Jewish World Review Nov. 27, 2001 / 12 Kislev, 5762

Stanley Crouch

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bin Laden has
exposed hard truths -- NO matter how his story ends, Osama Bin Laden added some things to our understanding of contemporary life. One of them is that the point of civilization is to reduce danger - from disease, from ignorance, from crime, from bigotry, from abuse, from murder.

And we learned, as we do every so often, that complete safety is an illusion. It is something we always keep in place, the way we forget that we have absolutely no idea what level of skills, what condition of cars and what kinds of reflexes the people driving in the oncoming traffic have. If we did not do that, we couldn't drive. The paranoia would freeze us.

We also learned, again, that the technology of our time has remade human possibility, for the bad as well as the good. Because of our technical innovations, a small number of people were able to create enormous catastrophe, even halt a city and a nation. They were able to disrupt financial markets and, subsequently, create massive unemployment.

Nineteen men could not have done that in 1901. There were no commercial flights, no skyscrapers, no mass media able to make an event international and repeat its images until perhaps billions each had their head fill with pictures when the two words - "Sept. 11" - were spoken.

These words reminded us that a murder raid conceived - for the second time! - by rogue Arabs had come off around Wall Street. In the aftermath of this attack, all manner of incompetence in the arena of surveillance and intelligence work was brought to the surface.

On the international front, what Bin Laden brought off was a reaffirmation of the ideas that underlaid the opening of the United Nations in 1946. These are that, though we might disagree with one another, we should try every civilized means of handling problems before resorting to extreme measures.

So when President Bush - who has been condescended to over and over by our supposedly intellectual community - said it was a war between terrorism and civilization, he was right. He was so correct that we have to acknowledge that Bin Laden brought America, Russia and China together, as well as the bulk of the world - including Iran! As it turns out, an Islamic desperado apparently willing to do anything is seen as a threat to all.

During the anthrax threat, we learned another lesson. If this country was the manipulative beast some say it is, the anthrax mailed out would have been traced back to Iraq so those in power could justify ridding the planet of Saddam Hussein. That did not happen. They said it was probably the work of a loon working alone, not part of a terrorist conspiracy.

Perhaps Bin Laden's greatest legacy to the Islamic world, for all its squabbling variety, is the fact that from now on, the question of whether or not one wants to inflame the Muslim world will be a serious consideration - even if the risk must be taken anyway.

But the world has always worked that way. Even the most despicable among us can wake everybody up with a bomb, the explosion of which will ring in heads for a long, long time.

JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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