18th March 2020 Today, we took our dog into the
vet to get her glands released (I will spare you the details) because if we did
not, they are likely to get infected. Veterinarians, like most hospitals and
Emergency Rooms, have also cancelled all routine visits and procedures and are only
treating emergency needs.
As we walked into what is
normally a warm and inviting atmosphere, we were greeted with a sign on the front
counter. It was a very strange feeling to come face to face these words, even though
I have been hearing and getting acquainted with the term ‘social distancing’ for
a few days now. What makes this notion hard to
enact and come to grips with, is that fact that it is asks us to do the exact opposite
of what we, as humans, do to deal with any crisis.
The day after 9/11, a good friend
and I made our way down to within a couple of blocks from Ground Zero, and we spent
the entire day doing water runs for fire, police and other emergency service women
and men, who were working to find survivors and remove bodies.
We ran up and down those streets
all day long, collecting and passing out bottles of water donated by big companies,
small businesses, delis and ordinary people. There were many others like us who
volunteered because they needed and wanted to do something to help their city
in this dark hour.
The streets were lined with
people of all stripes; standing arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder - cheering
every service woman and man coming out of Ground Zero. I cannot count the
number of hands I shook or strangers who hugged me that day, or the number of
pats we gave and received as a show of solidarity.
I remember thinking - I have no
doubt our city will not only survive this reprehensible attack but we will come
back stronger than before. We will show the world that a cowardly group of men can
never break our will, our spirit, our unity and our sense of shared humanity.
In times of hardship, grief,
panic and fear we find respite and calm through comforting each other
physically. Couples hold hands, friends hug, grandparent’s stroke heads and we all
squeeze our little one tightly to our bosoms’ to reassure them that everything
is going to be okay.
We are being told that we must
not submit to our most innate human instinct, to reach out our hand to someone
in need, because doing so would be nothing short of catastrophic. Succumbing to
touch will only serve to prolong this pandemic and worse yet, spread the virus and
kill many more people.
More than words, it is these acts
of physical assurance that let people know that we are there for them, and that
we will stand by and support them us no matter how bad things get.
During this crisis we cannot. We will need to find new ways to comfort each other and navigate it.
If Oscar Wilde were around he might say “To
start one war, Mr. Bush, was a necessity but to start two seems like
As we continue to
examine the impact of the decisions made by our government in the months and
years after 9/11, it is important to look back at some of missed warning signs
and lost opportunity costs for America that were a result of the course the
Bush administration chose to set America on.
December 2001 one of the world’s largest energy companies, named “America’s
Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive years by Fortune magazine, with
22,000 employees and global revenues over $100 billion, filed for bankruptcy.
Enron’s entire financial reporting had been based on institutionalized fraud.
Their demise also led to the dissolution of an old and reputable accounting
firm, Arthur Anderson, the firm responsible for auditing Enron’s books. Close
on the heels of Enron a number of other companies fell to similar accounting
scandals. These included ImClone and Global Crossing, followed in the summer of
2002 by WorldCom and Adelphia. This brought into question the accounting
practices of virtually every corporation in America. It became clear that there
were serious discrepancies between the financial pictures companies were
presenting to Wall Street, publicly, and the actual state of their internal
balance sheets – the vast majority of Corporations were obfuscating their
financials using contemporary accounting rules. All this was unfolding against
a backdrop of a darkening economic picture based on the stock market bubble
which burst in the first quarter of 2001. The economic excesses that had
accompanied the heady growth and profitability of the 1990’s were gone. Too
many firms, especially those in the technology and telecommunications, had made
poor decisions and investments in in the wrong type of assets. However, even as
growth slowed there was one startling difference from all post war recessions.
Most recessions have been driven by sharp decreases in consumption spending,
particularly related to durables and housing. However, during the early 2000’s
consumption spending had actually been increasing year on year. This recession
was being driven by plunging business investment (source: Joint Economic
Committee Reports 2003). There is no doubt that seeds of this economic slowdown
were sowed in the Clinton years, and are not directly related to the Bush
administration’s policies but it is abundantly clear is that the signs of
America’s impending financial meltdown, including the underlying factors that
caused it, had started to become apparent early on during Bush’s first term in
It was in 2001 that Bush
administration became aware of the problems in the overheating US housing
market. At the center of the problem were two Government sponsored enterprises
(GSE) called Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whose government mandated mission was
to keep mortgage interest rates low, so more Americans could afford to buy
homes. By now it was well-known in Washington political circles that both
institutions were so highly leveraged that a minor decline in housing values,
as little as 1.3% to 2%, could wipe out both companies. And that their failure
would have major repercussions on financial markets and US economic activity across
the board. Bush was shot down by Democrats in Congress when he tried to bring
additional oversight over these GSE’s in 2002. By early 2003 the signs had
grown alarming; by this time these two mortgage lenders had more than $1.5
trillion in outstanding debt issued on their balance sheets. In July, of
the same year, a report by independent investigators concluded that “Freddie
Mac manipulated its accounting to mislead investors, and critics said Fannie
Mae does not adequately hedge against rising interest rates” (source: New York Times).
However, with stiff resistance from Democrats, and the administration
distracted by two wars, Bush chose to relinquish this battle and focus on what
he clearly believed was far more important for securing America’s future:
getting rid of Saddam Hussein. By the time Freddie and Fannie finally collapsed
at the end of 2008, housing values had dropped 12.8%, since 2006. By now things
were pretty dire and it became necessary for government to intervene in every
part of the economy as Bush put it, “to prevent the crisis on Wall Street from
becoming a crisis in communities across our country." Finding themselves
in the midst of yet another crisis this administration decided once more to use
fear to push through a $700 billion bailout plan for banks. Giving sweeping
powers to the government to dispense gigantic sums of taxpayer dollars in a
program that was sheltered from court review. TARP was a three page bill that
did not specify which institutions would qualify or what criteria would be
used, if any, or what taxpayers would get in return for the unprecedented
infusion. It was designed to save companies that had brought this Armageddon
upon themselves, and by an administration that had neglected to pay attention
to many years of warnings. By all accounts, what would likely have been a minor
economic downturn had it been handled when the warning signs first emerged
resulted instead in a US and global financial catastrophe.
Another aspect of economic
growth is immigration, which early on Bush showed he realized the importance
and benefits to the US economy. He saw a need to reform the stagnant US
immigration policy. He called for a new and large-scale guest worker program,
paths to legalization for existing illegals, and had five meetings with
Vincente Fox, the Mexican President, all in his first nine months in office.
However, when it became known that all of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US
with legal visas, and that some has stayed after expiration, it changed the
complexion of the debate on immigration along with his administration’s healthy
stance on it. The administration decided to view the issue of immigration
through the lens of ‘homeland security’. One accompanied with rhetoric that heightened
fear and focused on detection of terrorists along with greater powers for law
enforcement. America went from taking pride in being a nation of immigrants to
being afraid of them. In the two years after 9/11 legal immigration fell by
34%, naturalization decreased 19% and employment based immigration also
declined, as percentage of overall legal immigration, while absolute numbers
dropped by 53% (source: Migration Policy Institute, 2004). To give you one
example of the effect of the Bush policies on immigration, pre-9/11 it would
have taken an Indian student who came to attend college in America about 18
months to become a permanent resident, and five years to become eligible for
citizenship. Today, the same Indian student would have to wait 70 years for a
permanent resident visa (source: National Foundation for American Policy).
There is no dispute among economists about the importance of immigration, and
that it is fundamental to the success of the American economy. Immigrants have
founded 52% of Silicon Valley’s companies, creating millions of American jobs (source:
Foreign Born Entrepreneurs: An Underestimated American
Resource). This is not just true of higher income, better educated
immigrants but also uneducated, low skilled workers. Without immigrants “the
pace of recent U.S. economic growth would have been impossible. Since 1990,
immigrants have contributed to job growth in three main ways: they fill an
increasing share of jobs overall, they take jobs in labor-scarce regions, and
they fill the types of jobs native workers often shun.” (source: Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas). Instead
of using the opportunity to rally Congress to fix loopholes, and sensibly and
securely reform what was without a doubt an antiquated and outdated visa
system, the Bush administration followed through on a knee-jerk path, deciding
to clamp down with archaic rules that made it much more difficult to get any
type of US visa and effectively encouraged, if not forced, the smartest minds
from around the world to return home after receiving an American college degree.
Across the board this
administration seemed to believe it could have its cake and eat it. In late
2002, Cheney summoned Bush’s economic team to his office to push for another
round of tax cuts to stimulate the slowing economy. Paul O’Neill, then the
Treasury Secretary, and the entire White House economic team had become
convinced that the country was careening toward a fiscal crisis, and they
pleaded with Cheney to start reining in government spending. Instead, Cheney
used Reagan’s words that “deficits don’t matter,” to completely shut down Paul
H. O’Neill and the economic team. This was just a few months before the Iraq
invasion began. Apart from the two rounds of tax cuts, which added roughly $1
trillion to the deficit over ten years, Bush also created a Medicare drug
entitlement that will cost an estimated $800 billion in its first decade, he
increased federal education spending 58 percent faster than inflation. He
became the first President in US history to spend 3 percent of GDP on federal
antipoverty programs. He also spent billions bailing out the Detroit auto
industry and ended his final term with the $700 billion toxic asset recovery
program. It is worth noting that during his two terms the income disparity
grew, the poverty rate increased, unemployment rose to reach 7.8% in January,
2009 (the highest level in more than 15 years). When President Bush took
office, the national debt stood at $5.727 trillion and when he left office it
was more than $9.849 trillion (source: CBS News). That is an increase of a
staggering 71.9 percent on Bush's watch. There were a total of seven debt
ceiling increases, almost one for every year Bush spent in office.
Interestingly, most of Bush’s spending was financed by issuing US treasury bonds
(about 40 – 45 percent bought by foreign powers). When Bush took office in
February 2001, the mainland Chinese owned a paltry $63.7 billion in U.S. debt.
When Bush left office at the end of January 2009 the mainland Chinese owned
$739.6 billion in US debt (source: Treasury.gov).
There is no doubt that
these were extenuating circumstances, and 9/11 changed America forever; no
argument there. The issue has more to do with the priorities and focus of this
administration for the many years after 9/11, and their fixation with a
hurriedly planned and poorly executed War on Terror. As a result the vast
majority of domestic and foreign policy decisions seem to be devoid of short-term priorities and long-term thinking. It was as if this administration
decided that the 9/11 attacks gave them cart blanche and zero accountability
for all their actions. That it also did not matter how America would pay
for its out-of-control spending, as long as it was done in the name of
‘national security’. It seems this administration was perfectly content kicking
the can down the road. This at a time when America was clearly in alarming
decline with corporate innovation dying, the education system in shambles,
entitlement programs going bust and the country heading towards insurmountable
debt. Without the distractions of a spiraling situation in Iraq, a war that
deeply divided the country and created an acrimonious stalemate in Washington,
Congress would also have been much more focused domestically and compelled to
act. And had Bush not been completely consumed by his war on terror it is
certain he would have also paid greater attention to the many warning signs of
US economic decline. All this coupled with a complete lack of diplomacy in his
first-term resulted in alienating long-term US allies, weakening its moral
authority and having the mighty US military power humbled by a bunch of rag-tag
rebels, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Consider that Bush’s global war on terror
will continue to cost US taxpayers for at least another generation, and has
almost single-handedly been responsible for tilting the balance of global
economic power squarely into the hands of China. In the end, we must ourselves this one question - was all this worth it just to get rid of Saddam
“If we were about
to be attacked or had been attacked or something happened that threatened a
vital U.S. national interest, I would be the first in line to say, ‘Let’s
go,’ I will always be an advocate in terms of wars of necessity. I am just
much more cautious on wars of choice.”
This is what George
W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense said on being asked if he had any words of
wisdom during his final interview before retirement. This lifelong Republican
said that the human cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that he has
witnessed first-hand are far too great to start wars that were not necessary.
He said he had learned clearly over the past four and a half years that wars
“have taken longer and been more costly in lives and treasure” than
The man George Bush handpicked to fix the mess his
predecessor Donald Rumsfeld made in Iraq, effectively told America that the
Iraq war was not something he would have embarked on; a war that was clearly
one of America’s choosing. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/19/us/politics/19gates.html)
Ten years after the
September 11th attacks, Americans are still avoiding having an open,
honest and meaningful discussion about the far reaching implications and
long-term costs of the decisions their government made in the name of national
I truly believe that until America has this conversation and in doing
so faces the real ghosts of 9/11, they will struggle to move forward as a unified
nation again. Instead, the country will continue down the post 9/11 path of a
nation deeply divided and one that has never stopped living in and reacting out
Nobody denies the fact that the country’s security should be a major
concern when attacked in this way. Nor would anyone have a problem with the
United States going after those responsible with any and all means possible; we
can also expect and discount a certain amount of knee-jerk reactionism in the
However, after a short period of time the elected leaders should
have been the first people to step up and ensure that cooler heads prevailed. They
should have been the ones to ensure that both the short-term costs and the
long-term implications of every major decision was weighed and counter-weighed;
that every plan was carefully examined before there was a rush to judgement.
ten years later, the best way to have this important conversation is to do it by
looking at the facts and figures, and by studying the realities and outcomes
that resulted from those decisions made by the Bush government in those fear
filled months and fear-mongering years after 9/11.
Let’s start by examining the financial burden of both
the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. This figure now stands at a staggering $1.7
trillion and counting; and that is just for military operations, base security,
reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care. It is
worth mentioning that 1% - 2% of this total amount has been misplaced. The government now acknowledges
that they have no accounting for this loss of taxpayer money.
The Iraq war
accounts for $872 billion (or 63%) of the total. Of that amount, $803 billion
has been spent on military operations, $28 billion on local security and $41
billion that includes funds for reconstruction and foreign aid (source: “The
Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since
9/11” prepared by the
Congressional Research Service).
Keep in mind this does not include the future
cost of both these wars; which along with the estimated veteran care are
projected to cost US taxpayers another $867 billion. Of course critics say
these projections are too high but think back to when Cheney was lobbying for the Iraq
war, he also repeatedly re-assured us that the price tag for this war - to
oust Saddam, restore order and install a new government would not exceed $50-$60 billion.
compile the total costs of post 9/11 government actions we are still not
accounting for the increased expenditure from huge new additions to the
government bureaucracy with the inception of the Transportation Security Administration
(TSA), the Department of Homeland Security and increased domestic intelligence
budgets that were all non-war related expenses. In fact, if you tally all of
this government expenditure, then George W. Bush has the distinction of
“presiding over the largest increase in the size of government since the Great
Society,” and those are John McCain’s words.
Next, we need to examine the current state of the regions
within which these conflicts reside to fully understand the very real outcomes
from both a regional stability and geopolitical stand-point. In the Middle
East, the US’s closest ally Israel finds itself increasingly isolated and alone
in the region. Meanwhile, Iran’s influence and power has grown substantially,
directly as a result of America removing enemies on her borders, Iraq and
Afghanistan. What’s more, today Iraq is
one of Iran’s largest trading partners, and Iran is rapidly strengthening trade
ties with Afghanistan, giving it unparalleled clout and influence in both
countries. Ironically, Bush’s War on
Terror has resulted in unimaginable gains and geopolitical power for this “axis
of evil” country. The US has inadvertently helped change Iran’s status from an
isolated pariah state, in 2003, to a major regional power broker by 2009. One
wonders if America had not taken its eye off the ball when it had the Taliban and
Al’ Qaeda on the run, and finished the job, if the situation would be different
today with Iran. By taking the entire focus away from the Afghan conflict and
relying instead on writing blank cheques to Pakistan and a corrupt Afghan
government, it seems America was hoping they could have their cake and eat it. The
US expected to wrap up a quick and cheap Iraq war – we all know how that turned
out. This decision is even more amazing given that the US was fully aware of
the murky history between the ISI and Taliban and acutely aware of Pakistan’s
paranoia about India’s growing influence in a new Afghanistan. By 2008 the
Taliban had the opportunity to fully re-group, and had turned Pakistan’s tribal
regions into a new safe harbor for themselves and a host of other affiliated
terrorist networks, including Al Qaeda. Pakistan is still the launching point
for all attacks on US troops in Afghanistan, and arguably closer to being a
failed state, with nuclear weapons, than ever before in its history. I believe there
is a strong argument that things would be very different in this region, today,
had the US not diverted all its military resources, assets, support and political
focus and diverted it to a war of choice in Iraq.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, between warrantless
wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, enhanced interrogation, water boarding, the
patriot act and illegal domestic surveillance programs, we are only now
starting to scratch the surface of secret government decisions made in the name
of our security. It is also apparent that many of these decisions did not
uphold America’s high ideals, beliefs and strong democratic values. Rather than
get into a discussion about civil rights violations, let us examine the net
result of the actions of creating a huge new domestic security apparatus with the
TSA, Homeland Security and a mega-billion dollar domestic intelligence
gathering network. One that starts with a SAR (Suspicious Activity Report) that
local police officers are encouraged to fill out on their beats, which gets
stored in a massive database without any further scrutiny or investigation of
the person named in the report. All this information is then analysed using sophisticated
software that is meant to stitch disparate pieces of information together, distributing
it to federal “authorities” in real-time. In the context of this enhanced security
apparatus, let’s review the last three major terrorist plots against the US,
starting with the Christmas Day bomber. Umar
Farouk Abdulmutallab managed to board a flight to Detroit with an explosive
device hidden in his underwear. Luckily this device failed to detonate, after
which he was wrestled to the ground by a fellow passenger. What boggles the
mind is the fact that this new and improved multi-billion dollar security
apparatus completely missed him - this after his father, a respected Nigerian
banker, called US authorities and warned them that his son was becoming
radicalized. Despite being on a no fly list Abdulmutallab was not stopped at
two different airports, and even though he bought a one-way ticket (like all the
9/11 hijackers) it was not picked up as a red flag by all our new and highly sophisticated
security algorithms and apparatus. We are told that his name was misspelled on
the no-fly list; clearly our government’s multi-billion dollar taxpayer funded state-of-the-art
software does not contain a basic spell check or even the level of sophistication
that Google’s search box provides with its query suggestions. Next we had the Times Square bomber who was caught, not by our enhanced security, but only because some alert citizens noticed a man acting strangely after parking his SUV near Times Square. A couple of street vendors called police after seeing what looked like smoke and some strange apparatus inside the abandoned vehicle, Finally, we had another close call with two packages located on separate cargo planes bound for the US from Yemen. Both had home printers with plastique explosives and a sophisticated detonating mechanism timed to blow up in mid-air over US cities.The only reasonwe discovered and disarmedthem wasthanks to a call from a reformedAl
Qaeda terrorist to the head of Saudi intelligence. It begs the
question of what all this increased prying, searching, and snooping has resulted
in. Clearly it has not served as a deterrent, because the number of terrorist attacks
has actually increased dramatically worldwide* (see footnote for sources), and in
the US, in the past decade and at a much greater rate than before the Iraq war.
The point is that securing the country is important but finding the right
balance between technology, paranoia and human intelligence is equally
important. Think about the fact that every new action by terrorists has led to
a knee-jerk and piece-meal reaction to our growing security paranoia. First, we
were asked to remove our shoes, then our belts, then gels were prohibited, next
liquids had to be less than 3.4 ounces, and put in clear plastic baggies. Now
since they cannot ask us to take off our undergarments we are instead virtually
strip searched. Arguably, all this money is not being well spent because it is
being done in a completely reactionary fashion rather than as part of a well
thought out plan. We know that the terrorists will stop at nothing to kill us,
so the only question is where will we draw the line?
*NOTE: Sources: The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)
from September, 2006. The NIE is issued
by the President’s Director of National Intelligence and their conclusions are based on analysis
of raw intelligence collected by all the US spy agencies. It is an assessment on national
security. The 2006 NIE said that the
number of terrorist attacks (defined as “as an act of violence or the threat of
violence, calculated to create an atmosphere of fear and alarm”) had risen
dramatically worldwide since the Invasion of Iraq in 2003. The same NIE also cited the Iraq war as a
major factor in this startling rise in global jihadist terrorist attacks. We also have the US State Department’s
Country Reports on Terrorism, 2006 which stated that there had been a 29%
increase in terrorism worldwide in 2006, over the previous year; terrorist
attacks on non-military targets rose to 14,338 with an increase of deaths to
20,498. If you need any more data then I
can point to another independent global study on terrorism conducted by Peter
Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, research fellows at the Center on Law and Security
at the NYU School of Law. They found
that there was a 607 percent rise in the average yearly incidence of attacks
since the Iraq invasion. It is true that Iraq and Afghanistan do cause a huge
blip and together account of 80 percent of attacks and 67 percent of
fatalities; however, if you exclude these two countries you still see a solid
35 percent per year increase in the number of terrorist attacks in the rest of
I am a New Yorker and my city was attacked on September 11, 2001.
The day after 9/11 I was 2 blocks from Ground Zero from 9am to 9pm doing water runs for the firemen, policemen and other Emergency service men and women working to find survivors and removing bodies from Ground Zero. I ran up and down those streets all day long collecting and passing out bottles of water donated by companies, stores and ordinary people.
I was not alone. There were many others like me who volunteered because they needed and wanted to do something to help their city in its darkest hour. I still remember the streets lined with people, Buddhists, women, Muslims, children, Jews, Christians, men, Hindus, all standing arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder and cheering every serviceman coming in and out of Ground Zero.
They were all New Yorkers who were there to help in any way they could, or simply to provide moral support and show their solidarity. I remember thinking to myself that this is exactly why I always have been and always will be a proud New Yorker.
This is also why I had never doubted that our city would not only survive this reprehensible attack but grow stronger from it. We would show the world that terrorists are and will remain nothing more than a repugnant, immoral and cowardly group of men who can never break our will, our spirit, our unity and our sense of human decency. Not with 9/11. Not ever.
It amazes me when politicians continually cite public opinion polls that say almost 70% of New Yorker's do not want the ‘mosque’ built near Ground Zero, as a great reason to stop the project from proceeding. If people always knew what they wanted and leaders always followed the will of the people or what people believed was possible, then women would still not have the right to vote in America, Black people would not be served in restaurants and India would probably still be under British Rule.
The timing of this sudden hysteria is also very curious. This project has been openly discussed since a New York Times article disclosed the plans in great detail sometime late last year (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/09/nyregion/09mosque.html) and it was never raised as an issue by anybody for months after that. However, now that mid-term election fever has taken stride it has suddenly become a huge issue. I also wonder how many of that 70% of New Yorker’s are aware that the location in question already has a prayer hall, with Muslims coming there daily to pray. And that the so called “Ground Zero Mosque” is actually called Parc51 and is meant to be a non-descript building that serves as an inter-faith cultural center with a swimming pool, Performing Arts Theater, gymnasium, classes and yes the same prayer hall that exists today.
The inspiration and model for the Islamic cultural center is the Jewish Community Center (JCC) on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. There will be no dome shaped mosque, or minarets with loud speakers, period. It is also worth noting that the site is two and a half blocks from the old World Trade Center location. One cannot even see Ground Zero from it.
That many families of victims of 9/11 are upset and angry is not surprising, given how deep and recent the wounds still are. Almost 3,000 innocent people were murdered that day. It was the first and only large scale attack on American soil, other than Pearl Harbor, and in many ways it shook the foundations of the safety people felt, and caused many American’s to lose their innocence.
I did not lose a family member that day, but I did go to every Armory, morgue, and hospital and did spend hours calling victim help lines to search for a family friend’s son from India. He worked in Tower 1 and was missing. So while I cannot claim to understand the feeling of loss I do totally understand the intensity of their feelings, and the emotional frenzy this issue has stirred up among New Yorker's, by fringe groups on both sides.
What we decide will be fundamental to what New York City stands for going forward and how we view ourselves and are viewed by the country and the world. It is important that we get this right, and there is a right answer.
It is for this reason that we must all start by asking ourselves again who was attacked on that day. We will realise that it was all New Yorkers - Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu and every other religion represented by the 2,752 innocent people working in the two towers.
It was democracy and freedom being attacked by a twisted ideology and by manipulated men filled with hatred for all human beings alike (I should state an equal number of victim’s families have come forward in support of the Cordoba Initiative and for building the Parc51 Cultural Center).
The next question we should ask is what happened to the solidarity that we showed in the days after those cowardly terrorists attacked our city. And then the only question that remains is how we should proceed in order to do justice to the memory of the victims to ensure that their lives were not lost in vain – to see us all fight and become even more divisive and divided.
The Imam Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan have lived in this neighborhood for many years, and they too are New Yorker's. The Imam worked for the Bush administration, and now Obama's, as an American emissary to Muslim countries. His mission is to encourage them to pursue the same religious and personal freedoms that he is allowed in America.
Imam Rauf travels the world telling all Muslims how great and wonderful it is to be American and being a Muslim in America. So instead of fighting them, let us pose a challenge to Imam Rauf and Daisy Khan to make their neighborhood Cultural Center a tribute to the progress we have made in a world where we are often divided by hate and misinformation.
To do this we need to lift ourselves above the daily diatribes of politicians seeking another term, candidates seeking a cheap platform for the 2012 Presidential election, and self professed Pundits making a quick buck.
We need to challenge our beliefs, dig deeper and get beyond the inflamed rhetoric of manic Muslim clerics, misguided liberal louts and conservative con men. We need to channel all this emotion, anger and feeling into demanding that the people behind Parc51 use this opportunity to make their Cultural Center the most open-minded, inviting, cross-cultural and all-religion-encompassing Islamic destination in the world; a testament to equality and religious freedom that exists in America, that the Imam travels the world touting.
I say we tell them, “Go ahead and build the Islamic Cultural Center but make damn sure that it represents our city, its uniqueness and its greatest strength – that we may be from different parts of the world and believe in different Gods, but each day that we live, work and walk in this city we are one. We are New Yorker's.” And by doing this we shall make it the greatest tribute we can pay to our fellow New Yorkers, who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001.
“Fighting terrorism is like being a goalkeeper. You can make a hundred brilliant saves but the only shot that people remember is the one that gets past you.” Paul Wilkinson
While the Republicans and Democrats continue to expend time and energy fighting and arguing about what to call terrorists. And Conservatives blame misguided left wing political correctness for usingsoft terminology and for lack of profiling, the world and the profile of the Extremist is being totally re-defined with every new homegrown terrorist being caught in America and abroad. It is becoming increasingly and frighteningly clear that our old rules, profiles and profiling definitions no longer apply. The terrorists are now recruiting and succeeding in creating a totally new breed of monster: people who are virtually impossible to sniff out or detect, most times until they actually commit an act of terror.
In the last year alone, all the men (and a few women) who have been arrested in the act of committing an act of terror, planning one or are already trained and hardened members of Al-Qaeda - not one of them fits the old profile of disenfranchised, poor, uneducated, Muslim and non-American. Omar Hammami, was born to a white Southern Baptist woman from Alabama and a Syrian immigrant father. He had the most normal middle class childhood and upbringing in Daphne, Alabama until he showed up in a Somalia Al-Qaeda terrorist propaganda video one day with his nom de guerre, Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, “the American” (The Jihadist Next Door - New York Times). Bryant Neal Vinas was an altar boy who grew up in a middle class suburb on Long Island, New York, with a passion for baseball and the Mets. His father is from Peru and his mother Argentinean. Vinas was arrested last year in Afghanistan and confessed to being trained and assisting Al-Qaeda in a plan to bomb the Long Island Rail Road. Friends describe Vinas as a sweet, charming, young boy with a kind heart, who was perhaps a little gullible. David Coleman Headley has a wealthy former Pakistani diplomat for a father and a white American Pittsburgh socialite mother. By all accounts he had a very privileged childhood. He lived with his father in Pakistan until the age of 17, when he arrived in the United States to live with his mother. In 1998 he was convicted of smuggling heroin into the US. As part of a deal for a lighter sentence, he agreed to work undercover for the Drug Enforcement Agency, which gave him unfettered access to Pakistan, India and the United States. It is now clear he was training with Lashkar, raising the possibility that he had made contact with militants while still working for the DEA. He has admitted to helping plot the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Bombay, in 2008. Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, better known as the underwear bomber, is the son of a former minister and chairman of First Bank of Nigeria. He lived in a four million dollar apartment in Central London, and was an Engineering student at a prestigious London University. His teacher and friends remember him as model pupil and “very personable boy". Faisal Shahzad, the terrorist who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square is the son of a former Air Force vice marshal and Deputy Director of Civil Aviation in Pakistan. Shazad graduated from the University of Bridgeport, came back to earn a Master’s in the same school, and was working with a marketing and consulting firm as a junior financial analyst. He became a US citizen in 2009 and married a Colorado-born girl with Pakistani parents. They have two children. He is the epitome of the “average student, employee, and neighbour” that litters the suburban American landscape today.
The list goes on, but what is most alarming to me about all of these men is that they have only one thing in common. Not one of them fits into any of our pre-defined categories or profiles that have been established and used by law enforcement for more than two decades for the hard core Jihadist. Yet to consider them anything less would be a foolish mistake. After 9/11 we were all painted a picture of the poverty-stricken, opportunity-less, uneducated Muslim male as the person we should fear most to be a likely terrorist. We were told that these men could be found in poorer cities and villages in Muslim countries. And we were led to believe that the focus was on preventing these men from penetrating our borders, not that they already reside within them. Or the fact they are from upper or upper middle class backgrounds, clean cut, born and bred American and some even non-Muslim. So what the hell happened and how did our governments get it so totally wrong? “There's clearly been an acceleration in radicalization in the United States," said Mitch Silber, the director of intelligence analysis at the New York Police Department. He says that Bryant Neal Vinas and many of these men are “poster children for the process, the unremarkable nature of the people who might go through this process and the potential to link up with al Qaeda and the danger that it presents" (‘The radicalization of an all-American kid’ - CNN). Clearly, the internet has made it much easier for people to access and find Al-Qaeda or radicals around the world and more frighteningly the reverse is also true. There was a long held belief that integration and assimilation of the population was not an issue in the United States as it has been in Europe, but that myth, too, has been shattered by among others the Fort Hood shooter and the Times Square bomber. What is clear is that we are witnessing a totally new phenomenon and one that has caught International law enforcement by surprise. But what is far more frightening to me is that it is seemingly impossible to find a common thread between all of these men or a common motivation to profile them in any meaningful way. Without an understanding of their motivations or the turning or tipping point as it may be, we are totally defenseless to identify these men or track them down until after they have shown the demon within them, which most often is too late.
I leave you to ponder the words of author Michael Marshall from his book, Blood of Angels: “Terrorism isn't James Bond or Tom Clancy. Even Al-Qaeda is looking old school these days---now it's just some guy with a bomb. He walks the same roads as us. He thinks the same thoughts. But he's got a bomb.”