Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Bin Laden Decade

Osama Bin Laden is dead and Happy Mother's Day. The comic book villain loomed larger-than-life in my childhood. I dreamed of commando raids on his compounds, a crack team of FBI investigators bursting in and stopping a terror cell, and me playing the hero in bringing this man to justice. For me, I lived in a decade of Bin Laden. But contrary to popular opinion, that decade was the 1990s.

I was a news junkie. Couldn't get enough of C-SPAN and CNN. Prior to the dawn of countless 24 hr cable news, sports, and financial channels, most of the 1990s was CNN, ESPN, and Headline News for me. When the first World Trade Center attack occured I was riveted to the TV. A blind sheik, a terror cell, an attempt to implode a fortress skyscrapper. The news quickly returned to Clinton's scandals and his losses in the mid-term elections. I couldn't figure out if I was living in an alternative reality. There was just a terror attack of the most exotic, comic-book villainy on American soil and it was old news after a week. Well, they weren't successful and only scared us awake for a minute. When a terror cell was busted in Kansas City -of all places- the following week of the WTC truck bombing, interests was only briefly re-awakened. But to me I lived in this fantasy world of secret terror cells.

From the mountains of Afghanistan came a decree: America needed to immediately leave the holy Land of Saudi Arabia. The threat garnered a few murmurs of attention shortly before the Khobar towers were bombed in Saudi Arabia. Once again the loss of human life wasn't epic and so the media's attention was quickly diverted back to White House interns and stained dresses. For me, I instantly thought of Regan withdrawing troops from Beirut after the massive car bomb killed 500. And around this time is when I heard his name for the first time: Osama Bin Laden. There might have been a special or two about the Khobar towers and this cave dwelling villain of America's nightmares. The name stuck with me so that when the USS Cole was hit with a suicide boat, I recalled immediately the Bin Laden promise: attacks would continue until America was off the Arabian penisula. It struck me as a bit absurd: this guy in the mountains with a few ragtag suicide bombers threatening to alter American military power through small, but media-savvy campaign using 'like a movie' style terror to capture our imagination. But Bin Laden already had my teenage imagination as it ran into over drive.

I came home from school and saw the Oklahoma City towers smoldering and ABC newscaster asking if this could have been Bin Laden. My instant reaction was 'why would he bomb something in Oklahoma? No it's someone else.'

Then there was the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the US attempts on his life via cruise missiles. And finally the 90s ended with the Millenium bomb threats and plots. The FBI busted up all potential prospects and America promptly fell back asleep into a nice cushy, post-lunch dooze.

The 90s were clearly the era of Bin Laden and the FBI was pursuing him on several different continents. Al Qaeda was extremely active and successful and catching countries unaware and slack-jawed.

When 9/11 happened, we were fully awake. The following years was less revealing and just rehashing old points. Yes, Bin Laden had declared war on US intentions in the 90s. Wahabism is radical, he comes from a rich and extremely large family. Michael Moore thoroughly examined the hypocrisy of the Bush family and its support of the Bin Laden estate.

And last week he was shot in his compound. A compound he had been living in for several years with his family and others. Abbotobad is now a historical landmark for Westerners and Americans. A suburban area run by the military that had the world's most famous terrorist hanging out with his kids for years.

What's more interesting is the information gathered during the Bin Laden raid. The news said laptops and discs were snatched on the way out. This has far wider implications to cutting down the Al Qaeda pipeline than Bin Laden passing on.

Ten years after 9/11 and over 15 years since I first heard his name, Osama Bin Laden is gone. The whole tapestry of life is ridiculous. I tell that to my Dad as he struggles to walk and do rehab. Michael Jackson is gone but you're still here. James Brown is gone in a freak dental accident but you're still here. Natasha Lyonne passed on from skiing but you're still here. Yasir Arafat was done in by ailments after surviving multiple assassination attempts. Osama Bin Laden is gone due to Navy SEALs but you're still here. And so am I. And yet he seemed so real. And now he's gone.

It's been a week and the buzz is dying down across the nation. Within a month he'll go back to being a pop cultural reference point. For the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks his name will be trotted out again. We'll wave flags and act patriotic and then he might just fade away. Dems will surely want a return of his name next year during re-elections. I'm a Dem but I'm not looking forward to that at all. I would rather just move forward and not linger or dance on the grave. It serves no purpose but to re-stir hatred.

Unlike comic villains there is no glorious ending with credits rolling afterward. There's only slow declines punctuated by short bursts of terror. For Osama Bin Laden, it looks like he had both in the last 10 years.

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