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.