I Didn’t Almost Die in the Portland Terror Plot. Neither Did You

Captain Jonathan Sassman, of the Corvallis Police Department, examines fire damage at the mosque where Mohamed Osman Mohamud worshipped while a student at Oregon State.

Over the weekend, I had this urge to write about the foiled terrorist plot in Portland, Ore. In case you’ve been stuck in a five-day tryptophan-induced coma, the FBI arrested Mohamed Osman Mohamud on Friday after he attempted to detonate a car bomb nearby Pioneer Courthouse Square, where a mass had gathered for the annual Christmas tree lighting.

The catch: Mohamud’s explosives were fake. They were supplied by the FBI as part of an undercover operation dating back to August 2009. Feds swooped in to make the arrest after Mohamud dialed a cell number to detonate the explosives.

My first impulse was similar to anyone who lived and worked near Ground Zero on 9/11 or anyone who regularly used the 35-W bridge in Minneapolis prior to its collapse. I wanted to write about the what-ifs.

What if I had never moved and Beth and I had stayed in Portland over Thanksgiving and decided to se the Christmas tree lit? What if I had been on the MAX, passing by Pioneer Courthouse Square just as Mohamud’s car bomb exploded? What if I had friends and co-workers who were there? What if?

None of that matters. We can’t let it. The moment we start to ponder the hypothetical and let it affect our lifestyle, the terrorists have won.

All that matters is what did happen. Mohamud had been on the FBI’s radar for over a year, under careful surveillance, and no one in Portland was ever truly in danger, especially on Friday. Mohamud provided the smoking gun when he attempted to detonate the explosives, and and unless Mohamud’s public defender can successfully argue entrapment, I’m sure we’ll see a speedy trial resulting in a lifetime prison sentence.

Here’s something that absolutely did happen. On Sunday, there was an actual terrorist attack. An arsonist set fire to the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center in Corvallis, which is 80 miles south of Portland. Mohamud occasionally attended the mosque while a student at Oregon State University. The fire was discovered in time to save the mosque, but an administrative office was severely damaged.

That’s what the War on Terror has brought us to, apparently — burning places of worship. Again, we’re letting the terrorists win.

I’m so sick of arguing with anyone who unequivocally paints all Muslims as terrorists. There are nearly 1.57 billion people on this planet who are Muslims. Not only is it stupid and unjustifiable to claim nearly 23 percent of the world’s population partakes in terrorist activity — it’s irresponsible.

And we need to quit thinking about all the times we almost died, when, as with any car accident or house fire or natural disaster, time and place dictated otherwise. It simply didn’t happen.

Maybe we had been in Lower Manhattan an hour before 9/11 or we had taken the 35-W bridge to work that day. Maybe we sold a car that was involved in a wreck the next day or we’d been in a hotel that caught fire right after we checked out or we just returned from a vacation in the Cayman Islands before a Category 4 hurricane came barreling through. It’s so plainly human to latch onto our mortality whenever it comes into question. (Read: My post from yesterday.)

Ultimately, two things matter: What happened and what didn’t. The almosts aren’t even worth entertaining.

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3 thoughts on “I Didn’t Almost Die in the Portland Terror Plot. Neither Did You

  1. “And we need to quit thinking about all the times we almost died, when, as with any car accident or house fire or natural disaster, time and place dictated otherwise. It simply didn’t happen.”

    Solid point in that we can’t worry about things outside of our control… but on the flip side, when we can control things like increased security, awareness, care, etc., we should. Ignoring systemic problems will not make the problem go away, but only make it worse. In this case, Islamic terrorism is very distinct, and quite different from most other forms in that these terrorists aren’t trying to scare people, they just want them all dead. It’s a repetitive problem that needs to be solved, and not just accepted or poo-pooed.

  2. Good point, but could you further explain how Islamic terrorism is “very distinct”? How would you differentiate it from, say, the Wisc. student who took a classroom hostage? And is there any advantage in trying to categorize or compartmentalize terrorists based on religion?

    • “Islamic terrorism is very distinct, and quite different from most other forms in that these terrorists aren’t trying to scare people, they just want them all dead.”

      I’m not trying to be rude, but this doesn’t need expansion as the statement is a differentiator (again, don’t take that as rude). Another distinct part of Islamic terrorism is that it is unified in its hatred of all things non-Muslim. Additionally, it’s the volume. You just don’t have anywhere near the same numbers of terrorist incidents among non-Muslims.

      A mentally imbalanced kid taking hostages and leaving them all unharmed would bear no similarity to someone ramming planes into buildings, or planting a suspected bomb among thousands despite warnings of women and children with the intention of killing or harming as many as possible.

      In the case of Islamic terrorists, yes, there is an advantage. The radicalization process is something that can be followed and processed, unlike in other religions. Nearly all other religions don’t have the same levels of radicalization that Islam does. What’s shameful is that the cultures that Islam inhabits are similar to western ones, except hundreds of years in the past in terms of how they have evolved. Look to christianity of 300-500 years ago was on a similar rampage. The problem is that the world has to suffer through their growth and eventual (hopefully) pacification as a religion.

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