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Jewish World Review Sept. 25, 2001 / 8 Tishrei, 5762

James Lileks

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Do the Europeans actually think that the war on murderous zealotry will be furthered by undercutting America? -- ITALY: in or out? Make up your mind. France: in or --- oh, right, stupid question. Tony Blair: thanks for your spokesman's comments that NATO support isn't "a blank check." As the coalition began to assemble, some Europeans naturally urged caution. They say they'll stand behind us, but one wonders if they just want to hide behind a nice broad target.

The Europeans place great stock in the emollient of diplomacy, as if talking over stale croissants defuses six hundred years of simmering fury. EU emmisary: "It is with sincere regret that we must protest your recent deployment of chemical weapons on Paris, and the additional toppling of the Eiffel Tower means we must now scowl, as well. We will scowl for six seconds now, which is one second longer than we have scowled since the Berlin Wall crisis. Starting . . . now."

Terrorist representative: "Pigdog infidels! Heretical swine! You will die a thousand deaths in the stinking pits of hell!"

Thereafter an EU representative tells the media that there was "a frank and open exchange of views on matters ranging from companion animals to the afterlife."

Do the Europeans actually think that the war on murderous zealotry will be furthered by undercutting America, the one nation that finally seeks to undertake the job of extirpating the threat? Do they think they'll be spared once the US retreats?

Some - in Europe and at home - demand "evidence" that Bin Laden was responsible. Hard proof that would pass muster in court. Johnny-Cochrane-proof proof. If we find in the horrible remains a letter addressed to a hijacker and signed "Yours Truly, Usama," some cautious souls will want us to make sure it's not only his signature, but that he left DNA evidence when he licked the flap. This is the only possible reason to commit ground troops into Afghanistan: to find bin Laden, hold him down, pry open his mouth and swab the inside of his mouth.

Even then, we cannot execute him; nothing injures the European sensibility like an execution. Never mind that France celebrates yearly a revolution that led to more state-sponsored decapitation per day than we could accomplish in a hundred years. no, we need to put Bin Laden in Federal Prison, and move him down to Rochester's federal prison in case Bin Laden's kidney problems require hospitalization at Mayo. He'll soon learn the truth about us. Great Satan? We're a fantastic Satan! You couldn't ask for a better Satan!

Nevertheless, American diplomats have promised we won't go all cowboy on everyone. We'd hate to kill a sworn enemy of our nation and civilization for the wrong mass murder.

It's the old reflexive scorn of America: The problem is us. We interfere in Arab affairs because we need their oil, and that makes us do baaad things. (Remember our massive sustained response to the OPEC embargo, when we responded with an overwhelming deployment of sweaters.) We offend European left by supporting Israel. Never mind that a triumphant Arafat would allow Bin Laden to move from his stone-age base in Afghanistan to a nice air-conditioned apartment overlooking the enemy. If we so much as dropped rafts off the coast to help the Jews once the Arabs push them into the sea, we'd be regarded as a meddler.

It's true; we offend the world. In many ways we shame the world. And we shame ourselves: to many US citizens, it is unseemly to be proud of America; many people think we carry some human stain that taints a noble world, and but for our baleful influence this would be a garden of peace and plenty. Like, say, Syria.

The fact is that America isn't as arrogant as it deserves to be - not when compared to moral sinkholes, monocultural oligarchies and clannish satropys that characterize much of the Mideast. Our enemies believe we plot and scheme to keep them down - but the truth is that we don't give them that much thought. No need. Their governments excel at ruining the lives and hopes of their people. We couldn't improve on their efforts if we tried.

Maybe we should try. Maybe we should send in the troops to evacuate Kabul. Then we level it. Then we rebuild it, American style. Levittown housing, a Wal-Mart, good groceries. Show them that we can do in a year what their leaders couldn't do in half a millennium.

Every government in the Middle East would be toppled in a week.

JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, James Lileks