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Jewish World Review Dec. 12, 2001/ 26 Kislev 5762

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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TV martyrdom is to die for -- You aren't really anybody in America if you're not on TV."

                        —   Nicole Kidman's character, Suzanne Stone, in the 1995 movie "To Die For."

Osama has a wife?! Who'd-a-thunk, what with all that macho cave-dwelling? Not only does he have a wife, but she's still mad about that little 17-year-old strumpet he ran off with, and she's talking.

On Russian television Sunday night, Sabiha reportedly told of her estranged husband's intention to commit "suicide" on TV by having his eldest sons shoot him. The filmed "suicide" would preserve his death and martyrdom for all time, as well as alert terrorists to launch planned attacks on London, Paris and the United States, she said.

I guess I figured Osama had a wife - or wives - but it didn't enter my mind to imagine them. I just can't picture Mr. Digit in love, gazing dreamily across a camel-dung fire, sipping wine from a goat bladder, and asking a young gal to join him in holy matrimony. It's like trying to imagine Alan Dershowitz driving a car. Verisimilitude demands something less pedestrian.

Surely men who inspire kamikaze terrorists to fly into monolithic buildings don't have to traffic in such mundane human affairs as marriage. Just as surely, Dershowitz doesn't have to rely on mere automated transportation, does he? Can't he just transmogrify or something?

There's no knowing whether the former Mrs. bin Laden, whose remarks were reported by a British tabloid, knows of what she speaks. Maybe she just needs some attention. On the other hand, the story rings true for someone like bin Laden, and one can hardly wait.

Which is, of course, the dark cloud above this silver lining. The Evil One knows us better than we know ourselves. Put it on the picture screen, whatever it is, and we'll watch. Americans are a ravenous audience in search of a drama - serial obsessors, as Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter put it - and TV is our universal stage.

Surely Geraldo's people are talking to Osama's people right now, trying to arrange live coverage of the upcoming Oedipal Fusillade.

Will all but one of the sons have blanks in their weapons? Will Osama wear long white robes or battle garb? Oh, who cares? Much, much more important, what will Geraldo wear? His lucky war backpack? His rose-tinted glasses and bandanna headband?

You see what TMTV (too much TV) does to you. Forget anthrax and dirty bombs. Just plug us in and turn up the special effects. We're hooked.

Mr. Digit has used TV as strategically as any weapon in his war against America. Sure, he orchestrated the hijacking of four airplanes, the destruction of the World Trade Center towers and the crushing of the Pentagon. And, yes, he directed the deaths of 3,900 innocent people.

But round-the-clock film coverage on 24-hour news channels kept him and his message alive in American living rooms for three months. He knew that the news apparatus - more terrified of ennui than of terror - would respond to his performance, and so it did. In the symbiotic life cycle of the terrorist and the TV camera, it was inescapable.

Consequently, I've personally witnessed the towers collapsing no fewer than, oh, 189 times and seen Osama bin Laden's mug more than my husband's. Familiarity, we note, breeds homicidal tendencies. Thus, the thought of bin Laden killing himself, or asking his sons to kill him, brings nary a dewdrop to my eyes. Tarry not, I say.

But the thought of his live footage at 8:00 does make one wish for cinema-free times, when a once-obscure nut was doomed to eternal obscurity and a narcissistic maniac was left to ponder his importance all alone. Osama has made us his audience and - even in death - we can't seem to turn him off.

Not that any network in this country would air his final tantrum. Even before 9/11, the suddenly moral media had standards that this indecency would offend. But someone will film it, and someone will distribute copies, and sooner or later everything gets seen.

Of this much we can be certain: The wrong people - Osama's minions and all those swaddled baby-terrorists-to-be - will see it, just like the World Trade Center towers, again and again and again. Given which, bin Laden alive is probably better than bin Laden dead.

Unless, of course, his demise were the result not of U.S. vengeance, but of something even older than Oedipus and more appropriately ignominious than a warrior falling upon his own sword. That is, the wrath of a woman scorned. By all means, Geraldo, do have your people get in touch with Sabiha's people. We'll be watching.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.

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