It is ten years - May 2nd 2011 - since Osama bin Laden went to his virgins. Observances of the anniversary are muted - either because the once most famous man on the planet is now entirely forgotten, or because the Afghan withdrawal renders the whole subject too depressing. At any rate, many of the psychoses noted a decade ago have now spread far beyond anything so narrow as America's longest unwon war. Here is what I wrote about Osama's dispatch in my syndicated column that week:
As my old friends at The Spectator in London pointed out on Monday morning, I scooped the entire planet in breaking the news of Osama bin Laden's death: "Osama bin Laden is dead, says Mark Steyn." This was in The Spectator's edition of June 29, 2002, which turned out to be a wee bit premature. I jumped the gun, much like Osama's missus in Abbottabad, but by nine years.
Nor, to be honest, was a teensy-weensy near-decade discrepancy in the date the only problem with my scoop. Much of that Spectator piece was preoccupied with the usual assumptions about Public Enemy No. 1 — caves, dialysis, remote wild Pakistani tribal lands where Western intelligence hasn't a hope of penetrating unless you turn a cousin of the village headman, etc. All these assumptions prevailed until a few days ago, when it emerged that Osama, three wives, and 13 children had been living in town in a purpose-built pad round the corner from the Pakistani military academy for over half a decade. Brunch every Sunday with a couple of generals at his usual corner table at the Abbottabad Hilton? Eggs Benedict, hold the ham?
The belated dispatch of Osama testifies to what the United States does well — elite warriors, superbly trained, equipped to a level of technological sophistication no other nation can match. Everything else surrounding the event (including White House news management so club-footed one starts to wonder darkly whether its incompetence is somehow intentional) embodies what the United States does badly. Pakistan, our "ally," hides and protects not only Osama but also Mullah Omar and Zawahiri, and does so secure in the knowledge that it will pay no price for its treachery — indeed, confident that its duplicitous military will continue to be funded by U.S. taxpayers.
If this were a movie, the crowds cheering "USA! USA!" outside the White House would be right: The bad guy is dead! We win! The End. But the big picture is bigger than Hollywood convention. In the great sweeping narrative, the death of Osama bin Laden is barely a ripple, while the courtesies afforded to him by the Pakistani establishment tell us something profound about the superpower's weakness and inability to shift the storyline. Bin Laden famously said that when people see a strong horse and a weak horse they naturally prefer the strong horse. Putting a bullet through his eye is a good way of letting him know which role he's consigned to. But the strong horse/weak horse routine is a matter of perception as much as anything else. On September 12, 2001, General Musharraf was in a meeting "when my military secretary told me that the U.S. secretary of state, Gen. Colin Powell, was on the phone. I said I would call back later." The milquetoasts of the State Department were in no mood for Musharraf's I'm-washing-my-hair routine, and, when he'd been dragged to the phone, he was informed that the Bush administration would bomb Pakistan "back to the Stone Age" if they didn't get everything they wanted. Musharraf concluded that America meant it.
A decade later, we're back to September 10. Were Washington to call Islamabad as it did a decade ago, the Pakistanis would thank them politely and say they'd think it over and get back in six weeks, give or take. They think they've got the superpower all figured out — that America is happy to spend bazillions of dollars on technologically advanced systems that can reach across the planet, but it doesn't really have the stomach for changing the facts of the ground. That means that once in a while your big-time jihadist will be having a quiet night in watching Dancing With The Stars when all of a sudden Robocop descends from the heavens, kicks the door open, and it's time to get ready for your virgins. But other than that, in the bigger picture, day by day, all but unnoticed, things will go their way.
In the fall of 2001, discussing the collapse of the Taliban, Thomas Friedman, the in-house thinker at the New York Times, offered this bit of cartoon analysis:"For all the talk about the vaunted Afghan fighters, this was a war between the Jetsons and the Flintstones — and the Jetsons won and the Flintstones know it."
But they didn't, did they? The Flintstones retreated to their caves, bided their time, and a decade later the Jetsons are desperate to negotiate their way out.
When it comes to instructive analogies, I prefer Khartoum to cartoons. If it took America a decade to avenge the dead of 9/11, it took Britain 13 years to avenge their defeat in Sudan in 1884. But, after Kitchener slaughtered the jihadists of the day at the Battle of Omdurman in 1897, he made a point of digging up their leader, the Mahdi, chopping off his head and keeping it as a souvenir. The Sudanese got the message. The British had nary a peep out of the joint until they gave it independence six decades later — and, indeed, the locals fought for king and (distant imperial) country as brave British troops during World War II. Even more amazingly, generations of English schoolchildren were taught about the Mahdi's skull winding up as Lord Kitchener's novelty paperweight as an inspiring tale of national greatness.
Not a lot of that today. It's hard to imagine Osama's noggin as an attractive centerpiece at next year's White House Community Organizer of the Year banquet, and entirely impossible to imagine America's "educators" teaching the tale approvingly. So instead, even as we explain that our difficulties with this bin Laden fellow are nothing to do with Islam, no sir, perish the thought, we simultaneously rush to assure the Muslim world that, not to worry, we accorded him a 45-minute Islamic funeral as befits an observant Muslim.
That's why Pakistani bigshots harbored America's mortal enemy and knew they could do so with impunity. Bin Laden was a Saudi with money, and there are a lot of those about, funding this and that from South Asia to the Balkans to Dearborn, Mich. They've walked their petrodollars round the Western world buying up everything they need to, from minor mosques to major university Middle Eastern Studies departments. By comparison with his compatriots, Osama squandered his dough. In that long-ago Spectator piece, I wrote, "Junior's just a peculiarly advanced model of the useless idiot son — a criticism routinely made of Bush but actually far more applicable to Osama, who took his dad's fortune and literally threw it down a hole in the ground."
A lot of American policy followed it. A decade on, our troops are running around Afghanistan "winning hearts and minds" and getting gunned down by the very policemen and soldiers they've spent years training. Back on the home front, every small-town airport has at least a dozen crack TSA operatives sniffing round the panties of grade-schoolers. Meanwhile, at the U.N., the EU, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and in the "Facebook revolutions" of "the Arab spring," the Islamization of the world proceeds: Millions of Muslims support bin Laden's goal — the submission of the Western world to Islam — but, unlike him, understand that flying planes into buildings is entirely unnecessary to achieving it. Will being high-flying Jetsons with state-of-the-art gizmos prove sufficient in a Flintstonizing world? The Pakistanis are pretty sure they know the answer to that.
A couple of days later, I added a coda to the above over at National Review:
The upshot of my weekend bin-off column is that we won a tree but we're losing the surrounding forest. I would like to cite three examples of that, from a trio of G7 economies and principal American allies, all of whom have contributed troops to the increasingly purposeless Afghan campaign and two of whom are Washington's principal comrades-in-arms there.
First from Canada:
Zaynab Khadr is disconsolate at the death of Osama, and has adopted his mugshot as the photo for her Facebook page. She and her Facebook friends are taking it bad:
The Muslim Ummah will be in Mourning for 3 days, may Ilah give us the saber and strength to keep up the fight.
Miss Khadr is the daughter of Ahmed Khadr, known as "al-Kanadi," the highest-ranking Canadian in al-Qaeda until his death in a firefight in Pakistan. Her first husband was one of Ayman al-Zawahiri's accomplices in an embassy bombing. One of her brothers is at Gitmo, another was paralyzed in the same battle in which his father died and, rather than entrust his medical needs to a Pakistani prison hospital, came "home" to Toronto to avail himself of free Ontario health care. I wrote about the Khadr family here, and quoted what is perhaps the ripest distillation of the delusions of multiculturalism — Jean Chrétien's words to a third of Miss Khadr's siblings:
Once I was a son of a farmer, and I became Prime Minister. Maybe one day you will become one.
Abdullah Khadr isn't there yet, but a couple of years back he was released by the Mounties after the Supreme Court of Canada denied a U.S. extradition request. So he is available.
Whether or not he becomes prime minister, he will never be Canadian. Under a sane immigration system, the Khadr family would never have been admitted to Canada. Treason is an unfashionable word these days, but the Khadrs aren't merely "giving aid and comfort to the Queen's enemies," they are the Queen's enemies, a significant proportion of them having been captured and killed while fighting for the other side Yet, instead of being reviled or even mildly disapproved of, they became Canadian liberals' cause celèbre, poster boys to all the usual campaigners for "justice."
Second example, from Londonistan:
HUNDREDS of Osama bin Laden supporters clashed with English Defence League extremists today as a "funeral service" for the assassinated terror leader sparked fury outside London's US Embassy.
That's an interesting way of putting it. Hundreds of people cheer a mass murderer on the streets of London, but they're merely "supporters." Those who oppose them are the "extremists." It's true that, if you regard M. Chrétien's words above as the norm, the English Defence League has by comparison a somewhat, um, reductive view of the modern multicultural society. But, when even a Fleet Street tabloid covering a pro-terrorist-vs-English-nationalist protest reflexively labels the latter as the "extremists," you know we're losing the very language in which we can even discuss the issues.
Third example, from Germany:
A Hamburg judge has filed a criminal complaint against Chancellor Angela Merkel for "endorsing a crime" after she stated she was "glad" that Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces. Meanwhile a new poll reveals that a majority of Germans do not see the terrorist's death as a reason to celebrate...
But Hamburg judge Heinz Uthmann went even further. He alleges that the chancellor's statement was nothing short of illegal, and filed a criminal complaint against Merkel midweek, the daily Hamburger Morgenpost reported Friday.
"I am a law-abiding citizen and as a judge, sworn to justice and law," the 54-year-old told the paper, adding that Merkel's words were "tacky and undignified."
In his two-page document, Uthmann, a judge for 21 years, cites section 140 of the German Criminal Code, which forbids the "rewarding and approving" of crimes. In this case, Merkel endorsed a "homicide," Uthmann claimed. The violation is punishable by up to three years' imprisonment or a fine.
Ah, it's such a short step from tacky and undignified to criminal and imprisonable, isn't it? In the bigger picture, the above three items may be more relevant than a spectacular one-off by a handful of brave SEALs: The Western world imports, nurtures, and celebrates its enemies; its dominant institutions render that fact undiscussable; and they're prepared to demolish their own justice systems and prosecute the most absurd thought-crimes against those who decline to get with the program.
~We had a busy weekend at SteynOnline, starting with the continuing serialization of Mark Steyn's Passing Parade which this week looked at a princess and a Caesar. Our Saturday movie date marked the centenary of Satyajit Ray with the late Kathy Shaidle's consideration of Pather Panchali. Our Sunday song selection found Mark celebrating an Oscar loser. If you were too busy raiding Rudy Giuliani's pad this weekend, we hope you'll want to check out one or three of the foregoing as a new week commences.
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