoric was largely divided into two camps: Democrats and Republicans. That morphed over time into liberals and conservatives.

Today, with an online population not content with something as simple as "Democrats" and "Republicans," the debate, such as it is, focuses on "righties" and "lefties," which has gotten so ridiculously tiresome, I've largely abstained from participating in the pointless poo-flinging.


Ten years ago, I was on two weeks notice as my technical writer/editor contract expired. I was living under serious career uncertainty, although the job I was about to leave was one I wouldn't have wished on. . . well. . . Osama bin Laden.

Today, I'm writing freelance articles from home and, although the career/financial uncertainty is still an omnipresent specter, I'm more comfortable and happy now than I ever was working in an office environment.


Ten years ago, I was single and wondering what the next stage of my life would entail in the post-9/11 world.

Today, I have a house, a wife and two children, and I've experienced enough in the last 10 years to make 9/11 seem a bit smaller, at least personally.

In other words, life goes on, irrevocably changed though it is.

Posted by Ryan at September 9, 2011 09:39 AM | TrackBack
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