Then and now

It has been six years since the 9/11 attacks. I remember that day. It is one of those days that are stamped with a slow motion real-time narrative in our minds. Here is my retelling.

I was living in Middletown Maryland. A horribly boring, surprisingly homogenous, suburban community near Frederick which, I learned after we bought the house, was called Fredneck by those who lived in or nearer Washington, D.C.

Suffice it to say that we were, it seemed, the darkest, weirdest people living in Middletown even though DC was only two hours away. In the U.S. the distances you travel in miles from one community to the next does not necessarily correspond to the one you travel in thought. Urban and rural populations live amazingly side by side in a state of perpetual hostility.

Many parents had rushed to our elementary school and picked up their kids. When I got there, an hour or so earlier than the normal dismissal time, my kids were amongst a small handful that were still there. I did ponder going to pick up the kids but then decided against it calculating that a terrorist attack plan of that scale would not pick Middletown Elementary as a target.

I first heard of the news in the little diner in our town. I don’t remember its name but I went there a few times a week and read and took notes with a cup of coffee pretending that I didn’t mind that it was not a café in Paris.

I loved their greasy American breakfast (a weapon of mass destruction in itself) that you cannot find on the continent. The people in the diner were locals and never really said more than a ‘hi’ to me or to each other really. They were a pissed off angry bunch, living in the shadows of the Starbucks that were opening everywhere, holding fast to the tradition of greasy food and bad coffee like it was their last remaining birthright.

There was always a sense of doom in that diner that was as old as the Civil War and as fresh as the loss of farms to housing developers. No one seemed to be too upset about some wacks attacking the Pentagon and even less so New York. For those people who first heard the news of the attacks with me in that diner New York was as far away and as irrelevant as Beirut. Not many in that diner liked the government in DC. They never bought the new President’s drawl and I am sure they considered New York as belonging to the Jews.

The radio was on as usual as I walked in the diner. I sat at the counter. Only the waitress behind the bar said hello before taking my order. I ordered my coffee. Then I heard her say, to her co-worker, a fat man who worked the grill, in that bored drawl of middle-aged women from the South, “they hit the Pentagon too.” No one had stopped eating or doing whatever they were doing.

They were so calm and collected you would have thought this was happening not in New York but in Timbuktu. So I asked the waitress what was going on. She told me about the Twin Towers and the Pentagon being hit in the exact same tone she used when asking how I wanted my coffee. I drank my coffee in a big gulp, paid and left the diner where people were still calmly eating.

I rushed home listening to the radio in the car. I turned on CNN and watched the towers fall that graceful fall we all remember. Then after having decided that it was silly to get the kids from school I sat down and wrote.

Much has happened in the world since then. For one the terrorists seem to be winning the war on terror. They are more prominent, more popular and more active than before. They now have a new base in Iraq and “the liberation” of Afghanistan and Iraq is nothing but a joke. Iran was the only victor in the war with Iraq. The U.S. did such a bad job of occupying Iraq that anyone, like Ahmadinejad, who resists her in the region is deemed a hero.

The Americans learned the hard way that it was much more difficult to bomb an ideology or a belief system than cities, towns and villages. The U.S. and her allies found out that unlike Saddam Hussein, fundamentalist Islam cannot be chased out of its entrenchment with guns. Eschatological Islam in fact feeds on its own sense of doom. It is so much easier to sell suicide bombing careers to kids whose towns and neighborhoods are being attacked every day than those who live in peaceful communities.

They wanted to be attacked and we played their game and we were wrong. In fact I now believe that if we let them be and rule their people the way they want sooner or later they will fall. Because they are not administrators and managers, they are revolutionaries and guerrilla fighters. Put them behind a desk and their own heads will eventually roll just like that of Robespierre the original terrorist and revolutionary more than two hundred years ago. Take away a revolutionary’s revolution give him the job of running the government and his own people and comrades will eventually turn against him because he cannot deliver any better than those he overthrew.

And in the West people come and go talking of the disappearance of a single toddler in Portugal some hundred days ago (to paraphrase one of my favorite poems by T.S.Elliot.). It always amazes me the moral relativism that marks the media coverage of tragedies. Hundreds die every day in Iraq but one lost English toddler gets more sympathy. We can only mourn those we name. In fact this very difference about how we approach death is why the war is being lost. The loss of life means more to our sensitive post Freudian selves than it does to the enemy so it only makes sense to face them not in the arena of war but that of the global market. Sell them jeans and mtv and watch western cultural hegemony work its magic.

Let Hollywood and Nintendo fight our war. We have a better chance of winning that way. One look at the YouTube video of a break-dance battle in Qom will show that satellite television and the internet are the choice weapons to use in fighting the Islamists. Let their youth break-dance their way out of fundamentalist hell.

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