CultureSpeak: "Terror Planner"

Cultural Context:  The term used to headline the 2009 counterterrorism desktop planner released by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) this week.  The weekly calendar format highlights wanted terrorists, terrorist incidents and terror organizations and is a perenial favorite resource for law enforcement personnel. Published in one form or another since the 1990s, this year’s publication is available to the public as a downloadable pdf and in an online interactive version.

The World Where I’m Raising Them…
“Hub and I looked at each other and shared a collective deep breath and then a simultaneous smile.  We were standing in the parking lot of the daycare after getting all our gifts settled in their respective rooms with their respective hugs and kisses.  “I think that qualifies as exercise,” he said.  Then, with a kiss we were off to work…”

That was the start of the Montgomery Madness post I had brewing in my mind this morning, a funny take on “exercise” and New Year’s resolutions.  And then, I saw this FoxNews article announcing the release of the “killer calendar.” Just like that, my account of our ordinary routines was interrupted by wider realities.  When I first read the article, I honestly wondered if it was a joke.  I don’t know why, since bombs are no laughing matter, but that was my first thought.  The subsequent link to the NCTC ruled that out.  I wondered if it was just a very creative installment of anti-terrorist propaganda.  The NCTC press release said it was chock full of profiles on “bad guys with bounties on their heads.”  I wondered if it was some sort of odd Homeland Security fund-raiser.  Leslie Jewell, spokeswoman for NCTC, told NewsMax in their article that the Government Printing Office would offer limited edition hard copies for sale on its website to “gauge public interest.”  I wondered if the calendar was designed as a kind of Rambo-in-training tool.  Apparently it’s been used by first-responders, investigators, counterterror agents, and the like for years.  Ms. Jewell indicated that they “love” the calendar because of the detailed index included, allowing them to “read about anthrax and other exciting topics.”  

Truth be told: none of the above would have really surprised me.  What struck me was the unmistakeable irony of something as mundane as a weekly planning calendar so matter-of-factly infused with such violence and hatred.  My day was a small microcosm–thoughts on the utterly ordinary occurence of dropping my three gifts safely in their daycare classrooms interrupted and juxtaposed with the realities of the world where I’m raising them.  The world where I am raising them is a world where a counterterrorism day planner is not as shocking as it should be. 

So, I downloaded a pdf copy from the NCTC website to take a closer look–all 65MB/160 pages worth.

It was indeed chock full of wanted men–one for almost every week of the year.  I could study their faces from various photographs, take note of their physical descriptions with distinguishing marks, learn their aliases, country of birth and citizenship, and read their terrorist resumes and rewards offered for capture.  The space for each day included Christian, Jewish and Muslim holidays and days ripe for possible “commemoration attacks” printed in blue and a record of this-date-in-terror-history printed in black.  Interspersed with fugitives, I found profiles on various terrorist organizations.  In the reference section at the back, I noticed diagrams on the recommended evacuation distances for various types of explosives, the physical properties of readily available [!] explosives, and notes on what to do if I notice a suspicious substance.  There were tips on recognizing forged documents and questionable financial transactions.  For the graphic designer in me, the calendar even included a two-page spread with the logos of various terror organizations–some shockingly well-designed, others not so much.  The bomb-threat call procedures were located just after the 2010 year-at-a-glance.

As I looked into the eyes of the puppeteers and perpetrators, the calendar simultaneously reduced the threat of terror to an absurd level of normality, and elevated its insinuation into my life to an overwhelming level of reality.  Where I might have written Little Drummer Boy’s pediatrician appointment on Wednesday, I saw the first female Hamas suicide bombing in Gaza.  There, where I would have written a client website meeting on the 21st, a gunman ambushed a vehicle in Kuwait.  Where I would have penciled a heart on my wedding anniversary, seven students at Hebrew University were killed by a bomb.  Where I would have written a reminder to shop for my daughter’s first birthday, a car bomb exploded outside a police station in Columbia.  There, where I would have recorded my hair appointments and friends’ birthdays and project due dates; there, amidst the faces of plotters and descriptions of explosives and first-responder instructions… I foundthe world where I’m raising them.

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