I Was the Voice-Over for Bin Laden


IT’S rare when we find ourselves as the right person in the right place at the right time. More often, it’s an unsatisfying mix of those and other variables: The place is right, the timing is spot on — only you were off.

I was 22 years old, and one day into an internship at the ABC program “Nightline,” when the Sept. 11 attacks happened. They woke this country up from the slumber of the 1990s, and in my case, from a jet-lagged coma in a corporate housing unit down the street from the Pentagon. In a week, I went from a sheltered college existence to having ash on the balcony from the smoldering crash site nearby.

My fellow interns and I soon realized we weren’t ready for the real world to introduce itself so cataclysmically. A White House intern friend, exhausted by the unending hours of TV coverage, marched to the video store one night, bought a VHS copy of the movie “Notting Hill” and proceeded to wear it out with almost nightly viewings. I went in the other direction and consumed hours of news coverage, studying what occurred from every angle, as if I were still cramming for a final exam I needed to ace.

It will forever be a dark time for this country. It was also a terrible time in American history to look or appear even remotely Muslim. A Pakistani-American colleague stopped wearing a prayer ring — given to her by her grandmother — that had Arabic script on it because she got suspicious looks on the subway.

My friend and roommate, who like me is Indian-American, waited up for me that first week after I’d stumble out of the office at 3 a.m. He did this partly to get the latest news, but also to make sure I was safe from the kind of random retaliation Muslims and even non-Muslims like myself were enduring.

As the country was putting the pieces back together, we were suddenly forced to construct our identities in a post-Sept. 11 world. And I had it easy; no turban, no beard, and a tendency to overcompensate with niceness.

We had a villain back then: Osama bin Laden, the man who caused all that pain, anger and anxiety. Monday is the fifth anniversary of his death. News outlets will most likely focus on what has replaced him, the fragmented, nihilistic terrorism of groups like the Islamic State. But I’ve been thinking back to the months after Sept. 11, when Bin Laden spoke to us through video and audio messages — and I voiced them on screen...


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