It seems strange to look back at the past decade and realize how much my life was shaped by the events of 9/11. When the planes hit the towers I was a dope-smoking rock musician and waiter/bartender who was studying ceramics and anthropology part-time at a local community college.
All of that changed almost immediately. The restaurant I worked at shut down in the post-9/11 economic downturn and my academic work swelled to crowd out most of my recreational activities and musical aspirations. Even the books that I was reading from day-to-day changed as the histories and languages of the Middle East expanded to occupy most of my attention. I didn’t know what I was going to do with what I was learning, but as the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq inexorably rolled forward I watched idiocy seep from the seams of the world around me and I set myself against it.
The more I learned, the more I was appalled by the blissful ignorance of the President as he was controlled by the agendas of the men he looked to for guidance – men like
Paul “We will be greeted as liberators” Wolfiwitz
Richard “They’ll name a grand square in Baghdad after Bush” Perle
Donald “use of force in Iraq won’t last six months” Rumsfeld
Dick “Go f*** yourself” Cheney
Douglas Feith (who general Tommy Franks called “The dumbest f***ing guy on the planet”)
and so many others...
They looked at the Middle East and saw only what they wanted to see - blind to the human realities on the ground. I will not waste my time enumerating the colossal follies of the Iraq invasion or the tragedies of neglect that brought Afghanistan to where it is today. The frothy mix of ignorance and ideological certainty that I saw in my country's leadership was visible at all levels, and it drove me deeper in my studies.
Where I went to school, where I lived, what I studied, where I worked – all of these factors were heavily influenced by the events of 9/11 and the choices I made in its aftermath.
So now, almost a decade later, I find myself wondering where I’d be if the towers never fell.
A question with no answer, but one that gives me pause.
Regardless, my takeaway from the assassination of Osama bin Laden is not a sense of justice or vengeance or retaliation. The best thing of all, as far as I'm concerned, is that his death is no more than a footnote. The Arab Spring has been in full swing for months, now.
For decades, radical fundamentalism has been making promises that they still haven’t been able to fulfill, while a single self-destructive act by a Tunisian fruit seller did more to positively transform the Muslim world than all of Al Qaeda’s suicide attacks combined.
During the last four months of Osama bin Laden's life, he was doubtlessly receiving updates on the total transformation throughout the middle east…and he knew he couldn’t take credit for any of it.
That, for me, is the sweetest part.