Monthly Archives: November 2009

19 November 2009

Call me cynical.

The weekend after 9/11, I was at a garden party in Paris where I was living at the time. Most of the people there were French and most approached me to offer their condolences for the horrific attack. One man, an educated executive whom I had known for years came up to me as well. Just as I was about to thank him for his kind words, he began his diatribe. “You Americans deserved this. It was an attack waiting to happen because of your brutality throughout the Arab world. Now you’re a bunch of crybabies.”

Words escaped me. There had been editorials in French newspapers about American foreign policy which incited terrorists to commit acts against American embassies, military bases, and ships, but never did I expect such vitriol from an acquaintance face to face at a garden party. Others at that garden party heard the man and seemed to gather their courage to voice what were their true feelings about the attack and American foreign policy. Most of the opprobrium focused on United States as it affected the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Ah, the pecking order of undesirables, the Richter scale of the reviled, I thought to myself. In France, it was always a matter of convenience. Everyone hated the Jews except when it came to a choice between them or the Arabs in which case the Arabs were the losers unless, of course, they had oil wells and billions and were willing to invest in the French economy—hotels, high fashion or jumbo aircraft. In those cases, the desirable Arabs hired public relations firms that guaranteed their presence at chic 16th arrondissement dinners or presidential garden parties on Bastille Day, but only if they were not known to be on a first-name basis with certain renegade leaders or unstable rich boys who were bent on blowing up the world.

Flash forward to 2010 and America’s intention to bring to trial five of the “masterminds” of 9/11 here in New York City—the scene of the crime. At first, I was horrified and considered the venue to be an affront to our justice system. After all, from the beginning this was considered a war crime, an attack on our soil and therefore the perpetrators would be tried in a military court—without the benefit of our legal system, and presumption of innocence. How crude, how vulgar to reach for sensationalism, rather than give an example of a democracy which keeps war criminals separate from ordinary felons. How impossible it would be to give these men a fair trial with all the publicity, demonstrations, and opinions throughout the media. Then, my reaction became less outraged and far more pragmatic.

Adolph Eichmann, often referred to as “the architect of the Holocaust” was a Nazi charged with the task of facilitating and managing the logistics of mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. Eichmann was captured by Israeli Mossad operatives in Argentina and tried in an Israeli court on fifteen criminal charges, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. He was convicted and hanged in 1962. The trials of Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg, Germany were most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany after its defeat in World War II. The Nazis were tried as criminals of war, as was Eichmann in Israel.

When the World Trade Center was attacked, along with the Pentagon, and an American aircraft was downed in Pennsylvania by its passengers to avert its crashing into the White House, George W. Bush called the attacks acts of war. In retaliation, the United States went to war in Iraq based on information that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda. Many suspected members of Al Qaeda were arrested and sent to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, which is operated as a United States military prison. The majority have languished there for years, charged with war crimes. After American troops and a small international coalition succeeded in capturing Saddam Hussein, he, along with several dozen of his cohorts were tried in a  military court in Bagdad and sentenced to death.

Now, Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four of his fellow Al Qaeda members are scheduled to be tried in New York for their part in the 9/11 attacks. Civil courts have rules where the permissibility of evidence is much stricter than in military courts. One only has to remember OJ Simpson’s murder trial after which he was acquitted and then compare it to the civil trial where he was convicted of the murders and ordered to pay millions to the victims’ families in reparations.

If the 9/11 attacks were an act of war, then holding suspects of that attack in a military prison in Guantanamo is justified. If Iraq indeed had weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda, then invading the country was legitimate. If the United States and its allies are engaged in a continuing war against terror, then American troops in Afghanistan is warranted.

Here’s my problem.

Terrorist attacks are acts of war when it is convenient to label them as such. True, more people died in 9/11 than in any other terrorist attack against American installations and embassies abroad. I never knew, however, that defining an attack as an all-out war was a question of the number of casualties that resulted.

Invading Iraq was indeed an act of war as it was an organized military endeavor involving the United States and other countries. Invading Iraq under the guise of its having weapons of mass destruction was a patent lie.

Invading Afghanistan is again an act of war as American and other foreign troops are engaged in military maneuvers against a rag tag army of terrorists hiding in caves or among the civilian population.

The point is we have to make up our mind. The debate about bringing these five members of Al Qaeda to New York has nothing to do with the sensitivity factor of the families of the victims of 9/11. Their grief is forever. The only consideration for bringing these five men to trial in a civilian court should only be if they are common murderers or mass murderers.

Washington should make up its mind.

Are we at war?

Was 9/11 an act of war?

Are war criminals tried in military court or in civilian court?

Though dead is dead, I am nonetheless confused.

11 November 2009

There are several erroneous beliefs that people hold concerning a propensity for abnormal behavior, violence, addiction, and dishonesty among certain races, religious, and other ethnic groups. A rush to judgment often leaves the world vulnerable to the real culprits of global mayhem.

When I arrived in Israel during the first Lebanon Civil War in 1985, I met many Jewish American tourists who were shocked that Jews, Israeli Jews, were actually in prison for rape, murder, theft, and other felonies. They were of the opinion that Jews, especially Israeli Jews, were too busy protecting themselves against terrorism and fighting wars to insure the existence of their homeland, that petty or grand larceny simply was not part of their DNA. Previously, even before I left America for the Middle East and Europe, there was the notion that Jews were never alcoholics. Alcoholism was a gentile trait, evident at country clubs, suburban parties, and other restricted celebrations. Extreme alcoholism was something the Irish and Russians suffered from for a variety of reasons ranging from their behavior at parades, disillusion at their political system, and a general acceptance and expectation that Irish Pubs meant there were more Irish drunks and vodka was the drug of choice to combat the dead-end life in the former Soviet Union.

Moving into Africa, starvation was somehow not as shocking as it would have been in Boston, Bucharest, or Bogata. Was it because Africans were accustomed to starvation, used to the fact that the world ignored their plight or at least put it behind the plight of other more accessible countries? Even some American journalists had a rather callous attitude when walking through the piles of bloated cattle that had perished from hunger, and emaciated children whose bellies were extended from starvation. One incident has stayed with me. A group of international journalists went to Africa to visit and report on Biafra. We all had lunch boxes with us—sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, apples, and a soft drink. All, with the exception of one New York Times reporter, gave our food to as many people as we could. The New York Times reporter sat on a rock and calmly ate his lunch. When we asked him how he could eat when the scene around him was so devastating, he replied, “Giving one hard-boiled egg, sandwich or fruit to a starving person isn’t going to change the situation. In fact, it will make it worse as they will know what they’re missing.”

The reaction to mass destruction in Asia, whether from war, uprisings, Tsunamis, earthquakes, or other disasters never quite touches the western world in the same way as wars, attacks, or natural disasters in other places. Earthquakes or fires in California, for instance, are front-page news for days. Are Asians inherently passive people who accept their misfortune with more grace and resignation as they expect less of the world than others? Is their sense of entitlement less developed? When I’ve questioned people as to why their reactions are so measured to Asian disasters, they’ve answered that because the populations of those Asian countries are so large that when a catastrophe happens, the numbers are in keeping with the normal percentage of the total population that are counted as victims.

My area of expertise has always been the Middle East, specifically the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. When I began researching my book on women suicide bombers, Army of Roses, and my documentary by the same name, I met countless young people who were intent on strapping on bombs, walking into the middle of a group of civilians—women and children included—and killing themselves and others as a way of calling attention to the struggle. In the realm of spectacular theatre, that method of warfare worked better than any other. Not to mention that a suicide bomber was the ultimate “smart bomb.” Not only was the result devastating in terms of surprise, but a human “smart bomb” could move where there were more civilians, avoid barricades and police, and cause the most destruction with greater precision.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan who randomly shot and killed thirteen people and injured more than thirty, including himself, is a Muslim. He was also a psychiatrist in the American Army at Fort Hood. He also shouted “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Great” as he began his deadly rampage. For those who are not aware, every Muslim suicide bomber always shouts that phrase which has become the signal that the bomber or shooter is about to attack under the guise of a political statement—dignity, homeland, or a hatred of the United States and Israel. To be fair, let’s not forget that after the fact, many people came forward to report that Major Hasan had expressed anti-American sentiments, an admiration for suicide bombers, and an opposition to the war in Afghanistan. On the surface, it seemed the case was closed. Hassan was just one more Muslim who became radicalized on American soil. Maybe yes. Maybe no.

Having traveled the world and spent a major portion of my life in foreign countries, I have learned something that might amaze those who hold stereotypical views on humanity. There are Jewish criminals and alcoholics. There are Irish and Russian teetotalers. The African and Asian people neither accept nor understand global apathy, but perhaps are simply more inured to tragedy as it befalls them far too frequently. There are Muslims who are against suicide bombings, random murder, and who do not hate America and Israel. Even more crucial is that there are psychotics, potential suicides, murderers, wife beaters, child abusers, assassins, addicts, drunks, and other very sick people in every country and throughout all religions.

Claiming that because someone is named Leila, Abdul, or Mohammad and commits mass murder does not mean he or she is part of a terror plot. Many Arabs, like many other nationalities, are depressed and suicidal but if and when they act on their desperation, the radical members of their religion do their own an enormous disservice by claiming those damaged few killed themselves and others for political reasons.

Bernard Madoff is a monster. Does that mean Jews would do anything, even to their own people, because their love of money cancelled out their sense of morality? Would gentiles really sell their children for a bottle of whiskey? Do all Russians drown their political disappoint in vodka? Do Asians and Africans expect misfortune and tragedy to the point where they barely voice their outrage?

I don’t pretend to know what was on Major Hasan’s mind, anymore than I know what was on Ted Bundy’s mind, or the Columbine killers, or Baruch Goldstein, the Captain in the Israeli Army who walked into the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and opened fire at Muslims at prayer.

What I do know is that stereotyping people based on their nationalities or religious beliefs is not only dangerous but ignorant. Dangerous because the blond, blue-eyed terrorists can and will pass undetected. Ignorant because generalizations lead to bigotry.


              Welcome to Mecca, the first BLOG about everything from politics to people in the news—an unspecific look at what’s going on in the world today from my perspective. For some reason, this is the most daunting project I have undertaken—more difficult than writing books, articles, or radio and television copy. Keeping it short and completely narcissistic—my view on how the world has turned or not.

            Three years ago, I returned to America from Paris, having lived there for more than two decades covering the Middle East from a safe and delicious perch in the most beautiful city in the world. In 1997, Jacques Chirac, the charming French right wing President was advised to dissolve Parliament as a sign of his power and the confidence the French people had in his government. The outcome was disastrous. The result was that France had what they termed a “cohabitation,” where Chirac was forced to share power with a Socialist Prime Minister—Lionel Jospin. Within days, Prime Minister Jospin hosted a lunch in Brittany for his new cabinet and I was invited, seated at Monsieur Jospin’s right. It was awkward at first. Neither of us knew how to make idle table talk. Finally, the new Prime Minister turned to me and said, “It’s so nice to have a representative of the American left-wing at my table.” What possessed me I will never know but I answered, “There is no more left-wing or right-wing. Not in America. Not in France. Not anywhere. It’s a question now of devising a plan to feed the people, keep them employed; give them health care and a decent standard of living.” Little did I know…

            Twenty some odd years ago the Middle East was in turmoil. Palestinians were still living in abysmal conditions despite efforts by Europe, Israel, the United States, and the United Nations to give them better lives. Back then, and this is an old story, the Arab world made the Palestinians the poster children of Israeli brutality. Four American presidents later, and still, there is no solution, except of course new and more lethal weapons to bring attention not to the poor Palestinians but against the United States and Israel. 

            Moving East into Burma, when I lived for two months doing a book on Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who stared down a vicious military junta, I witnessed an abuse of human rights worse than anything I had ever seen. Not only was Aung San Suu Kyi deprived of her right to govern after she won an election, but she was placed under house arrest. Her supporters were gunned down in the streets during protests and the Burmese people were starving—all except the handful of leaders who lived off the opium trade and the good will of the Chinese. There was no intervention from the United States, or other civilized western powers. From time to time, there were politicians in non-official capacity and groups of non-government organizations who made futile trips to bring world attention to the plight of the Burmese people. Nor was there a popular former United States President who traveled there to obtain Aung San Suu Kyi’s release. True, Iraq is rid of Saddam Hussein. Also true, Iraq has plunged into chaos much the same as Yugoslavia after Tito died. Three American Presidents later and troops are still in Afghanistan, after the failure of the Soviets to conquer the mountainous country, after the American fiasco of supporting the Taliban against the evil Soviet Empire. True, the world woke up after 9/11 and understood that the Mecca of the revolution was not contained in Tel Aviv or Ramallah but had moved right into the financial heart of the United States.                    

            In recent history, Wall Street collapsed and unemployment throughout the world reached unimaginable numbers, starvation and disease ravaged Africa, and China was exporting poison products that killed animals and children. It seems all we have to raise our consciousness is Michael Moore and his prescient documentaries showing the “haves” what the “have-nots” are going through.  

            Left-wing/Right-wing politicians everywhere still don’t get it.

            Doctrine is dead.

            Rhetoric is redundant.

            Think back. We all have photographs of our families—now dead or aged—looking dashing and vital in their smart military uniforms. We all have photographs of ourselves—quite different—pictured with long hair, smoking dope, protesting something or another, rallying for peace, equal rights or freedom to choose…And the generation today, young, hopeful, energetic. In fifty years from now, what will their photographs portray? A generation sent to war without a purpose, PHDs driving taxicabs, MBAs scrounging for work, young people in business suits carrying the contents of their desks into the streets?

            Perhaps an image is worth a ton of words. I’m thinking of the new Levi commercial that ends with the prophetic phrase—America Go Forth.

            Forget the party lines or the party will remain a barbaric Roman circus.