As this blog increasingly applies more to the psychological
than the geographical, the urban center of the mind more than the urban center
of Cook County, I believe it's timely to discuss a hard-wired mental malady in
our species I first encountered as an inner-city teacher in Miami. For the sake
of this blog and a hot tag for a hot Internet subject, I'll call it: the Osama
bin Laden gene.
The source of my literary journalistic inspiration being the
women who courageously volunteer their life stories for my deep tours and
anecdotal study, on a day like today, as news spread across the globe that U.S.
commandos had killed Osama bin Laden, I'm offering the experiences of another
female, this time a child, a former student of mine who would now be in her
She was bizarre a kid, but I managed to get along with her.
I understood her, and she knew I did. She knew I knew she was crazy, and I
accepted her being crazy, and for that reason I believe she didn't misbehave in
my classroom. She appreciated the recognition.
I can't use her real name. So I'll call her Osara, because
she really does remind me of Osama. She was smart. She was good looking. She was
from a good family--although not the least bit wealthy like the bin Ladens. She
was from a caring family or she wouldn't have been in our school, and in this
desperate part of town care was indeed wealth, because there were many children
who didn't even have that.
And like Osama, who was raised in a trouble free
environment, considering the region, Osara was protected while in our school
from the urban dangers outside. And also like Osama, who grew up in comfort,
Osara enjoyed an attractive and well-appointed place. Our school building was
new and modern and luxurious by local standards. It was nicer than almost every
home of every student who attended our academy.
What's more, Osara was generally soft-spoken as we're told
Osama was. She wasn't tall and thin. Nor, of course, did she have facial hair
or wear Muslim fundamentalist clothing. So there are limits to the connection
I'm making. But there was one overriding quality about their similarities that
overwhelms any shortcomings. It was this: They both strategized to create
social disorder by blowing up in crowded places.
Osama bin Laden's methods are well documented. And on a day
like today news organizations of all kinds are reviewing him for their readers,
their watchers, their listeners. And while his actions were certainly much
larger and deadlier and farther reaching than Osara's were, there was one
defining aspect of Osara's style of violence that set her apart from Osama's.
She didn't need a suicide bomber. Osara had the guts to do the dirty work
A noisy crowded lunch room, a busy classroom during a group
project, even the girl's bathroom during the frenetic minutes before school, or
perhaps most all the school bus on the way home, were Osara's favorite targets.
She of course didn't have an incendiary bomb. She didn't carry an IED. She
didn't have to. It was built into her. The bomb was in her brain.
The mood would be as one would expect at these times, be it
the lunch room or the classroom or the bathroom or the bus: a kind of controlled
chaos inherent with corralling the energies of kids who unlike their suburban
counterparts were as swift to resort to grown-up measures when settling a
disagreement as the adults who oversaw them. So as a teacher or a bus driver
you had to look for the signs when an argument would turn into a brawl. It was
like an electrical storm over the horizon. You couldn't see the bolts of
lightning and the driving rain, but you could see distant flashes and
you heard the thunder and you felt the change in the wind.
And this is what made Osara so dangerous. Her electrical
storm came without forewarning. There was no progressive series of events. The
lightning didn't get brighter. The thunder didn't get louder. And the rain
didn't fall. The fullness of Osara's wrath was felt all at once.
The kids were being kids, in all their controlled chaotic
glory, then BOOM! Osara would go off.
Screaming, cursing, temper tantrums, flying objects, and flying
saliva were in order when Osara let loose. And they were so severe students
weren't the only ones to take cover. Teachers were reluctant to stand in her
Her explosive outbursts, which could be ignited by seemingly
small or even unrelated events, were frightening. Her face would contort, her
voice would shriek, and her little body would flail about like an epileptic
dervish on a very bad acid trip. She could scare the hell out of a grown-up.
Taking her by force wasn't the answer. More than one teacher
learned that mistake. She'd punch. She'd kick. She'd even bite. The wisdom the
other children chose was the same people near suicide bombers choose: jump back
and stay low. When Osara flipped the kids would dash like Iraqis from al-Qaeda.
And when it was over, it was over. There was the blast, the
flying pieces of things, the echoing of the noise, then the weird silence that
fell like snow immediately after. Then came the sirens, as Osara, having blown
her bomb and harmless, was descended upon by adults like the police and
paramedics in a Baghdad market.
We had a school psychologist and she was qualified woman,
but her interaction with Osara stopped nothing. No matter how many meetings the
girl had with the good doctor, she remained volatile. And this supports my
comparison to Osama bin Laden and my reference to genetics. I don't believe all
the talk in the world could stop either of them from being violent. They were
predisposed to blow ups. Something in their nature, no doubt a bad DNA
sequence, led them to behave they way they did if the right circumstances were
I personally praise the actions taken by our president, our
intelligence agency and the special forces of our military. It's my opinion that Barack Obama, the CIA, and the Navy Seals did the right thing. They struck hard
and fast. They stormed the compound in Abbotabad and struck down the world's
the most wanted man. News details of the numbers of dead and no U.S.
causalities is worthy of even more praise. The 2 bullets blasted through bin
Laden's left eye by the sharp-shooting Seal was a fitting and just conclusion
for the man. I only wish he could've suffered more before dying. But I, like
most of the world, will happily accept the end result, regardless of its
immediacy. The job is finally done.
But what about Osara? Obviously we couldn't have called the
CIA to send in the Seals. But as an adult, as a school, and as a society what
do we do with such young people? 2 in-house PhDs didn't help. The principal and
the psychologist didn't stop Osara. The other teachers and the bus driver
didn't either. I only pacified her. I didn't stop her. While she didn't blow up
in my room, she did elsewhere in the school.
Do we drug them? Is that the answer? Do we isolate them in
asylums like we used to? Do we lobotomize them? Questions are many and answers
And I wonder, though there's no mention of it in any
reference material I've scanned, was a young Osama the same? Was he prone to
sudden and strange violence? It seems improbable that the gentle soft-spoken
man so often described could be the mastermind of the most deadly terrorist
organization in recent history. There has to be a bug in the rug somewhere. He
had to have had a screw loose. His brain, like Osara's brain, was wrong.
What do we do to avoid another Osama? And what do we do to
prevent Osara from becoming a dangerous adult? I like to pride myself for
having answers for many behavioral issues, but this one has me skunked.
What does society do with psychopaths in the developmental
stage? What do we do when they're still young and relatively harmless? Think of
how different the world would be if some good soul had changed Osama as a boy.
I'm open to ideas, because I'm going back to inner-city
teaching next fall and I'm fairly sure I'll meet another Osama or Osara again. I
will be in the presence of human bombs.