What Will It Take?

Scripps-Howard News Service 2.26.02
Balint Vazsonyi

During the dark days of Stalinism in Russian-occupied Hungary, jokes cautiously whispered kept people going. A popular one of these tried to convey that, given sufficient provocation, Americans will act - eventually.

The story related a shipwreck with only three survivors: an Englishman, a Frenchman, an American. After interminable hours of swimming in the ocean, the three come upon an island. Relieved, they swim ashore with their last drop of strength, and promptly pass out on the beach. When they come to, they realize the island is inhabited by a tribe of cannibals who had surrounded them while asleep.

The three are properly tried and condemned to be eaten later that evening. But, humane as the chief happens to be, each shall be granted a last wish. The Englishman asks for a cigar, the Frenchman for a girl, the American for the tribe's strongest man. As the seven-foot giant steps forward, the American points to his chin. "Hit me here, as hard as you can." A strange wish, but his last. As the punch lands, the American collapses. A bucket of water brings him around. "Again," he says, pointing to the other side of his chin. Same story.

This time, as they revive him, he reaches into his hip pockets, pulls out two semi-automatic weapons, and takes out the entire tribe in a few seconds.

"You have loaded weapons, and you let us live through this agony," his trembling companions ask. "Why on Earth did you not shoot right away?"

"I wasn't mad enough yet," responds the American.

The brutal murder of journalist Daniel Pearl has shaken even our own television news analysts. That is significant, since some of our most highly visible - and highly paid - commentators had never known a foreign terrorist they didn't like. Well, that might be a bit harsh. Let us say instead, they had never seen a foreign terrorist whose "cause" they didn't respect. But this was too much, even for them.

Are we mad enough yet?

It was exactly thirty years ago: images of three huge jet airliners, packed with American passengers, sweltering in the desert, guarded by Arab terrorists for days and nights on end. Then came the Marine barracks in Beirut. Pan American Flight 103. The embassies. The USS Cole. The twin towers and the Pentagon. Now, a journalist who, ironically, was endeavoring to bring the terrorists' message to readers of the Wall Street Journal.

Are we mad enough yet?

Our president said, "All Americans are sad and angry." But he also said, referring to the killers, "these crimes only hurt their cause." Cause? What cause? If they have a legitimate cause, we ought not to be angry. If we are truly angry, we ought not to legitimize murderers by acknowledging some "cause."

Did Nazi Germany have a cause when they built Auschwitz-Birkenau?

Did the Japanese have a cause when they raped Nanking?

Did the Russians have a cause when they ordered everyone trying to get from East Berlin to West Berlin killed?

Are we mad enough yet?

I wonder if anyone else has had a sufficiency of television sermons by Arab and Moslem speakers on assorted talk shows. An unmistakable consequence of the 11th day in September 2001 seems to be the endless line-up of guests who lecture Americans on any number of topics. It was a welcome change of pace to watch the distinguished actor James Woods on Fox News's O'Reilly Factor. James Woods is the last person to be accused of prejudice, discrimination, bigotry of any kind. Still, he found himself having to offer a mild apology for using the epithet, towelheads. "And yet," he added looking into the distance, "nineteen of nineteen killers on September 11 were Arab Moslems - not a Swede among them, or among the others who terrorize us."

Are we mad enough yet?

Or are we really going to perpetuate the practice of stripping grandmothers in public before they are allowed to visit their folks? Will we continue to act all 'round as if we hadn't noticed anything resembling a pattern?

Because if we are mad enough, we ought to do something about it. No - not anything vicious or barbaric. But the time may have come to ask, perhaps even require, Arabs and Moslems living among us to come forward and publicly dissociate themselves from what we politely call "Islamic extremists." We are entitled to the comfort of knowing that the person next to us in the supermarket line is one of us, and wishes to be recognized as such.

And if we are mad enough, we could ask our neighbors who fit the bill to help out during these troubled times by submitting voluntarily to questions or searches, and by conceding that certain others needn't be deprived of their time, their dignity, their fingernail files. After all, Germans learned to live with the suspicious looks when World War II was over. And Russians, some day, will accept blame for enslaving tens of millions for decades. Arabs and Moslems would be well-advised to say to the rest of us: "This is being done in our name. We share in the responsibility, and in the duty to rid the world of this pestilence."

Come to think of it, they should be mad enough by now.