Not long ago, unwilling to acquiesce to the flabby ravages of time, I started working out with a trainer. Having just begun our sessions, he wasn’t yet too familiar with what I did for a living. He had some sense of my being a writer, but not who I wrote for or what I wrote about.
A few weeks into my program, as the news flickered on the captioned cardio area televisions, MSNBC rolled a clip of the president reasserting his administration’s commitment to win the War on Terror.
“Oh please,” the man I had tasked with turning me into an Elle McPherson body double sniffed, “America’s the world’s biggest terrorist.”
“Excuse me,” I replied, aghast that he would so casually assume I’d agree.
“Oh, I guess not America,” he stumbled, “but George Bush. He’s the biggest terrorist there is, don’t you think?”
“What on earth would make you say that?”
“Well, you know, because he started the war.”
“No. He didn’t,” I responded in as measured a tone as I could muster. “Al Qaeda started a war with us. They declared it when they first attacked the World Trade Center in 1993; when they bombed our embassies in Africa in 1998; when they struck the U.S.S. Cole in 2000; and when nineteen of their hijackers murdered nearly 3,000 innocent Americans in 2001. They are the world’s biggest terrorists. We are responding to their attacks by destroying them and the regimes that aid and abet them.”
It was a tense moment in our burgeoning relationship, but, flustered as I was that anti-Americanism apparently now qualifies as gym chit-chat, I didn’t hire a new trainer. And after a few more workouts, during which the pain he inflicted on me was far greater than the psychological discomfort of that day, I came to see that he didn’t mean to offend me—he was, in fact, trying to relate to me.
Not being a political sort of person, he had heard I was a political sort of person and was simply parroting the political sort of things he had absorbed in passing from NPR and network news, thinking I would enjoy commiserating with their bleak outlook.
I tell this story because I don’t believe my encounter is at all uncommon. Much of the public, particularly the young twenty- and thirty-something public, takes the superficial, punchline-oriented analysis they get from outlets like “The Daily Show” at face value. For them, though 9/11 may come up frequently, it is most often in the context of what America, George Bush, and U.S. intelligence did wrong then and are doing wrong now in regards to it. The monstrosity of the attacks and those who committed them have been swept under a rug of pop geopolitics.
Megan Basham is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide To Having It All
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