Sobran's -- The Real News of the Month

 Osama and Jack the Ripper 

January 11, 2005 
One angry reader calls me an “appeaser” for a recent column in which I denied that al-Qaeda poses a “totalitarian threat” to this country. Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.In this business one gets used to having one’s little feelings hurt, but the pain soon passes, often giving way to reflection.

The word appeaser belongs to a legacy of slogans from World War II and the Cold War, which are being forced into service for the War on Terror, to which they don’t apply. It’s hardly “appeasing” an enemy to define him in his true dimensions. Jack the Ripper was a bad sort of person, but not a totalitarian threat — just a brief menace to a certain class of women in a certain part of London.

Nevertheless, when people are frightened they lose all sense of proportion, and the Ripper’s fiendish murders terrified respectable people to whom he posed no threat at all. He probably sold millions of newspapers — the only mass media of his day. Imagine the impact he’d have had in the age of television. Jack kept the public good and jumpy with periodic letters to the newspapers, rather like bin Laden’s occasional videos. Then, mysteriously, he stopped killing women. Did he change? We’ll never know.

“Terrorists,” as the term implies, want to scare people. Television is extremely helpful to this purpose, especially when it can actually show us their crimes. The events of 9/11 were immeasurably less destructive than last month’s giant tsunami, but you’d hardly know it from the media coverage.

Just before the November 2 election, Osama bin Laden released another video, causing speculation that he was trying, as his own words seemed to imply, to help John Kerry win, though some speculated that he was cleverly trying to help President Bush win by using reverse psychology. But here is a different assessment, from the Egyptian newspaper Al- Ahram (quoted in Commentary magazine):
[The] tape is one of capitulation and bankruptcy, and not one of threat and warning, since bin Laden appears in regular robes and not in a military uniform with a rifle by his side.... In addition, bin Laden does not refer at all to jihad in this tape.... The tape tells George Bush, “Leave us alone, and we will leave you alone.” It is obvious, from both the language and the body language, that this is a speech of a man who is capitulating, withdrawing, or trying to “change his spots” from a jihad fighter to a politician.
[Breaker quote: Fighting phantoms]If this reading is correct, bin Laden may now be so weak that he has even given up bluffing. Maybe his past threats have achieved their purpose, and nothing further is to be gained by making more of them, with the U.S. Government taking extreme security measures and his own resources stretched thin. His personal wealth, after all, was much less than the United States spends in a single day in Iraq. Is he reasoning that the time has come for a new strategy? One of subtly offering to appease the United States? Or is he playing some other head game? In any case, it’s fantastic to imagine him conquering America, let alone ruling it. Terrorists are rarely conquerors.

I’ve suspected for some time that al-Qaeda shot its wad on 9/11. This is impossible to prove, but the follow-up attacks we expected haven’t come to pass. We have long since ceased worrying about anthrax in the mail and sealing our houses with duct tape. Most of us are feeling a bit sheepish about the era of John Ashcroft and Tom Ridge.

The war in Iraq, of course, seems only tenuously related to our former fears, especially to those Bush obsessively encouraged about Saddam Hussein and mushroom clouds. Like bin Laden, the president has quietly changed his tune. His War on Terror has morphed into something completely different: a War for Democracy. The “terrorists” he now speaks of are those who want to disrupt this month’s elections in Iraq; nobody thinks they pose any menace to life in America, or that they draw much of their power from al-Qaeda.

It’s not just the rhetoric of World War II and the Cold War that seems old-fashioned: Bush’s urgent alarms about post–9/11 dangers are already passé. The country was geared up for a phantom enemy and a huge war we never had to fight. And we’re still fighting it.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2005 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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