Notebook

by | November 5, 2001

IDIOCY WATCH, CONT'D: "The moral vision of Hitler is a moral vision. We have to distinguish between moralities we approve and moralities we despise. A morality simply means that someone who has one has a world view in which certain kinds of outcomes are desired and certain kinds of strategies are necessary."—Stanley Fish, "The O'Reilly Factor," October 17

"How we dare even prate about democracy is beyond me. Our form of democracy is bribery, on the highest scale. It's far worse than anything that occurred in the Roman empire, until the praetorian guard started to sell the principate. We're not a democracy, and we have absolutely nothing to give the world in the way of political ideas or political arrangements."—Gore Vidal, interview with the New Statesman, October 15

"Bill Maher has been getting a pounding because on his television program he said something that some found controversial.... [S]ponsors began removing their advertising from the show, and now ABC, the network that he's on, is saying that they may not do the show. We've heard this song before, right? In the fifties there was a blacklist, and it ruined lives.... Well, we're there, right now. It's happening all over again."--"West Wing" producer Aaron Sorkin, speaking at a forum at Occidental College, October 22

"My friend Ruth Rendell was in conversation at the Cheltenham Literary Festival last weekend. Her sell-out audience was conservative and over-50. Someone asked a question about pure evil, citing the terrorist attacks on America as an example. With great presence, Rendell replied that we could not categorise such attacks as evil, since they were carried out from the highest motives and in the name of freedom. The audience hated this reply—there was a collective and audible shudder. Yet who reading Bin Laden's speeches can doubt it? There is no cynicism in the man—he has never heard of a spin doctor.... We need not sympathise with him to recognise a gulf between the pragmatic concerns of the west and the fervent beliefs of the east. How to bridge east and west is the question—and bombs are not the answer."—Jeanette Winterson, The Guardian, October 16

"Enduring Freedom for some means Enduring Subjugation for others. The International Coalition Against Terror is a largely [sic] cabal of the richest countries in the world. Between them, they manufacture and sell almost all of the world's weapons, they possess the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction—chemical, biological and nuclear. They have fought the most wars, account for most of the genocide, subjection, ethnic cleansing and human rights violations in modern history, and have sponsored, armed and financed untold numbers of dictators and despots. Between them, they have worshipped, almost deified, the cult of violence and war. For all its appalling sins, the Taliban just isn't in the same league."—Arundhati Roy (repeat appearance), The Guardian, October 23

A complete collection of Idiocy Watches to date can be found at The New Republic Online (www.thenewrepublic.com). Further nominees may be sent to online@tnr.com.

UNDER SPIN: Robert Fisk, Middle Eastern correspondent for The Independent (and seven-time recipient of the British International Journalist of the Year Award), has made a valiant bid for inclusion in Idiocy Watch. But the dishonesty of his October 23 Independent article overwhelms its idiocy. "And so the casualties begin to mount," writes Fisk. "From Kandahar come ever more frightful stories of civilians buried under ruins, of children torn to pieces by American bombs. The Taliban--and here the Americans must breathe a collective sigh of relief—refuse to allow Western journalists to enter the country to verify these reports. So when a few television crews were able to find 18 fresh graves in the devastated village of Khorum outside Jalalabad just over a week ago, the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld could ridicule the deaths as `ridiculous.' But not, I suspect, for much longer." The TV crews "found" these graves, of course, during an October 15 tour sponsored by the Taliban. And their real significance isn't that there were so many; it's that there were so few: The Taliban claimed that 200 people in Khorum had been killed. Eighteen civilian deaths is a tragedy—but one can only assume that if it were a more common one, the Taliban would be offering more tours.

REALITY GULF: Yasir Arafat is the world's senior terrorist. He was skyjacking when Osama bin Laden was still a rich kid in Saudi Arabia. He and his bloodthirsty lieutenants are responsible for literally hundreds of car bombings, kidnappings, suicide bombings, drive-by shootings, sniper fire, knifings, and just plain massacres over the decades. And he has not become a different man in the new millennium, as the yearlong spasm of orchestrated Palestinian violence and terror surely makes clear. But don't tell this to Colin Powell. Virtually every time Israel tries to punish or preempt a terrorist strike against its civilian population, the Department of State insists that Jerusalem is endangering a peace process that, in truth, is already long dead. A few days ago Israeli troops surrounded six Palestinian cities, killing particular and identifiable terrorists while arresting others--seeking, apparently, to arrest several members of the cell that spawned the assassin of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi. Washington complained that Israeli penetration of Palestinian-ruled areas endangered the anti-terrorist coalition of which various Arab governments are said to be an integral part. This is odd logic, given that the Arab governments are not, in any sense, an integral part of the anti-terrorist coalition. During the Gulf war there was, at least, a factotum Saudi commander and a few other uniformed Arabs in the field. This war features no Arab troops. In fact our Arab "coalition partners"—particularly Saudi Arabia—are actively sabotaging our efforts to identify the wider terrorist international, made up in large part, of course, of their citizens. So what, exactly, is the all-important purpose in whose name we are demanding that Israel sit back and allow its citizens to be slaughtered?

BIPARTISANSHIP, THEN AND NOW: Democrats and Republicans may be walking arm in arm these days, but there's at least one Washington grump unwilling to embrace the new bipartisanship: the ur-partisan himself, Newt Gingrich, now a Fox News "analyst." At nearly every turn, Gingrich has blamed September 11 on the Clinton administration's "pathetically weak, ineffective ability to focus and stay focused." As he told The Washington Times, "When I look at what the Clinton administration said—and did—it was astounding. I felt very sad when the planes hit the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, because it was possible to hunt these people down over eight years." In particular he has described Bill Clinton's 1998 cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan (in response to the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania) as "totally inadequate." And, of course, he's right. Problem is, at the time, he described the cruise missile pinpricks as "exactly the right thing." Perhaps he should have been a little more partisan then.

This article originally appeared in the November 5, 2001 issue of the magazine.

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