me share with you my theory as to why American Media, parent
company of The National Enquirer, The Star, and
other tabloid magazines, may have been targeted by Osama bin
Laden's anthrax-wielding henchmen. First, recall, if you will,
how the original 1993 attackers of the World Trade Center were
caught: One of them asked for a refund of the rental deposit on
the truck used to bomb the Twin Towers.
sounds like an extra-credit effort toward an honors degree at
Stupid Terrorist School. But I think what it actually reveals is
that these people don't really understand how America works.
They are intelligent and dedicated, but they're not fully
literate culturally with respect to America or the West. I like
to think that the best evidence of their civilizational
illiteracy is their eagerness to murder thousands of Americans.
Few people who truly understood America on its own terms could
maintain that level of hatred. Or maybe they could. Not that it
matters, because the people who did this only deserve to have
their hearts and minds captured with a dull spoon.
my idea's that they sent that envelope of anthrax to
"American Media" because they were given explicit
orders to attack "the American media." Some former
goatherd or eye surgeon or whatever you don't need to be
poor and uneducated to be ignorant simply grabbed the yellow
pages and looked up "American Media." And, lo and
behold, there was an address. How convenient!
they were more than a little confused when they tried to look up
the other targets on their to-do lists "The Jew-Run
Media," "The Military-Industrial Complex,"
"Joe Sixpack," "American Soccer Moms," and
so on but, hell, "The American Media" was number
theory is right or, what the hell, even if it's not I do
think it's important to recognize that very intelligent, very
sane people can still think according to very different
standards. "Standard" may even be the wrong word for
it. I'd say "paradigm," but most of the people who use
the word "paradigm" seem like they need a vigorous
say people think differently, I don't mean that in some parts of
the world, people think bacon doesn't taste good, and in others
they do. I don't merely mean the product of their thinking is
different. I mean the actual mechanisms of their thinking are
favorite example (as longtime readers know) comes from David
Lamb's wonderful book The
Africans. On December 8, 1978, two Zairean air-force
jets approached the airport in Kinshasa, the capital of the
nation now known, again, as the Congo. The tower radioed the
pilots, telling them they couldn't land; the controllers were
concerned with low visibility. The pilots, told that they
"couldn't land," ejected and parachuted to safety. And
two perfectly good and very expensive Mirage jets
crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Problem solved.
these men were educated and trained to fly these complicated
pieces of equipment. But, just for an instant, they were
thinking according to an entirely different set of rules about
how life works. "Can't" means "never, ever
possible" according to these rules not "wait an
hour," or "find a different runway" so
points out that many Africans have a slightly different
interpretation of cause and effect. In the West, the lesson the
average person would take from a near-fatal car crash at high
speeds on a hairpin turn would be "Man, that was close. I
better not try that again." But in Africa, Lamb writes,
"if an oncoming car has to swerve off the road to avoid his
vehicle, and there are no collisions or injuries, the African
does not say, Next time I'd better not do that." Instead,
he goes with what works. I've heard similar stories about
drivers throughout the Third World, particularly in Latin
America, where traffic accidents and fatalities are much higher
than in more advanced nations despite the fact that the rate
of car ownership is much lower.
minds of Osama bin Laden and his gang may be different in a
different way. But the similarity between the members of al
Qaeda and the guy who doesn't quite grasp cause-and-effect is
that both of them live in the past.
say, "so-and-so lives in the past," we usually mean
nostalgia: a longing to restore not so much the past, as a gauzy
rendition of the past. But while nostalgia which derives
from the Greek concept of homesickness has its own pitfalls,
the Taliban crowd suffers from something far worse. In the West,
when we're nostalgic, we know the era we're in, we just don't
like it. With bin Laden, it isn't entirely clear he knows he's
in the 21st century at all.
means that, like the driver who doesn't understand cause and
effect the same way people (of all races) understand it in the
First World, the Taliban crowd doesn't understand how the world
works the same way we do.
example, all of bin Laden's apparently sincere talk of Americans
as "crusaders" overlooks, completely, the inconvenient
fact that nobody here has any frickin' clue as to what he's
talking about. The only way you can think America is behaving
like a crusader nation is if you see the whole world through a
medieval lens. He says we're fighting "under the banner of
the cross," but that is entirely imagined.
bin Laden may be playing the propaganda game, but if so, that
only makes the point even more powerfully. Even if he's not
sincere when he says Bush is leading the infidels to attack
Islam and I think he is the fact that he thinks such
propaganda will work on millions of Muslims and Arabs is proof
positive that his intended audience, at least, does live in the
doesn't mean these people aren't smart. It doesn't mean they
aren't deserving of our respect, the way all cagey enemies
deserve respect. But it does mean that reasoning with them will
be very difficult and, probably, in many cases pointless.