September 10, 2002
A 9/11 Story
On the morning of September 11th, phones were dead in most of Manhattan. So I got online to check my email and look for friends who couldn't reach me. I found dozens of new e-mails in my inbox, but they were not from friends. They had messages like:
"Happy Now? Stupid f**king retard."
"What do u think of your hero now?"
"YOU PIECE OF SHIT. PROPAGANDA??!! SOME PROPAGANDA YOU DUMB SHIT."
"you are a piece of shit for sympathizing Bin Laden. Let me guess, you are a black panther too aren't you? You need to burn in hell just like Bil Laden will, you f**king piece of dog shit. there is a difference between blacks and niggers just like whites and honkeys and you are a PURE NIGGER"
I couldn't for the life of me figure why I'd be receiving all these furious, hateful messages.
Then I remembered...
When the name Osama Bin Laden first entered our collective consciousness in 1998, I was struck by how the media feeds us these fast food enemies the same way they manufacture all their disposible instant celebrities, hoping we'll swallow it whole and blindly join in calling for his head without questioning any of the details.
One afternoon I threw together a webpage poking fun at this phenomenon, named "The First Ever Osama Bin Laden Homepage". I filled it with a few sarcastic remarks about the media coverage, links to related sites, and silly stuff like a list of the anagrams you can make with Osama's name.
The page got pretty popular for a little while, a bunch of sites linked to it, then traffic fell off as the evening news moved on to the next Enemy of the Month.
So on the morning of 9/11/01 I had long since forgotten this page existed. But Google had not forgotten. And when you searched in Google for "Osama Bin Laden", my page came up third on the list. Within 24 hours, a quarter of a million people had visited the page.
Now, I was (and still am) willing to stand by everything that was on that page, in the context of the time I wrote it. But it suddenly had a very different context now, and I decided that any attempt at satire would be in poor taste at the moment. So I quickly changed the page to what you see here.
But the hate mail kept coming. Nowhere on the original page had I expressed support for Bin Laden or anything he was accused of, but people needed somewhere to vent their anger, and didn't have time to figure out whether I was really a fair target. So in order to preserve what was left of my sanity, I made Google take my page out their index entirely.
In retrospect, I wish I had kept the page in search engines, I could have reworked it to offer thousands of visitors an alternative, progressive perspective that was sorely lacking in those early days. And I did get some emails encouraging me to restore the page, and stand up for the freedom expression many already feared would be the biggest casualty of all. But the emotional torrent of those first days left me no strength to fight any of these battles.