So in 1999, the Taliban landed on my radar. They had banned kite flying and made it illegal to watch TV, two of my favorite pastimes. What was wrong with these people? I decided to go and ask them.
I couldn’t figure out how to get over there without four plane changes and a couple of rented mules, so I settled for a meeting with one of their top leaders, Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, their ambassador to the United Nations.
At that time, the UN hadn’t officially recognized the Taliban-led government of Afghanistan, so Ambassador Mujahid couldn’t take his seat in the UN Assembly.
Undeterred, the ambassador and the Taliban set up their own UN consulate — in Queens. Next to a nail salon and an endoscopy clinic. So I headed out to the borough that gave us Donald Trump and Archie Bunker to hold a one-on-one meeting with the Taliban leader.
When I walked into their consulate, Ambassador Mujahid and his staff of all male secretaries were overjoyed to see me. My first thought: I think I am the first American to stop by and pay them a visit. I was their one-man Welcome Wagon, but without the banana bread. I did, though, bring other gifts: a parakeet, a kite, some Queens swag, a Mets t-shirt, a terminal map of LaGuardia and JFK (if you tell a joke before the tragedy occurs, is that too too soon?), and a portable television set. He accepted it all in good humor (though he wouldn’t touch the TV).
We sat down to discuss U.S.-Afghan relations. He was grateful for American weapons used back in the liberation of Afghanistan from the Soviets, and he mentioned that a Taliban delegation had visited Texas at the invitation of Governor George W. Bush's oil baron buddies to discuss energy and a "pipeline deal." They also served me some tasty almonds and a very, very sweet cup of tea. To their credit, they allowed me to film our historic meeting for my TV series, “The Awful Truth.”
My diplomatic mission with the Taliban ultimately failed. Afghanistan would soon turn on us by giving safe haven to the multimillionaire son of one of the richest families in Saudi Arabia, a man by the name of Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden. From Afghanistan he would build his al-Qaeda movement and plan (with his Saudi cohorts) his attacks on the United States. Attacks? Yes, attacks, because bin Laden knew one attack would not be enough to wake up the American infidels. So he blew up our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. But that killed mostly Kenyans and Tanzanians (224 dead, 4,500 injured) — so, like, no biggie. (If you think I’m being flip, tell me how many people died two and a half weeks ago in Hurricane Grace. Don’t sweat it if you don’t know. They were only Mexicans. All 14 of them.)
A couple years later, bin Laden tried to get our attention again with a kamikaze attack on the USS Cole — but that too would not be enough. Bin Laden knew he was dealing with a country that was clueless about the outside world and slowAF to respond. Ultimately he figured out that only a grand, cinematic Hollywood gesture would grab us by our tub of popcorn and make us spill our Goobers everywhere. His idea was simple, symbolic and deadly: Just take aim at the two things Americans and their leaders lusted for the most — money and military power — and then send your flying bombs at high speed right into them. Blow up their Pentagon and their Wall Street, watch their towers of power come crashing to the ground, watch Humpty Dumpty take a great fall.
It worked. But why? Why did he do it? We were told it was for religious reasons. We were told it was revenge for something. We were told he wanted our Army bases off Saudi and Muslim lands.
Here’s what I think. I think it was a guy thing. Men. Angry men. He and the other rebels had already done the impossible by bringing one of the world’s two superpowers to its knees — the Soviet Union. It was a fatal blow to the Ruskies, and just nine months later, the Berlin Wall came down and that was that for the Kremlin. Bin Laden was so pumped, so inspired — so why not be the ultimate baller and totally extinguish the remaining superpower — the U.S. of A.!
This is not to say he didn’t have a bonkers fundamentalist belief system with a well-designed political strategy. It was just a strategy we weren’t used to. It didn’t involve invading other countries the normal way. There was no plan to plunder and steal our natural resources. He simply sought to bankrupt us — financially, politically, spiritually. And to kill more of us. And get us to wipe out our American Dream.
He also wanted to neuter our military and show the world that we could be defeated by men in caves who possessed nary a single fighter jet, or a Blackhawk helicopter or a can of napalm to their name. He knew it would be easy to make us impotent, that we were all hat, all “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow ya all down!”
He knew that unlike his own deep religious beliefs, ours were all talk, all show. He knew that our sect of Christianity is often just a big con — “love your neighbor” as long as they’re white like you; “the last in line (40 million in poverty)” shall be “first” and the Elon Musks and Mark Zuckerbergs “will be last.“ Ha! Never. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” as long they‘re not Chelsea Manning and Ed Snowden; “feed the hungry” (no raise in food stamps from 1962 until last week. Last week!).
The majority of Americans no longer attend church. So, score one for us. We do have our own fundamentalists and true believers, but no one here any longer is going to bow down and wash the feet of the bishop or blow Pastor Maloney. It was different for bin Laden—he wasn’t faking it. He knew the strength of his fundamentalism and knew that he could find some schmucks to sign up to fly planes into buildings in exchange for the promise of eternal glory. Bin Laden understood the way we used our Good Book — to ban abortion or police homosexuality — because bin Laden was doing the same thing, only even more capably and at an even more destructive scale.
Bin Laden and his gang were mad geniuses. He knew that those towers would collapse, in part because he was an architectural and civil engineer. And in part because he knew those buildings were probably built like crap — I mean, OBL was a friggin’ contractor! His family were the biggest builders of big buildings in the Middle East. And eight of his hijackers on 9/11 all had engineering degrees! The pilots, I’m guessing, had at one time flown for the Saudi Air Force. They didn’t learn to do what they did with such precision on a video game simulator in Arizona in between stops at the strip club. (President Biden has just announced he’s releasing the classified Saudi documents. We’ll see.)
But here’s the real tell of bin Laden’s prescience: How did he know we would start and stay in a 20-year war, offering up our young sons and daughters to him on the altar of our military-industrial complex?
Bush used to say dumbshit stuff like “better to fight ‘em over there than over here!” It turned out to be the other way around — bin Laden suckered us into fighting over there — so he could kill us over there.
How did he know we’d spend trillions fighting a frail man on dialysis who had split from Afghanistan before the bulk of our troops got there? A terrorist threat so large that it did not exist! BOO!
How did he know we’d pass legislation giving up our sacred constitutional rights — and call it a Patriot Act? How did he know we’d put a spy camera on every corner from Butte, Montana to Fort Myers, Florida — but not one on the main drag in Abbottabad, Pakistan where he lived “in hiding?”
How did he know we’d burn trillions on something we ironically called “Homeland Security” — the “Homeland,” where a half-million were homeless, and millions more with homes foreclosed on, their families evicted; and “Security,” where the majority of Americans lived from paycheck to paycheck, 40% of them with not more than $400 to their name.
Bin Laden wanted to blow up the idea of America, not the Mall of America. He did not have visions of empire. He never thought of invading the United States and taking over our NFL stadiums or burning down our Piggly Wigglys or outlawing the Girl Scouts. He hates women and girls, but I’ll bet he’d love those Thin Mints.
How did he know we would be so obsessed with him — to such an extent where we would massively, cruelly neglect the needs of our own people, denying them help like free health care — and instead, take their homes from them to pay off the hospital bills.
Was it really about the 3,000 dead that made us occupy Afghanistan for 20 years? I mean, c’mon, we’ve lost 3,000 on many days during this pandemic and no one is going to read their names every year at some memorial. And, no, we’re not invading the bat market in Wuhan. Hopefully not.
No, my friends, it’s something else. Bin Laden had our number. Killing him, disbanding al-Qaeda, may have made it look like we won. But in death, he is able to see the fruits of his labor. We, his mortal enemy, are in disarray, seriously at war with ourselves. Violence looms with us every day. Men, angry men, violent men, have now won the right to force the majority gender into giving birth against their will — birth slaves, who will now have no say of their own. SHUT UP AND PUSH! PUSH!! And speaking of slaves, the owners of America are freaking out because they don’t have enough slave laborers in 2021 because workers are refusing to come back to work for shitty wages and in Covid conditions that might get them killed. The end game? The eventual forcing of essential workers to show up and do their goddamned job — or else. So much for that parade we gave them. Yay heroes!
Osama, are you happy now? We were never “great” as the MAGA hats proclaimed, but we were good, we were, at least, most of us, trying. Of course the Black and Brown people know that’s not entirely true. They know that they may just have to save themselves and deal with us in the way we’ve dealt with them. Don’t worry white people — we’ve got 340 million+ guns in our homes! That’ll hold us for a while.
The sad truth is that we never bothered to fight our two true terrorist threats — 1) Capitalism, an economic system that is built on greed and thievery and kills people who must live in flooded basement apartments, and 2) what we call “climate” — but the window to reverse that has now closed, and our only chance to stop the climate catastrophe, an historic extermination event, from getting worse is now the decision we face. It is the first time that a species has decided to eliminate itself. That’s real terrorism, and while we may not be able to turn back now, we can at least get a grip on ourselves, halt the deluge, stop the greed, close the income inequality gap, reduce our glutinous consumption and eliminate the profit motive.
If we do that, bin Laden will have lost. And we may then learn to love and share the wealth and live in peace with each other. That would be the best way to commemorate 9/11.
Blessings to all whom we’ve lost.