Looney-Tunes over Terror
- News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
[Someone published by mainstream newspapers actually gets it.--DC]
Looney-tunes over terror
by Leonard Pitts Jr.
June 8, 2008
You've seen this gag in a hundred old cartoons: Cat turns to flee angry
dog, steps on a rake instead, knocks himself silly. It's not
sophisticated humor, but it is a visceral illustration of an abiding
truth: Panic can make you hurt yourself.
Some of us, I think, need reminding. Consider the case of Rachael Ray
and the scarf that made people scream.
Ms. Ray is the preternaturally perky host of cooking shows on the Food
Network -- and a spokeswoman for Dunkin' Donuts.
In that capacity, she wore the aforementioned scarf around her neck in
an online ad -- and people started screaming. It seems that in the eyes
of conservative columnist Michelle Malkin and a handful of blogosphere
blowhards, the scarf resembled a kaffiyeh, the Arab headdress most
infamously worn by PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
Me, I thought the paisley scarf resembled a paisley scarf, but then, I
haven't been taking my paranoid lunatic pills lately, so what do I know?
Those with more discerning vision cried foul, and late last month the
doughnut maker crumbled, pulling the ad lest anyone assume the company
was selling mass terror along with its iced coffees and crullers.
As it happens, at roughly the same time, the Guardian newspaper in
London was reporting the case of Rizwaan Sabir, a 22-year-old student
working on his master's at Nottingham University. Mr. Sabir was
arrested, held for six days, and subjected to what he describes as
psychological torture after he downloaded a copy of an al-Qaida training
Also arrested: a university administrator, Hicham Yezza, on whose
computer the manual was stored. It seems Mr. Sabir had asked Mr. Yezza
to print the 1,500-page document because he could not afford to.
But neither man will be prosecuted for terrorism. According to
university officials, the materials Mr. Sabir downloaded were directly
related to research for his degree. You know where Mr. Sabir says he got
the offending manual? From a U.S. government Web site. In other words,
it was publicly available and hardly top secret.
Taken together, these two episodes neatly illustrate what much of our
world has become in the almost seven years since September 2001. On the
one hand, silly, able to see terrorism hiding behind every bush and hen
house. On the other hand, petrified, convinced that overreaction is the
only reaction. So we look suspiciously at everyone whose name is not
Smith, Johnson or Jones, inspect scarves for terroristic subtext, but
glance the other way as torture is committed, intolerance is embraced,
habeas corpus is ignored and freedoms of speech, dissent and privacy are
It's like we have awakened into the 1950s. The paranoia is there, the
gratuitous ruination of people's lives is there, the abiding and
unrelenting fear is there. The only thing missing is Sen. Joseph
McCarthy asking, "Are you now or have you ever been...?"
Apparently, Colin L. Powell was wrong. "We're Americans," he said after
the 9/11 attacks, "we don't walk around terrified."
But we do. And because we do, we injure ourselves as surely as a cartoon
cat panicked by a cartoon dog. So that here we sit, banged up something
fierce: the rule of law broken; moral authority blackened; freedoms
fractured; seriousness of purpose on life support.
All in pursuit of a chimera called security that we have yet to capture
and never will. So we might as well go back to being America. I mean,
when the zeitgeist is indistinguishable from a cartoon, something is wrong.
To put it another way, let me repeat: Panic will make you hurt yourself.
What's it tell you that we have yet to learn something Bugs Bunny
figured out a long time ago?
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column
appears regularly in The Sun. His e-mail is lpitts@....
My collected fiction: _The Unspeakable and Others_
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Skipper: Professor, will you tell these people who is
in charge on this island?
Professor: Why, no one.
Skipper: No one?
Thurston Howell III: No one? Good heavens, this is anarchy!
-- _Gilligan's Island_, episode #6, "President Gilligan"