Thursday, September 09, 2004

Three Years Later -- Part I...
Three days from now we will be observing the third anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And we still have many things to be thankful for, and just for this fact alone instead of mourning, I will at least put the best face I can on the three years that have passed.

To begin with, I’m alive. By some trick of fate, some cosmic conspiracy of luck, or maybe I just ate my Wheaties that day, but I’m here. I missed being within the WTC by about 90 seconds or so, when it was struck by the first aircraft, though said airliner did in fact pass directly above my head. That’s something to celebrate. Though I wasn’t physically injured, the attacks and their aftermath did scar me in several ways. I suffer from PTSD (Post-traumatic stress syndrome) and the occasional panic attack, both provoked by the events of 9/11. I can control one with medication and the other requires a great deal of therapy, but I console myself with the realization that I was not burnt to a cinder, crushed by falling steel or masonry, or buried alive, to die a slow, suffocating death. I’m absolutely ecstatic that I did not have to make a choice that some of the poor victims did, deciding whether it was better to burn, get crushed or jump from 100 stories. I don’t know what I would have done in that situation, and I’m happy that I didn’t have to make that choice.

If that makes me selfish, then so be it. I will not apologize for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, so to speak, and escaping with life and limb intact. When one considers the horror, devastation and grief caused by 19 Saudis, needlessly inflicted upon thousands, if not millions, for the simple crimes of being Americans and (mostly) non-Muslims, I feel strongly that those of us who managed not to get it that day have something to be thankful for.
Life is always something to celebrate.

The most fortunate part of this tragedy, if something good could be found in it, is that I have come to realize that I have what everyone always seems to be seeking – a second chance. Once one finally realizes that death is that close to us all, and can come violently and unexpectedly, one decides that maybe some of the frenzied activity that we call "life" is really irrelevant. Why go to a job that you hate and which makes you miserable? You have a second chance – go and do what you want with life now. Chasing a paycheck and the bonuses attached to work on Wall Street no longer seemed attractive to me anymore. At the end of the day, when lunatics, who are willing to die in a bastardized cause, can kill you, what does money mean? It’s irrelevant. When you go to a workplace that makes you unhappy, engaged in a profession that you never foresaw for yourself, and it makes you agitated, nasty, depressed and the only reason you still do it is just because you have bills to pay, why do it? Life, my friends, is too short to slave away in a cubicle, producing something of value only to someone who sees you as a tool to shore up his bottom line.

The second chance revolves around doing what I want to do, a chance to make myself happy. Not monetarily rich, but spiritually and emotionally enriched, satisfied that what I do might make a difference to someone along the way, reconnecting with people and resuming my place in humanity. At the moment, I’m trading in systems programming for either culinary school, or failing that, getting my history degree so that I can teach and maybe write. Bringing joy to others, bringing knowledge to others, helping others to achieve and to do it in a way that makes me happy, and motivated, is my new goal. I don’t intend to waste my second chance. The world may revolve around Wall Street and computers these days, but neither is any longer the center of my personal universe.

Reflecting on what has occurred in the last two years, I have much to say and even more to think about. Where to begin is difficult, as there are multiple threads in this tangled web, but I’ll do my best. In no particular order, here are some issues that have been bouncing around my skull recently.

1. The War on Terrorism – President Bush, true to his word, has made Afghanistan (and vicariously, us) safer by making sure that the Taliban and their supporters are either gone, or so deep in hiding as to be fearful of revealing themselves in the sunlight. It’s no longer Terrorist University, and Osama is decomposing under a pile of rubble somewhere. Fighting still continues in that tortured country, however, the fighting there is serving a purpose, and is similar to the endgame being played in Iraq at the moment. A new, freer nation is emerging from nearly 40 years of war and strife. Elections are being held, hospitals and schools are being built, life is begining to resemble something tolerable in Afghanistan.

Iraq is emerging as a free nation, slowly, but once the momentum has been gained, there will be no stopping the process. Iraqis, seriously threatened, beaten, tortured, starved, gassed, conscripted to die in huge numbers in desert and swamp, can now breathe a little easier. Certainly, aspects of life in Iraq are unalterably changed; there are no longer roving bands of secret policemen and uniformed militia listening in on conversations and reporting/detaining those who have a beef with the regime. There is no longer the threat that Saddam’s boys might come and take your daughter or wife because they tickled their fancy. The thuggery of a total police state has been eliminated by the American invasion and the continuing presence of American troops. Sure, not everything is quiet and, certainly, some things that once were will never be again. However, on balance, this is a good thing if Iraqis can manage to pull their country back together, get on with the business of business in a free-market setting and establish something resembling democratic (or at least Republican) institutions, then the lives and treasure spent will have been worth it. At the very least, we have arrested one of the world’s worst dictators, murderers and the biggest waste of sperm. The effects this will have on terrorists is obvious – one less supporter, one less friendly government to hide and fund them, one less madman willing to use them as a proxy in his monomaniacal fight against the United States.

The naysayers, always willing to throw the brickbat of "quagmire" around when it’s a member of the opposition party in the White House, will claim (they still do) that the War was unnecessary, that thousands of innocent Iraqis died for no reason, and that we are losing the peace because the country wasn’t turned into a first-world economic power within 10 days of the invasion. Usually, these are the same people who apparently didn’t know the word quagmire when their icon, JFK a was stuck in the morass of Vietnam (Which would go on for the better part of two decades), leaving a mess to be cleaned up by others. Their beef then was getting drafted and deprived of all them drugs and free sex.

These are the people who will point to the casualties suffered by the U.S. after hostilities were formally announced as over, and will say, "See? They’re still fighting, how could we have won?" The answer to this is very simple, and that’s why it never occurred to any of them. Post-invasion administration of a (for lack of better term) conquered country is always difficult. To begin with, there is always the struggle for succession to power – various factions, with numerous axes to grind, delusions of grandeur, ideological slants, religious pretexts, etc., will always attempt to impose their will in a post-war scenario because a) there is a vacuum in the political and power structure that can often be manipulated for their own gain and b) once the old Top Dog’s foot is off the throat of his former political adversaries, they get confident and cocky that they can take over and do what they have been waiting to do with little or no opposition.

In both Afghanistan and Iraq, this is the situation. Some warlord, cleric, former army officer or government official decides that he is the person to run the country. This is difficult to do when an invader, who has overwhelming military force at his disposal, occupies your country and even more so when you have rivals who have also managed to survive. So, the continued attacks on U.S. troops are designed to not only kill as many as possible, but to weaken our standing in the eyes of a grateful nation, who will switch support to the side that inflicted the casualties, theoretically. The United States, and not other Iraqis, are the real threat to the would-be successors of Saddam. They know the U.S. will hunt them down, kill them or at least imprison them, before turning them over to their Iraqi rivals for elimination.

The second part of this strategy revolves around the maxim that a weaker force cannot confront a stronger one without either losing, or gaining a victory that’s so costly as to be next to useless. The only way around this kind of scenario is guerilla war, avoiding the exposure of your assets to destruction while attempting to inflict as much damage as possible against the enemy. It has a drawback, however, in that the factions must occasionally come out to fight, and when they do, the U.S. stomps on them. This reduces their numbers, their standing in the eyes of the community, and might even cause another rival to get too big for his britches. This kind of situation is good for the U.S. terrorism fighters – akin to drawing flies onto flypaper. The terrorists do all the work for us, gathering in Iraq and Afghanistan from all over the Middle East shitholes that they come from, and gathering in one place for easier destruction. The few who are lucky enough to survive will go into hiding, probably never daring to take up arms again. Experience in Vietnam, the Philippines, and Central America, proves that the U.S. knows how to fight a counter-insurgency conflict, when politics doesn’t get in the way.

The aftermath of both the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions are not unique events, unforeseen nor uncontrollable. Similar things happened in Germany, Japan and France after the Second World War, and when the Soviet Union disintegrated. Time is the great equalizer here – it’s on our side, and while we wait it might be painful, but in the end, good things will come of it. The naysayers have got it all wrong, which doesn’t surprise me when you realize just who they are.
2. Rebuilding the World Trade Center – This is a tough issue to discuss without sounding callous and mean spirited. I understand that there are those who died in the disaster that were never recovered. I understand the horrific grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one, especially in such a heinous way. I totally respect the view that something needs to be done to ensure that a memorial, monument, etc., is incorporated into the design of whatever eventually gets built on the site in the future. There are those, however, who wish no construction to take place, and I feel they are letting their grief get in the way of their good sense, and maybe being just too selfish for the rest of us.

The sad fact is that while 3,000 of our fellow New Yorkers were incinerated in the ruins, there are nine-plus million of us that didn’t get killed. This nine million or so needs things, like jobs, the City needs revenue if it’s not to become a ghost town, and business needs a place to settle down, close to the financial center of the planet. The people who live in Battery Park or the surrounding neighborhood should not have to suffer the depressing thought of 3,000 murdered people every time they look out their windows at a 16-acre hole in the ground. Something must be built on the site and, unfortunately, I believe that in this case, too much say is being given to those with no rationality, only grief, to offer on this subject.
When the City of New York is several- billion plus in the hole, when businesses are leaving because of high taxes and steep commercial real estate rates, does it make sense to leave 16 acres of the world’s premier real estate empty? The people who say no to reconstruction are, understandably, thinking of themselves and the ones they lost. They are not thinking about the rest of us or about the future. For them, time has stopped on 9/11.

New York will not survive unless it can restore the commercial space and transportation hubs that served Lower Manhattan and which constituted a pretty penny in revenue for both the city and the state. Whatever the city and state lost in revenue with the destruction of the towers, it will make up on the backs of the rest of us. When enough people and businesses have fled for greener, friendlier pastures, there won’t be any backs left. This cannot be allowed to happen, and because there is so much money at stake, I can almost predict that it won’t. However, the obstructionists, who have a valid claim and an understandable reason, will either kill any new construction or delay it for so long that if and when anything is ever built on the site, it will not matter. If you believe a new set of towers on the site is an insult to your loved ones, think about what your idea of a massive memorial will do: turn a tragedy into a tourist attraction. Is that what you want – a Disneyland of death and destruction? I would find that even more insulting and insensitive if I was in your position. It’s bad enough the city has an open sore in the heart of its business district, do we have to continue to pick at it? I understand that for all of you who oppose new construction that the hurt will never diminish, the scars will never heal. However, engaging in a continual orgy of grief, in effect using your "Oprah moment" to deny the living a chance for a better life, is wrong. In it’s own way, this kind of behavior is actually disgusting.
As for the proposals for what might actually be built on the site (someday), someone should walk into every architectural school on the planet and see what drugs are being passed out. Sky Gardens? Skeleton-like buildings? Monstrosities of geometry and glass? What is needed is simple, attractive, office and commercial space without the added geegaws that most have presented, which either serve no functional purpose, or which will only entail greater expense when it’s finally built. New Yorkers don’t need an "inspirational" replacement, they need good, solid commercial real-estate that’s aesthetically pleasing. Half the designs I’ve seen so far look like a Dali painting that’s been stretched and folded numerous times. Some call it artistic license, I call it a vacuous display of personal ego on the part of most of the designers. In the end, nothing like what has been envisioned thus far will be built because the final considerations will not be artistic, but financial.

3. The Truth About Islam – Finally we have seen just what a destructive, nihilistic force this is. Under the pretext of a religious belief, it has been used as a shield to protect murderous, racist thugs, to excuse the indiscriminate murder of women and children, and to hide the fact that the folks who believe in it are stuck in a cesspool of their own making. Islam has always been a violent religion, and will get more so as technology advances and better ways of killing people emerge in the future.

One thing we must always remember about the 9/11 attacks is this: this was not the result of American foreign policy (15 of the 19 killers were from an "allied nation" that we had saved in the previous decade), it was not a result of poverty (most of the hijackers were middle-class and college-educated), nor was it reciprocity for U.S. "aggression" and "oppression" of Muslims. When one considers that the United States in the last thirty years has helped Afghans beat a Soviet Army equipped with superior means of killing, intervened in the "ethnic cleansing" of Muslims in the Balkans, ,protecting them and killing our own (Serbs) on their behalf, spent a vast fortune on economic and humanitarian aid in places like Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Somalia, and the "Palestinian lands", defended Saudi Arabia and liberated Kuwait from Saddam, I think it’s pretty clear the Islamists have never had a better friend than the United States. Heck, the Iranians even took U.S. citizens hostage, an act of war, and that country is still on the map. If the argument is that the United States has propped up illegitimate governments in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, etc., then it doesn’t hold water, in my opinion. We may have dealt with some shady characters in the name of realpolitik, but we didn’t put them in power. Europeans did that, but we don’t see Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower being rammed by jumbo jets, do we?

No, the attack was not made upon us for any reason of economics or politics, it was made because we are the ultimate representative of what Islam cannot offer it’s faithful – progress, hope, peace, medicine, education, employment, law and freedom to express yourself and to do as you wish. These are WESTERN concepts or inventions that Islam cannot provide for the people who are hungry for them because the religion is enmeshed in the very lives of the people who practice it, and chains them in place.

"Do not live amongst the Infidel or practice his ways", states the Koran (I’m paraphrasing here). However, when your children go hungry because the use of certain farming implements and techniques comes with the taint of modernity and Westernism, how do you feel? When your parents are dying from a curable disease that can’t be treated because the technology that could help them is "infected" by the infidels who invented it, how would you feel? When you cannot get a job or go to school because the system that maintains what passes for the country you live in has no concept of free-markets or freedom, and has an education system that is thoroughly steeped in tradition and theology, what would you do?

Never doubt for a moment that the vast majority of the people who live in the Middle East would dearly love to have what we take for granted, or at the least, would accept as much of it as they could stand. The problem is that the very fabric of their society would disintegrate if they did. How does one reconcile the need for modernity at the expense of destroying everything you know? The mullahs cannot accept anything that threatens their positions, which is based upon the word of God, and so they berate Westerners and western ideas as being the tools of the Devil. Well, if the Devil has found a way to give me a better life, and I don’t have to sin for it, how could that be bad? Why can’t I have it? This society is on the edge – it’s psychopathic, it has multiple personalities. It’s confused and feels helpless. God (and thus the Mullahs) cannot be responsible for the state of the Islamic world, therefore, it must be those nasty infidels who have kept the secret of a better life from God’s own people. That is why 19 idiots flew three jet aircraft into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon – it’s a temper tantrum turned deadly. This tantrum is spiced with radical politics, racism and a veneer of religious sanction, but in the end, it’s simply a way to maintain the status quo in a dead-end society. The Mullahs fear us and our concepts of freedom – if their own people ever got to enjoy the very least of rights that we take for granted, if they could have the choices we have with regards to food, education, media, they would bolt Islam like a panicked stallion.

That is why 3,000 Americans had to die on September 11, 2001. Three years later, and things are still the same, as far as the Muslims are concerned, but here in America, we are committed to making sure they change for the better. Not just for own sake but for the sake of the millions that are trapped in a stagnant society. We’re not out to destroy a religion or a culture, we’re out to destroy an idea – that God sanctions mass-murder based on a hodge-podge mix of perverted religion, racism and ignorance.

The lessons will be taught – in the end, will enough Muslims be left to learn them?

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