this eras defining moment?
like the rest of us, Osama bin Laden is concerned about the
way he looks. The Associated Press reported on Thursday night
that al Qaeda was releasing a new video of its leader in commemoration
of the September 11 terrorist attacks. A still had already
been posted on an Islamic Web site. It showed the fugitive
terrorist mastermind, who is about to turn 50, in dire need
of some eye cream. But he nonetheless tried to make himself
presentable for the camera: he has trimmed and dyed his beard.
No doubt, in his last video released in October 2004, bin
Laden wasnt exactly star quality. He looked haggard
and gaunt, his bushy beard unkemptand grey.
Now, however, given his competition from beheading videos
and Hollywood blockbusters, bin Laden seems to have realised
that in order to appeal to a younger, martyrdom-loving audience,
he must also look the part.
The West is having as much of an effect on bin Laden as bin
Laden is having on the West. All he needs now is the eye cream.
Far away but real
No doubt, though, hes had a greater effect than he had
Tuesday marks the sixth anniversary of the terror attacks
of September 11. And a debate is raging at American universities
on whether that days events, and their dramatic, lingering
fallout, constitute the single defining moment of this generation.
Six years ago Tuesday, 2,973 people were killed when the World
Trade Center was attacked. The US military recently recorded
its 2,973rd casualty, which included soldiers originally from
the Caribbean and T&T.
Four years since the US-led invasion of Iraq, at least 77,852
Iraqis have been killed in the chaos and sectarian violence
There have been the Bali club bombings, the Madrid train bombings,
the London transit bombings, a lone shoe bomber, the Scotland
airport fire, a transatlantic terror plot, and a JFK International
terror plot masterminded by, yes, a Trinidadian.
Saddam Hussein was unearthed in a hole in the ground, his
naturally grey-black beard was searched for weapons of mass
destruction, and then he was hanged.
And all of this was splashed across newspapers and played
out on television screens across the world. Instant technologies
like camera phones and the Internet have enabled what happens
a world away to be intimately a part of our world, right in
front of our faces.
It sometimes seems alien to us here. What is real and right
in front of our faces is the gobbled up pavement outside of
the US Embassy on Marli Street and the separate form men must
fill out to apply for a US visa in which we have to say whether
or not were bomb-toting maniacs willing to die for this
What is in our faces is CNN talking about a Trinidad terror
cell, the Jamaat al Muslimeen it is called.
What is in front of our faces is the smell of the shoes of
the fella in front of us at the security checkpoint at any
given airport, the fingerprint and eye scans at every port
of entry that invariably ensure we miss our connecting flights.
What is in our faces is the Piarco security guard who once
checked through my luggage, opened up my body lotion, and
proceeded to smell itjust to make sure.
Whats in our faces is the omnipresent threat of racial
profiling, used ostensibly to avert terrorist acts. Every
so often in the news, Arab-speaking and Middle Eastern-looking
men are thrown off aeroplanes because their language and look
make other passengers feel uncomfortable.
And that, perhaps is the most damning evidence of how 9/11
could be the greatest defining event of this generation: the
way it has changed peoples worldviews.
Weve been inundated with messages that have ingrained
new words or meanings into our heads, changing the semantics
of our worldview: Islamophobia, WMD, burqa, Muslim, Islam,
Arab, Middle East, Chemical Ali, Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Hell, even T&T had its own Operation Baghdad.
Iraq, the cradle of civilisation, is now an axis of evil.
Brown-skin, big-nose people like me are to be observed from
a safe distanceor thrown off the plane altogether.
A new school in the worlds most multi-ethnic city, New
York, that intends to teach its students in Arabic, has been
forced to move, change its principal and may even be shut
down as white New Yorkers protest, labelling it a madrassa.
In T&T, the visibility of Muslims has increased dramatically.
No longer are they simply another brushstroke in our muddled
Terrorism is used to describe any sort of bombingeven
the as yet unexplained Port-of-Spain dustbin blasts two years
And with the rise of this kind of prejudice comes the rise
of other intolerances. As the rise of Islam has paralleled
its apparent threat, so too have racism and xenophobia spiked
across the world, even in Western Europe. Local Indians know
this feeling all too well when we travel or migrate.
And here, with our racially-incensed political climate, there
exists the possibility of tolerance becoming impractical when
so much seems to be working against this group or the other.
Arguably, the way we live, interact with and view our fellow
man, the way human civilisation itself communicates and builds,
is the most critical feature of life. And, if stemming from
the events six years ago, then 9/11 would be not just the
most defining moment in this generations lifetime, but
also its worst.