bin Laden: "Hello, Ma?"
bin Laden: "Osama! Where have you been?"
"Oh, Ma, I'm all grown up now, do you have to track my
"Well , if you're asking for money again
"Listen, Ma, I've got a job now, and
"A job? A real job, after all these years I don't
"Look, Al Qaeda is a real good company, with benefits
"Al Qaeda? ["The Base"] What kind of a name
is that? What do they do?"
"Uh, well, they're involved in
oh, lots of things."
"Like what, fr'instance? Look, Osama, I hope this isn't
another one of your holy wars. Now, you know what I
told you: it's time for you to settle down, find yourself
a couple of dozen wives, and get serious. Aren't you a little
old for this terrorism stuff?
"Oh, Ma, gimme a break, wooncha?"
"I knew it! Now you listen here, young man, if
you think you're going to go gallivanting around, and expect
us to send you money !"
"Listen, Ma, willya listen? I gotta tellya, I
won't be able to make it to the wedding...."
"What?! But it's your Dad's 100th wife, why,
he'll never forgive you."
"Number one-hundred, eh? Why, the old devil. I'm gonna
miss him and you, too, Ma."
sound of sniffling is followed by a pregnant pause.]
[voice suddenly soft, and fearful] : "What do you mean,
[voice bursting with pride]: "Something big, Ma, really
few realists who haven't been cowed into a discreet silence
explain OBL and Al Qaeda in historical and ideological terms,
and point especially to the $3 billion involuntarily donated
by the US taxpayers to the Afghan "freedom-fighters"
who somehow morphed into the Taliban and bin Laden's terror
network. But since history and context, for that matter
is nowadays deemed treasonous, other explanations have
arisen. My favorite is from the Saudi ambassador to Washington,
the influential Price Bandar bin Sultan, who points to OBL's
"unhappy childhood." Now it's all beginning
to make sense
AND THE BLACK SHEEP
Prince avers that bin Laden "flipped" over religion:
"I think he was a black sheep of the family," said
His Highness, "and for a while we thought his religious
leanings were a positive thing. It is just something that
flipped inside of him." Prince Bandar confided to Larry
King and millions of viewers that he became well-acquainted
with the man who is now America's mortal enemy back in the
1980s when bin Laden was raising money and political support
for the Afghan rebels in their war against the Soviet invaders:
"He came to thank me for my efforts to bring the Americans,
our friends, to help us against the atheist communists ...
Isn't it ironic?"
END OF IRONY
but the Age of Irony is dead, or so we're told, and we are
supposedly in the Era of an Annoying Earnestness. Annoying
because it is so dishonest and contrived an effort to sweep
a lot of dirt under the rug, and preserve the illusion that
the government can protect us against the "blowback"
they warned us was coming. Comedians have been rendered speechless
and stuttering, fearful that any expression of humor will
seem starkly at odds with the universal solemnity. But there
are plenty of laughs out there, and they stand out all the
more against a backdrop of sheer horror.
the past week, we have seen: the first
case of anthrax in 25 years (the victim was from the Florida
town where the terrorist ringleader trained), the mysterious
explosion of a Russian plane in midair, holes
shot in an Alaskan pipeline, a chemical
mail bomb at a Tennessee plant, a case where 200
students fall ill at an Illinois school, a man
try to hijack a medical transport plane at a New Mexico
airport, two trucks from the same company carrying explosives
off the road, an explosion in France that kills 29 people
and is initially
dismissed as an accident, and another
bombing in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia but the US government
insists these are "isolated incidents," and it's
all a coincidence. What are you, some kind of conspiracy theorist?
Oh, I see, spreading rumors, are we? Well, doncha know that
loose lips sink ships and, hey, can I see your identification
much for black humor. Here's some real slapstick for you:
a man with
a portrait of OBL tattooed across his chest has been arrested
in Orange County, California. After being taken into custody
at the county jail, police discovered the tattoo, and, just
in case there was any doubt as to the identity of the bearded
personage inked on his skin, the words "Osama bin Laden"
were emblazoned underneath. He was also carrying false identification
papers. Orange County Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo assured
the Los Angles Times that authorities are hard at work
on the case, working day and night to determine "if the
man was associated with bin Laden or the attacks." Duh-uh!
Put on your thinking caps, boys, and concentrate real hard,
because this is going to be a tough one.
LITTLEST FIFTH COLUMNIST
on dissent laid down by New Republic editor Peter
Beinart, discussed in a
previous column, have really caught on in the wider world.
According to Beinart, dissent is allowable only if "preceded
by a statement of national solidarity" and already
traitors of every sort are being flushed out by the dozens.
Not only Susan Sontag, Sunera
Thobani, and Noam Chomsky, but also less obvious (albeit
more insidious) fifth columnists such as Paul Volz, the Missouri
11-year-old suspended from school for
well, it's hard to
say. It seems he drew a picture of the twin towers aflame,
and taped it to his study cubicle. His class had been discussing
it, and writing "peace poems," and so it was on
his mind. What happened next is hard to pinpoint, so I'll
just cite the
account printed in the St. Louis Post Dispatch:
Jefferson County fifth-grader served a three-day suspension
this week for drawing the World Trade Center
attack on notebook paper and grinning while showing it off."
notice sent to his parents by Principal Jeff Boyer noted "disruptive
speech" and "communication of a threatening nature."
"When I asked him why he did this, he just looked at
me and smiled," ranted Boyer. "This is totally inappropriate
and Paul's behavior has to change." Boyer was unavailable
for comment, but school district spokesman Ben Helt "said
it was Paul's grinning not the drawing that brought
the suspension. There will be no grinning as long as
Osama bin Laden roams free, at least not without a preceding
statement of solidarity. As Andrew Sullivan would piously
intone: "We've got a war to win!"
OF THE WEIRD
are all sorts of odd and downright weird stories floating
around. Like the one about the five
Israelis arrested on a rooftop not far from the World Trade
Center for what the FBI characterized as "puzzling
behavior." The five, who worked for a New Jersey moving
company, were spotted videotaping the burning towers, four
hours after the attack, "and shouting in what was interpreted
as cries of joy and mockery," according to the Israeli
newspaper Ha'aretz. The five, according to their relatives,
had been interrogated by the FBI and "humiliated, stripped
of their clothes, and blindfolded." The mother of one
said the families of the men had no idea of their whereabouts
for days. "When they finally let my son make a phone call
for the first time to a friend in the United States two days
ago, he told him that he had been tortured by the FBI in a
basement," the mother said. "They thought that because he
has citizenship of a European country as well as of Israel
that he was working for the Mossad [Israel's secret service]."
The apartment of one of the Israelis was stormed and searched
by seven FBI agents, according to Ha'aretz, who also
questioned a roommate and the owner of the moving company.
The last anybody knew, the five were being held in two New
Jersey prisons by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
here's a bit of humor, for those with a taste for the sardonic:
The whole world got to see a few dozen performing Palestinians
hoot, holler, and dance a jig for pure joy in response to
9/11, but nary a word on this curious little episode, except
in a single Israeli newspaper
of the Israelis, Ariel Sharon's recent comparison
of President Bush's Middle East stance to Neville Chamberlain's
policy of appeasement yes, he actually used the "a"-word
did not go down well in Washington. No matter how many
times Sharon tries to "clarify" his statement, he
just digs himself a little deeper into a hole. "Do not
try to appease the Arabs at our expense," scolded the
scowling warhawk. "We cannot accept this." Speaking
directly to the US President, he drew a parallel between the
1938 Munich Pact, and Bush's Middle East policy: "Don't repeat
the terrible mistakes of 1938, when the enlightened democracies
in Europe decided to sacrifice Czechoslovakia for a comfortable,
temporary solution," he said. "Israel will not be Czechoslovakia."
Nuclear-armed Israel, with its vastly superior military
armed and paid for by the US to the tune of some $98 billion
over the years bears not the slightest resemblance to prewar
Czechoslovakia. Indeed, Arafat's Palestinian Authority
militarily weak, with virtually no major allies willing to
defend it by force of arms seems to fit the bill much more
humor in Sharon's remarks, albeit unintentional, is the sight
of the tail wagging the dog: here is a tiny US client state,
barely the size of New Jersey plus Brooklyn and the Bronx,
not only undercutting the US war effort but openly insulting
President Bush at the very moment when the Americans have
every right to expect Israeli support. Israel wouldn't last
but a few weeks if ever the Americans withdrew their unconditional
political and financial backing. Yet the Israelis feel free
to let loose, without fear of meaningful retribution, even
as their patrons are still reeling from the shock of 9/11.
REBUKE OR A KOWTOW?
sure, we are told, the US responded "sharply" to
Sharon's shot across the bow. Presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer
reportedly mumbled something about how Sharon's tirade is
"unacceptable," and reminded one and all that Israel
"has no better friend than the United States and President
Bush." What kind of a "rebuke" is that? While
the New York Times informs
us with a straight face that "the use of the word
'unacceptable' constituted unusually strong language for relations
between the United States and Israel," in any normal
context Fleischer's words sound like an apology. But, then
again, the US-Israeli relationship has always been highly
abnormal. When the US ambassador to Israel, got on
the phone to Sharon and complained, the Prime Minister said
"he could hardly believe" the ambassador was calling
him about such a trivial matter, instead of offering his condolences
for the recent deaths of Israeli civilians at the hands of
Hamas and Hezbullah.
incident, and the way it played out, underscores the perversity
of the US-Israeli relationship. It is a unique and curious
case of role reversal, in which a client state affects the
air of a mighty empire, while US plays the role of supplicant.
recent poll showed that Americans are split right down
the middle on the question of whether the US should change
its post-9/11 Middle East policies, with 46 percent saying
the US should consider changing its pro-Israel tilt, 43 percent
opposed, and the rest undecided. A few more of Mr. Sharon's
public outbursts, however, and those numbers could well begin
to move significantly. As Israeli arrogance grows ever more
overweening even in this, our hour of peril Americans
will begin to wonder if, perhaps, the US-Israeli friendship
is perilously one-sided.
the coming weeks and months, the Israeli lobby in the US will
make a concerted effort to expand the scope of the US anti-terrorist
campaign, agitating for an attack on Iraq, demanding an incursion
against the Syrians, and even envisioning the invasion and
military occupation of Iran. While the Israelis seek to widen
the war, so that the result will be the elimination of all
their enemies, the US has sought to narrow its scope, at least
initially. Forget those few thousand pacifist protesters in
the streets: right now, the American secretary of state is
the de facto leader of the peace party. Whether the President
will listen to his wise counsel, or else heed the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz
faction, is an open question. Right now, Colin Powell, who
has consistently argued for a policy of restraint, is all
that stands between us and World War III that and the common
sense and ordinary decency one likes to imagine is possessed
by our President.
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