Archive for Sunday, June 8, 2008

US reactions to fear not as funny as cartoon

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.

Ray, of course, 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 the late 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 one Rizwaan Sabir, a 22-year-old student working on his master's at Nottingham University. 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 manual.

Also arrested: a university administrator, Hicham Yezza, on whose computer the manual was stored. It seems Sabir had asked 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 Sabir downloaded were directly related to research for his degree. And get this: You know where 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 abridged.

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 Joe McCarthy asking, "Are you now or have you ever been ...?"

Apparently, Colin Powell was wrong. "We're Americans," he said after the Sept. 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 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 Warner Bros. 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.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 10 months ago

"Well, I see that Bozo's paranoia leaves him unable to appreciate humor,"I'm not paranoid, but I do appreciate humor when I see it. Don't see it in this case.

cato_the_elder 9 years, 10 months ago

Mr. Pitts is certainly well aware that there has not been an attack by terrorists against Americans on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001, which predated substantially our invasion of Iraq. Does he really believe that our citizens could make that statement if we had not also made significant efforts to increase our vigilance since that time, when it finally sank home that there are terrorists in the world who are quite serious about destroying our way of life? While he is capable of writing poignant columns, especially his recent column about his daughter, stating that we are somehow worse off as a result of our vigilance, and using melodramatic language like "the rule of law, broken; moral authority, blackened; freedoms, fractured," is both ridiculous and highly offensive to those whose untiring efforts have kept this country safe.

Moonbat 9 years, 10 months ago

And no doubt, with the discovery of the terrorist sympathizer, Rachel Ray and Dunkin' Donuts, America has prevented yet another attack on U.S. soil. My fear is that if the terrorist have recruited Rachel Ray, then who knows what other culinary masters they have set their sights on....perhaps Martha Stewart (well, she was in prison, where I'm sure she was recruited). And of course Emeril...who says "Bam!" when he adds a super special ingredient to his dish...but we all know he's really referring to the sound a suicide bomber makes.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 10 months ago

I love it when you're so flummoxed that you can't respond in any way but a (pathetic) attempt at personal attack, cato.

Moonbat 9 years, 10 months ago

I'm not really sure what article Cato was reading, but I sure didn't see this as a knock against America's "vigilance" in fighting terrorism. I don't know anyone that thinks increased airport security is excessive. However, shouldn't we draw the line somewhere? I mean, seriously Cato, you don't actually agree with the loons that forced Dunkin Donuts to pull the Rachel Ray ad because of a scarf that "looked" like the things muslims wear on their head? Craziness....

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 10 months ago

"stating that we are somehow worse off as a result of our vigilance,"No, he says we're worse off for our paranoia-- which is very different from vigilance.

cato_the_elder 9 years, 10 months ago

Moonbat, followed by Bozo - a poetic sequitur of postings - either one could use the other's name and not miss a beat.

cato_the_elder 9 years, 10 months ago

Well, I see that Bozo's paranoia leaves him unable to appreciate humor, and Defender's vile hatred again slimes forth. I would, however, offer that in the event this country were to relax its vigilance because people like you interpret the vigilance that has protected us as "paranoia," and a terrorist attack against Americans occurs again on our soil, then only people like you will be to blame. Let's hope that your views do not prevail among those who govern our republic.

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