The second attack was just as spectacular as the first one in scope and in audacity.
The first one happened on September 11 2001, in the world’s most gleaming city, ‘the city that never sleeps’.
The cosmic, strategic, and Devine influences placed the second one on May 1 2011, in a dusty military outpost in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The first one with 19 men in four, sleek, commercial American jetliners. (The twentieth man would be lost to a mundane and unspectacular detail, such as an overstayed or questionable U.S. visa).
The second, with 2 dozen, in four massive American military helicopters. Both symbols of America’s power and grandeur.
The first one, etched indelibly into our nation’s collective memory circuits so that the term, ‘nine eleven’ has become part of our lexicon.
The second one, not so much. It mostly just caused a huge shared sigh of relief.
The first one, on a brilliantly crisp autumn day, when the sky over New York was a jet blue and seemed endless, with nary a cloud.To New Yorkers that morning, sky was the limit.
The second one on a moonless spring night, that presented to the executors, the shortest window of opportunity. There wouldn’t be another one like it for another 28 days, they knew. Delaying it unduly further would be complicated with the approaching season of sandstorms this arid region is well-known for.
The first one made Manhattanites stop dead in their tracks, the roar of jet engines overhead – it felt to some as if it were right over their heads – the kind one hears only if one is on an airport tarmac. It made the startled New Yorkers – getting off the subways, on their way to pick up that routine morning java and perhaps a bagel or a yogurt, hurrying off to their work destinations – look up at the sky that seemed limitless just moments before.
The second one was eerily silent, with America’s ingenuity on brazen display, a mighty nation that commissioned some of its brightest to craft a chopper, in this case an ‘Apache’, which makes as it flies, only a soft swirling whir, one that would make it sound as though it were somewhere in the far distance and going away from the listener.
In both planning and execution, both, ‘9.11’ and ‘5.1’, were near ‘flawless’ missions, carried out by young men, who were convinced they were put on this earth if only to complete this one last assignment. One, to win one for their ‘God, Honour and Country’, the other one, in the name of Allah.
This is where the apparent resemblances end.
On the previous Friday, much of the planet woke up to bear witness – on televisions, ‘i-Phones’ and ‘YouTube’ – to the unfolding of a real-life fairy tale wedding in a far-away kingdom, of a dashing prince and his fair lady, a celebration of young love, a sparkling display of meticulous pageantry the British are famous for, and centuries-old traditions of what once was an empire ‘where the sun never set’.
At about the same time, a half a world away in miles, and worlds away in every other tangible measure, 24 men were preparing to take off, in four of the most advanced flying machines the world has ever seen, from an airfield in the desolate and unforgiving mountain terrains of another distant country, Afghanistan, a country with parts that have the look of the stone ages.
In conjunction with the above events, the parallels are there in the historic and the pre-historic, for us to draw from.
The pilgrims who came to America’s shores almost four centuries ago, were akin to Abraham of Genesis of our Holy Book, who traveled from ‘Ur of Chaldees’ of ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) to the ‘promised land’, in complete faith in, and obedience to, his God. Abraham was plucked from among his fellow desert-dwellers and brought to a place where he was commanded to worship a single God. Thus was the start of a monotheistic religion, world’s first.
In a similar spiritual way, the pilgrims arrived along the coastline of a new world, seeking to worship their one God in full freedom. America was their ‘promised land’. To them, ‘milk and honey’ were not just figurative enticements. They were real and bountiful. All of us who have stepped foot on these shores since, are inheritors of this promise. Deuteronomy 8:10, “You will have all you want to eat and you will give thanks to the Lord your God for the fertile land that He has given you”, may have been the pilgrims’ template for celebrating the first Thanksgiving.
So that same God was with ‘us’ on this treacherous mission. Or otherwise stated, ‘we’ were on God’s side.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a God, who gave these nomadic fathers of our faith, a ‘desert shield’.
A Yahweh, who saw the desperate tears of Moshe and Aharon on the banks of the Red Sea.
A God, who was with Joshua when the walls came down in Jericho.
That same God was with the navy SEAL Team 6.
He was in the ‘Apache’ and the ‘Black Hawk’ and on board the USS Carl Vinson.
He was with the interpreter who calmed, a couple of curious onlookers at the gate to the bin Laden compound – in Pashto – neighbours who became inquisitive as to why there was a mild hubbub on this otherwise sleepy street, in an ordinarily quiet town on a dull night.
He was with the scientist who did the rapid one-hour DNA finger-printing test on the world’s most wanted man, whom his foes hadn’t seen in years.
He was with the man who measured the height or the length of the dead man on the floor.
He was with the men who made sure the women and children in the building were dragged away to safety and from being a threat to the mission.
He was most positively with the single SEAL who came eye to eye with the planet’s most notorious criminal and in a swift second, had to decide on a course of action.
And God was with the president who said to his field commanders the previous Thursday morning, ‘it’s a go’, and retained his trademark cool exterior to an unsuspecting world, as he went off to inspect the damage caused by the latest hurricane in New Orleans, with his wife and daughters.
And God was undeniably with the other president who always said, ‘it’s a go’, whether ‘we bring justice to them or them to justice, justice will be done’, the one who sent marching orders to 30,000 courageous men and women and deployed them into harm’s way, in October of 2001, to avenge the slaughter of 3000 innocents.
It took an Obama to bring down an Osama and a Bush to set it all in motion. Yahweh speaking to Moshe from the bush that was burning, but not consumed?
“The Lord said to Joshua, ‘do not be afraid of them. I have already given you the victory. Not one of them will be able to stand against you’.” Joshua 10:8
In the ‘Mahabharath’, the ancient Indian epic tale, that emerged from the Vedic era of the Indus Valley Civilization, the battle of ‘Kurukshethra’ has a substantial and central place.
The narrative goes, that there were 5 ‘Pandava’ brothers on one side and 100 ‘Kaurava’ brothers on the other. They were first cousins. Brother against brother. Most of us know who won that battle 4 millennia ago.
The Pandavas prevailed, because Sri Lord Krishna was on their side. The Lord was summoned, for his counsel, by Arjuna, the middle brother and the leader of the pack of brothers.
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31
In the end, the 19 young men from ‘attack one’ didn’t win anything. They lost their lives.
However, the ‘empire struck back’. America rose to the occasion. We comforted, we gave blood, we went to funerals and memorials and we watched a lot of TV.
We rebuilt and we rose from the ashes like the phoenix. And we claimed, ‘we shall never forget’ and vowed, ‘never again’.
GOD BLESS AMERICA!