On the morning of September 11th, 2001 I was putting the finishing touches on a manuscript for a feature article that would appear in a gun magazine later that year. My television was off. While nineteen young men were preparing to die and to intimately share that experience with millions of people from America and other countries around the world, I was using spell-check and sipping coffee, unconcerned. At the moment the acts were being carried out and the world was plunged into chaos and mourning, I was printing a hard copy for mailing. It was only later when I was finally aware of the drama playing out in Manhattan, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania, that it struck me full force that the randomness of it all; the misery of it all was too agonizing to dwell on. While I was living my life and going on about my truly insignificant business, the greatest single act of mass-murder in the history of the modern world was perpetrated on unconnected strangers who lacked any commonality other than they happened to be in the USA at targeted locations at the precise instant the terrorists chose to commit their despicable acts. Everyone in front of a television set could honestly project themselves into the scenario. It was truly terrifying, hence the title, terror!
The young Islamic terrorists, who boarded United Airlines flights 93 and 175, and American Airlines flights 11 and 77, didn’t resemble Osama bin Laden. They were for the most part clean shaven and youthful. Photographs of them don’t depict feverish eyes dancing with the light of religious zeal. Some of them had quite acceptable smiles and they were most likely courteous men. I have no doubt that they loved children; that they enjoyed certain aspects of western culture; that they appreciated a nice car, a beautiful woman and a warm autumn afternoon. The rich colors of fall foliage would probably not escape their notice, or the fragrance of fresh-cut flowers. I would expect that the majority of people who dealt with them during the course of their time in America came away from those encounters feeling at ease and unconcerned about their own well-being. I could be describing Ted Bundy and while murder is murder, that is where any similarity trails off. Ted Bundy didn’t welcome his eventual death even though society did!
The subject of identifying terrorists is too broad. I consider myself an above average “spotter” of the unusual and abnormal. I will put myself up against any garden variety detective when it comes to having a “gut” feeling about someone. But in truth it’s doubtful anyone would have suspected anything out of the ordinary the morning of September 11th.
Consider on the other hand, if the authorities had been alerted to a significant threat and security had been beefed up; if airline employees had been brought into the confidence of federal and local agencies and everyone was working in concert that morning, perhaps only two of the airliners would have succeeded in reaching their intended targets. I’m not making light of that fact. Imagine if the two airliners were the ones that struck the Pentagon and crashed in the field in Pennsylvania as opposed to the two that struck the World Trade Towers. We of course, would have mourned the tragic loss of life never actually understanding real magnitude of the threat, and what might have been. But the sad truth is the outcome would have probably been based on nothing more definitive than chance.
One fact we continue to officially ignore, much to the dismay of the majority of American citizens, is that the deaths of three thousand souls was essentially the result of an interpretation of the will of Allah, by people who believe they have some special dispensation to interpret and act on that will! I call your attention to the fact that there were no Methodist Jihadists on board the four doomed aircraft that day. No one screamed while a Baptist minister cut the throat of a flight attendant with a smuggled box cutter. No Jewish settler from the West Bank took up a position in front of the cockpit doors of a hijacked plane to protect the terrorist pilots while they perpetrated their horror and I’m absolutely certain beyond a doubt that the pilots who directed the planes into their intended targets were not uttering any “Hail Mary’s” at the instant the inferno erupted!
Despite the Islamic faithful who continue to correctly preach that Islam itself is not responsible for 9-11, no one can deny that the suspect base for future potential attacks is still narrower than if the extreme followers of all religions were included in the mix. Heck, Eric Rudolph was a religious fanatic too, but as a terrorist, he was a piker! What is it about Christian fanatics today that keep them fixated on the little picture while their Middle Eastern contemporaries always dream large?
Unfortunately, we are left with one very large troubling fact: Extremists come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Half the time the average American may believe they are in the presence of a Muslim, when in fact they are speaking to a Hindu. To the typical person who has no experience or frame of reference to identify the follower of one particular religion or another, it’s difficult to tell a Hasidic Jew from a Jehovah’s Witness. What’s more, there is every indication that terrorists will attempt to recruit and use non-believers to their cause since the non-believing pawn will in all likelihood be eradicated right along with the non-believing targets. They then can kill two infidels with one stone.
So we have to ignore religion all together because frankly, I’ve met too many people of the Islamic faith to believe they all wish me ill any more than I wish the same for them. Since Islam is arguably the world’s first or second largest religion (depending on which follower you talk to) we have to narrow down our list of potential terror suspects through other methods. This is a difficult task for the professionals. It’s an impossible task for the average person. Don’t try. So, what can you do? By now, the answer should be obvious. You must first observe.
This will be the first of two or three essays on the topic of not just looking, but seeing what is happening around you. It has applications for every day life that will benefit anyone who adopts some of the habits I’ve written about in previous posts. Observation safes lives, helps to avoid accidents, reduces vulnerability, enhances personal security and strengthens the mind!