Archive for the ‘9-11’ Category

Bin Laden’s Decade Ends With A Whimper

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Like a lot of Americans, I had a little more spring in my step on Monday with last Sunday’s news that justice was finally served to Osama bin Laden at the hands of an elite SEAL team.

It seemed surreal, but it was some of the best news that this country has heard in a long time.

Ten years can go by quickly in this life and September 11, 2001 sometimes seems not so long ago. But watching the college kids celebrate in front of the White House I was reminded that they were 8, 9, 10 years old when the Towers went down and that they had lived most of their conscious life in the post 9-11 world.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then, but 9-11 shaped most of America’s history for the past decade. Two months after 9-11, we launched the War in Afghanistan and it now ranks as our nation’s longest war. Even the best case scenarios envision us fighting there for years and maintaining a presence for even longer.

Mere months after the War in Afghanistan began, Bush Administration officials had pivoted and were already using 9-11 as justification for an invasion of Iraq. Just over a year after the Afghan war began,  in a vote held just before the mid-term elections, the US Congress voted to give the president the authority to invade Iraq. In March 2003 we invaded Iraq and the rest (as they say) is history.

Both wars looked like easy victories for the country, but as the insurgencies in each country dragged on, the wars bogged us down, sapped our collective energy and drained the Treasury of over a trillion dollars. Meanwhile, the specter of bin Laden hung above our heads, taunting us via video from some shadowy undisclosed location. Despite our 12 aircraft carriers stationed around the globe, we still couldn’t find the man who knocked down the towers with 11 men armed with box-cutters.

Last Sunday’s raid put all of that to an end.  To be sure, we still need to maintain our vigilance as a country and there will almost certainly be more attacks in the future. Bin Laden may be dead, but Bin Ladenism survives, as do the splinter groups of Al Qaeda. But it seems like a large weight has been lifted. The circle has been closed and justice has been served.  

The day after the raid that killed bin Laden, I watched Richard Engel being interviewed from Benghazi and he commented on the coverage he had been watching on Arab satellite TV. He said that, while the headline news story on Arab TV was the death of bin Laden, as the day wore on, the stations began to talk more about the “new core issues” of the revolution in Egypt, the revolution in Tunisia, the uprising in Syria and the war in Libya

There was almost a sense that bin Laden was a man of the past decade, and a lot of people in the Middle East want to put him behind them…. people wanted to focus on what really will matter for the future of the region going forward for the next ten years, and that is these uprisings.

Bin Laden dreamed of establishing a caliphate governed by Islamic law that would stretch from Spain to Afghanistan. But if the events of the past few months are any indication, the muslim world will be looking more to the freedom and liberty that those of us in the West cherish than to the fanaticism and strict religious rule of Sharia law that Osama bin Laden offered.

The sense that bin Laden was a figure of the past decade was mirrored here in the United States. I remember where I was when I watched George W. Bush’s “bullhorn moment” at Ground Zero and I remember thinking that I was watching something critical in American history. When Bush responded to a firefighter who had yelled that he couldn’t hear him, Bush yelled back into the bullhorn:

I can hear you. The people of the world hear you…And the people who knocked down these buildings are going to hear all of us soon.

It was raw. It was tribal. It was cathartic. It was one of the most iconic moments of George W. Bush’s presidency. 

Similarly, Rudy Giuliani also inspired America with his resolution, moral certainty and competence in the face of crisis.

Years later, the image of Bush at Ground Zero was replaced in the American psyche with one of him landing on an aircraft carrier in a ridiculous flight suit and making his “Mission Accomplished” speech. His leadership after 9-11 was tainted by using it as a pretext to invade Iraq. Similarly, the memories of Giuliani’s bold leadership were replaced with the equally strong sense of political opportunism that Joe Biden famously characterized as “a noun, a verb and 9-11.”

As I watched President Obama escorted by Mayor Giuliani to a firehouse in New York, I was struck by the sense in which bin Laden, Rudy Giuliani and George W. Bush were, in many ways, men who defined the past decade.

The ethereal terrorist in fatigues and turban who haunted our national conversation for the past ten years is gone. Our last image of him is not as a menacing terrorist, but a hunched over old man watching videotapes of himself on a tiny TV.

An era is ended and a new era begins.

How Jon Stewart & Shep Smith Got the 9-11 First Responders Bill Passed

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Another story I didn’t get to during the holidays:

The role of Jon Stewart and Shepard Smith in getting the Zadroga bill passed.

The Zadroga bill funds health care and other benefits for 9-11 first responders and others who helped clean up the Ground Zero site in the aftermath of 9-11. You would think that, as much as the Republican’s used 9-11 as a political cudgel against the Democrats for the past 9 years, they would wholehaertedly support the idea of taking care of the America’s heroes…and if they didn’t support it, that they would easily be shamed by the Democrats to support the bill.

But if you thought those things, you would be wrong. The bill was brought up in the House in July but didn’t pass due to partisan manuvering on both sides. It finally did pass the House in September, but the Senate had not taken it up before the election and the Democrats wanted to pass it during the lame duck session. In an amazing display of party unity (not to mention chutzpah), the Republicans sucessfully filibustered aid to 9-11 first responders, so that they could get tax cut extentions for the top 2% of earners.

After they got those tax cuts passed, they then said that they didn’t have time for the bill and that it would have to be put off until the new Congress was sworn in (which would make it significantly more difficult for passage). With the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal and the START treaty also on the docket, many pundits declared the Zadroga bill dead.

Jon Stewart had actually been on this issue early in the process, covering the partisan bickering that caused it to fail in the house initially, but with the prospects for passage becoming increasingly dim, Stewart featured it in December. His initial piece included a parade of Republican politicians who had invoked their sacrifice of 9/11 first responders to score political points, but refused to support a fund to help them deal with terminal illnesses they developed while inhaling that toxic air. The hypocrisy was stunning. Before he signed off for the year, Stewart dedicated his entire last show to the bill.

The show started with an into that explained the situation, focusing specifically on the almost complete lack of media coverage, but especially Fox, who had cranked up their 9-11 outrage machine so many times before to support Republican political goals.  

Then, in some of the most powerful television I have ever seen, Stewart interviewed a panel of  four 9-11 first responders who were terminally ill.

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Stewart asked them to respond to clips of Senator Mitch McConnel sheding tears about the retirement of fellow senator, Judd Gregg, and Senator Jon Kyl saying that Harry Reid holding the Senate in session after the Christmas holiday would be disrespectful to Christmas itself. Watching these terminally ill guys respond to those clips with their dry New York City wit and their calm dignity was devastatng.

Poor Mike Huckabee didn’t even get a chance to plug his children’s book, as Stewart grilled him about why Fox hadn’t cranked up their 9-11 outrage machine on this issue.

The next day, Shep Smith at Fox News took up the torch for Jon Stewart, speaking passionately to Mike Wallace about how outrageous it was that help for the heroes of 9-11 was being blocked so that “we could give tax cuts to Warren Buffett.”

The next Monday, Shep was at it again, pointing out that, since his show is on Fox, they are able to get call backs from Republican legislators, and then proceeding to name every single senator who had refused to come on his show to discuss this.

On Tuesday, New York Senator’s Kirsten Gilibrand and Chuck Schumer announced that they had the votes to block a filibuster and would pass it during the lame duck session. Later in that day Senator Tom Coburn announced that he had put an anonomous block on the legislation in an attempt to run out the clock on the lame session and kill the bill (Coburn had claimed that this was being passed without any hearings, but as Rachel Maddow pointed out, the hearings actually took place in Coburn’s Committee.)

Shep Smith called out Senator Coburn directly, saying:

this is the picture of Senator Tom Coburn, Republican from Oklahoma… he is the man who is trying to slow this down or block it, so that the necessary  funding for the ilnesses of the first responders who made it to Ground Zero to try to save lives on the day that America changed, remember? This is the senator who is vowing to block it, so that it doesn’t make it through: Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma.

Apparently, the Republicans got the message and realized that, if they couldn’t get Fox News to support them, they were really on the wrong side of this issue.

The bill (with $2 billion less in it and some changes in the funding) passed the Senate the next day by voice vote.

After the holiday, Stewart had Kirsten Gillibrand on his show and she thanked him for his advocacy on the issue. Stewart demurred, saying that he just did the obvious thing, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that this bill probably would not have passed if not for the work that both Jon Stewart and Shep Smith did to put pressure on the Republicans.

Meacham: Let Islamic Reformation Begin at Ground Zero

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

I know that the Ground Zero Mosque is so two weeks ago, but wanted to pass this on from Jon Meacham’s last Newsweek Note From the Editor.  

Central to his point is that Islam is a religion that is in real need of a reformation. As Meacham notes,

The attacks of September 11—and subsequent bombings in London, Madrid, and elsewhere—embody the most repulsive of human instincts, the will to power at the price of the lives of others. Elements of Islam were responsible for these deaths of innocents, and extreme interpretations of the Quran have provided—and, inevitably, will provide again—inspiration and justification for terrorist violence.

But he cautions against “indict(ing) a faith for the sins of a few.”  As Meacham notes, “large parts of the Christian universe have managed to adapt to modernity in ways that have at least discouraged the worst excesses of religiously motivated believers” and Islam needs to make similar strides.

It doesn’t mater how many bombs we build, how many fighter jets we have or how much we spend on Homeland Security, the real decrease in our vulnerability will come with sea changes in the way many Muslims view their religion. For non-Muslim Americans we have to face the fact that we have little control over the future of the Muslim faith. The most important thing that we can do is to encourage this dialogue to take place and elevate moderates within the Muslim community to begin this dialogue. 

To me this is the best argument for the Community Center in Lower Manhattan. Despite the smear attempts by Republican politicians and media personalities, all indications are that Feisal Abdul Rauf is someone who has dedicated to his life to an inclusive, tolerant and accepting interpretation of Islam. Islam needs people like him and we need more people like him if we want a more tolerant and less violent strains of Islam to flourish. As Meacham concludes:

In the end, the right thing to do, in my opinion, is to build the center on the site its organizers and the mayor favor, and hope that those who go there to worship (and to swim, for that matter) do their part to reform their religion. There is little more important in the war on terror.

Shameful Spectacle Over the Not-at-Ground Zero Mosque

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

I have to say that the hysteria over the (grossly misnamed) “Ground Zero Mosque” made me sick this week.

I actually wanted to write something before today because I had a suspicion that Frank Rich’s column would, once again, capture the national zeitgeist as no one else could. He did not disappoint.

Rich’s column covers a lot of ground in an inclusive way and Nicholas Kristof provides some added commentary on the stakes. I added my comments below.

Part of the frustration that Americans feel about the struggle against Islamic extremism is that we can only do so much. At the heart of the problem of Islamic extremism is a struggle of ideals: a struggle between Western ideals and radical Islamic ideals, but also a struggle within Islam between a peaceful, modern and moderate faction and a reactionary, fundamentalist and violent faction.

This is a frustrating reality for us in the Western world because all of the tanks, missiles and security checkpoints that we have at our disposal aren’t particularly useful for fighting a war of ideals. And the words spoken by Americans–whether they are George Bush or Barack Obama–don’t matter very much if they don’t stimulate discussion or debate within Muslim communities. Given this reality, it is clear that supporting moderate voices in the Muslim world is key to our ultimate safety and success in this war of ideas. 

The imam of the Park51 mosque, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is just such a voice. As Frank notes, this is the man who was hired by the Bush State Department to travel around the world and explain to Muslim audiences the value of religious pluralism, discuss how American values are compatible with Islam and generally promote his brand of moderate Islam.   He gave a eulogy for Jewish  journalist Daniel Pearl, who was gruesomely murdered by Islamist extremists, where he condemned his execution and proclaimed “I am Jew,” an extraordinary statement for a Muslim imam. The board of his Park51 organization includes Jewish and Christian members as well as Muslims and his center is modeled on the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

To be sure, Rauf’s views of American foreign policy are not one’s that would help him win the nomination of the Republican party, but neither are they radical. In fact, as was detailed in a New York Times article today, his life history and faith make him someone uniquely qualified to build support for a moderate interpretation of Islam in the 21st Century. 

George Bush made many mistakes as president, and his administration wasn’t afraid of exploiting American  ignorance and fear of Muslims to conflate Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, but one thing he did do well was to always stress that we weren’t at war with Islam, we were at war with a group of people that used Islam to justify their murderous ideology.

To now not allow a moderate imam to build a community center  that includes a prayer space in Lower Manhattan is effectively saying to all Muslims: we do not distinguish between you and we blame all of you for the attacks committed by a few. That is not what America is about nor is it what we should stand for. That’s not living up to American ideals. It’s giving into intolerance and fear.

Of all the politicians jockeying for political gain by preying on the worst tendencies in Americans, presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich distinguished himself as the most hateful and politically opportunist when he posted on his webpage “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.”


This man who would like to replace Barack Obama as president’s believes that we should base the constitutional freedoms that we grant our own citizens on what the Islamic kingdom of Saudi Arabia does? And these are the people who say that Barack Obama doesn’t understand American values?

As Rich points out, the proposed community center and mosque is two blocks away from Ground Zero  “at the ‘hallowed ground’ of a shuttered Burlington Coat Factory store one block from the New York Dolls Gentlemen’s Club.” It is not visible from Ground Zero, nor will you be able to see it from the site. There will be no “call to prayer”  that can be heard from Ground Zero as some conservatives have suggested.

The opposition to the community center basically amounts to a First Amendment Free Zone that applies only to Muslims within a certain radius of Ground Zero. Opponents of the development need to explain just how far this First Amendment Free Zone for Muslims extends.  If it’s not okay for Muslims to worship two blocks away from Ground Zero, is it okay three blocks away?  What about the mosque four blocks away that has been in existence since before the World Trade Center was built? Does that need to be shut down because the “9-11 families” (some of whom actually support the mosque) might be offended? Surely these people have a right to be heard and we should consider their advice, but they don’t have a right to dictate all development in the Lower Manhattan area.  

If the owner of the building and the imam decide to relocate of their own free will, I’m fine with that. But they should not be cowed into that decision by a group of politicians taking advantage of fear and intolerance in order to advance their own careers. 

It’s time for America to take a look in the mirror and see how we are behaving and the message it sends around the world. America is best when we celebrate diversity and have an honest dialogue about the issues we face in common. We won’t defeat the terrorists by compromising our values and becoming as intolerant as they are.  We need to get over the Islamophobia and live up to the ideas of religious tolerance and individual rights that the country has stood for since its founding.

Daisy Khan Talks to Christiane Amanpour

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Christiane Amanpour interviews Daisy Khan, the wife of imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, and Joy Levvit, the Rabbi from the Jewish Community Center that the development is modeled after.

This is not the face of radical Islam.