Posts Tagged ‘9-11’

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.

Newt’s Cynical Calculation

Monday, September 20th, 2010

A few years ago, my conservative uncle signed me up to receive newsletters from the conservative website, Human Events. I used to read them for entertainment and to know what the enemy was thinking, but this got old fast, so I requested that they not send me any more e-mails. I guess they still have my info because last week they sent me this Newt Gingrich plug for his new movie.

I don’t want to dismiss the entire article since I think he makes some valid points about the need to be clearer about the danger of violent Islamic extremism, but the whole “stealth, Radical Islamist” thing is obviously another way to increase paranoia among people who are already paranoid. Apparently Newt is trying to win the 2010 award for the politician who most uses 9-11 as a way to gain political advantage (which I’m pretty sure Rudy Giuliani has won every year for the last 9–with the exception of 2002-3 when Bush & Cheney made it seem like Saddam & Bin Laden were in a coalition government together). To this end, Newt debuted his 9-11 exploitation movie on September 11th this year. The movie is intended to scare the shit out of you and make it look like Obama is in league with the terrorists. As discussed before, Newt has also been the leading Republican voice in the campaign to distort the truth and rile everyone up about the  Not at Ground Zero Mosque.

Lisa Miller had a good piece in Newsweek about the “stealth jihad” construction and the way that Newt and his allies have used it to distort the truth and generally try to gin up the Islamophobia for political gain.

Just to put a cherry on top of his disgraceful demagoguery around 9-11 and the Not at Ground Zero Mosque,  Newt followed up by commenting (at his movie premiere) that he agreed with right wing pseudo-intellectual Dinesh De Souza’s idea that Obama was channeling the ambitions of his absentee father that he never knew:

What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]…. That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.

This a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president.

Instead of an extended comment, I’ll just point out the obvious. As Robert Gibbs noted a few days after Newt’s comments, this is just a see through attempt to take advantage of the ignorance of Birther Republicans who think the President of the United States is a secret foreign agent. Maureen Dowd had a great piece on this,  and I’m also glad to see the White House finally pushing back (start at around the 7 minute mark of the clip). Colin Powell also took on Newt and all of the Birther BS point-by-point on Meet the Press yesterday.

The bottom line is that this guy is a cretin: an extremely intelligent man who is preying on a small segment of Americans’ fears and paranoia in order to advance his own political career. Hopefully his recent comments about Obama’s “Kenyan anti-colonial behavior” will show Republicans what a huckster he is and how he will spare no opportunity to use the same cynical, opportunistic arguments for his own political gain. 

If Newt rides to the Republican nomination with this fear, ignorance and paranoia based strategy, then the country and the Republican party are in worse shape than I thought they were (and that’s sayin something).

Power to the Peaceful 2010

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

After a week of non stop coverage of religion baitng, koran burning and political posturing, I couldn’t think of a better place to spend the aniversary of 9-11 than in Golden Gate Park surrounded by people I love (and tens of thousands of dirty hippies). 

Michael Franti’s been putting Power to the Peaceful on for 12 years (it actually predates 9-11) and I always try to make it.

For me, seeing Franti is like going to church. I’ve been a fan for over 15 years and have watched his music evolve over that time, ranging from some of the most intense, hard hitting protest songs that have probably even been written, to some of the most soulful Marvin Gaye type soul groves.

Through the decades, his music has tracked the political and social issues of the times, ranging from AIDS in the 1990′s to the wars of the Bush years when he produced what I think is his most inspired work.

Below is Saturday’s performance of Hey, Hey, Hey which is on his new album, The Sound of Sunshine.


Michael Franti at Peaceful from k9sound on Vimeo.

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.