I was just shy of 4 years old when life seemed to pause, the country in stillness, petrified, while NYC was almost nothing but unrest and heavy ash. This was one of my first experiences of panic, and my first encounter with the intentional ill will that spread like wildfire by Al Qaeda and jihadists.
I dully experienced the peak years of the war on terror. My parents and teachers hung on every word of newscasters and taught kids to be dedicated to our country and it's armed forces.
I remember vividly, every Friday before dismissal in the crowded pod of my elementary school, the teacher's would roll out a wobbly TV cart and put in a tape that played the music video for "I'm Proud to be an American". Along with the video, flags were passed around, and one special student was picked to smash together two cymbals at the climax of the ballad. I was never picked and I'm still bitter.
As funny as that may be, the reality was that, even as a child, I was tangled into the murky cobweb of post 9/11 America. I remember making care packages to send to soldiers, I remember writing a letter to President Bush, but most of all, I remember broadcast scenes that flashed the faces of Jihad. I know I could draw Bin Laden from memory. Whether this was meant to pit the citizens of the US against these people or to fuel the patriotic fire, for me, it created ghosts and empty shells of evil that would know my every move or I could run into on the street. Looking back, the odds of coming face to face with the jihadist monster I feared lurked behind every corner are unsubstantial and more than slim to none, but the fear from my youth is deep and weighty.
This brings me to two badass ladies.
Her defining and quirky quality is her use of plastic trash bags on the front lines. Rukmini searches stormed and bombed ISIS bases for, what she calls, ISIS's diary. These items are receipts, handwritten notebooks, and even ISIS quarrel HR paperwork. She is at risk of harm from secondary bombings, baited traps, and at risk of becoming a blacklisted target of ISIS fighters, whether in the flesh or on the internet. Her podcast, Caliphate, follows her assignment to not only expose the horrors within the Islamic State, but to unmask the "boogeymen" behind the front of a perfectly presented villain. Her podcast uncovers the odd recruitment process that happens behind computer screens, the motivations ISIS fighters have when joining the group, and the lies that are told by ISIS fighters to boost their seemingly concrete malevolence. Her podcast allows a person like me to pick apart the images that have flashed before my eyes on television in order to take away the phobia that ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Jihad has tried so hard to pin on me and the rest of the opposing side. In allowing these people to remain in their halloween costumes, we are submitting to the very thing that they desire. Not to mention, how satisfying it is to hear her stories of ISIS fighters who exploit her womanhood online and in person, and are then torn to shreds by her humiliating discoveries that hit them below the belt. That's some tea.
Listen to Caliphate Podcast here.
Follow Rukmini on Twitter here.
Our second badass is a Washington Post journalist opposing Jihad as a tough as nails female force. Souad has a rare perspective in covering this topic, coming from her own upbringing in both Germany and Morocco as she watched her parents become cautious of old friends who began leaning into the extremist movement, and as warning signs of anger and violence began to rise. She leaves for the Middle East, avoiding the truth with her worried parents, in order to pursue an understanding of the intensity of emotions within Jihad and to report without bias, but in truth. She risked her personal safety. She went behind the lines of terror in search of a story in it's fullness. She was told to come alone, without her ID, her cell phone, and watch. She faced obstacles were not only the danger of Jihad and the difficulty that comes with arranging safe and secure interviews, but also in the start of her career, where she faced discrimination for her Muslim heritage as well as her gender within the field of journalism. Her book, I Was Told To Come Alone, provides the world with access behind the facade and shows that a Muslim woman does not hide in fear.
Buy her book here.
From listening to Rukmini's pod and reading Souad's book, the towering evil is brought down to eye level. I was able to stare it in the face without flinching like we all did when we were young. I definitely have no desire to talk it out with an ISIS fighter, but I think my Jihadi boogeyman has left the building. These women have both faced America's biggest fear. Gosh, I love powerful women.
For the comments: what do you remember changing post 9/11? Are there any other female reporters who have been on the front lines of something dangerous that inspire you? Let's talk about it.