2003-09-12 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

When Facts Don
by Stuart W. Mirsky
The Rockaway Irregular by Stuart W. Mirsky When Facts Don’t Count

A recent story in the New York Sun noted that the Riverside Church in Morningside Heights would be hosting an alternative symposium on September 11th for those "who doubt al Qaeda’s role in the attacks of two years ago." Slated to speak include Cynthia McKinney, a former Georgia Congresswoman who lost her seat when her extravagant allegations began to catch up with her. Among other things, Ms. McKinney "has suggested to a California radio station that President Bush knew about the attacks before they happened" the Sun article reports. Other conference participants and a church spokesman are also reported as pushing views along similar lines.

One Kyle Hence, a "documentary filmmaker" expressed doubts Osama bin Laden really planned the attacks, questioning the authenticity of the November 2001 tape, which showed the al Qaeda leader at a dinner party gloating over their results. The Sun reports Mr. Hence as saying "it doesn’t look like bin Laden to me." Church spokesman Tinoa Rodgers, according to the paper, also echoed these sentiments, saying, "I don’t know if anyone knows who is behind the attacks on September 11th. There are a lot of theories going around and everybody draws their own conclusions." He goes on to say: "I don’t know what al Qaeda is, it’s a name they throw around."

Providentially, on the same day, that apparently metaphysically unknowable group euphemistically known as "al Qaeda" released a new tape of bin Laden and his senior deputy, Aymin al Zawahiry. In it the two leaders are depicted moving down a mountainside, rifles at the shoulder, walking sticks in hand. The voiceovers, said to be that of bin Laden and henchman Zawahiry, praise the 9/11 attacks, mention five of the suicide hijackers by name and call for more of the same, reiterating an ongoing claim that they are at war with the infidels (us) and will defeat our "crusade."

So what’s a guy to do? Here we have all these denials that al Qaeda was really responsible for the attacks while these folks just can’t seem to keep their mouths shut, publicly touting things their apologists want to exonerate them of. Of course, tapes and such don’t mean much to those who just want to believe. All sorts of absurd conspiracy theories get trotted out to account for bin Laden’s pronouncements, just like those offered by Pakistani "men in the street" who deny Osama’s culpability and blame the CIA, Israeli intelligence, etc. There’s something peculiar about all this . . . as if facts aren’t facts and that (as the Beatles might have said) all you need is spin . . . la, la la, la!

What makes this particularly troubling is the apparent entrenchment of this kind of thinking in the current American political landscape. Listening to this year’s crop of  Democratic contenders for the presidency, one begins to get the same sense of unreality. Maybe they haven’t yet gone as far as asserting that Bush knew about 9/11 in advance or that Osama is the victim of a rightwing frame-up. But many of their supporters espouse just such views! And the presidential aspirants, themselves, fall all over one another to claim Bush lied, that he refused to work with some of our European "friends", that we are losing Iraq and Afghanistan, etc., etc. These stories ring about as true as as the claims of Osama’s innocence. Asked at the recent Democratic debate about the success of the administration’s policies in the war on terror, presidential hopeful Al Sharpton noted that Bush said he wanted bin Laden, dead or alive. Then Sharpton launched into an impassioned diatribe demanding to know "where is bin Laden?" as though our success or failure to get this one man was what our efforts to stop future 9/11’s and protect our nation hinged on! The applause that greeted his words was deafening.

Front-runner Democratic hopeful Dr. Howard Dean began his run entirely on opposition to the Bush policies that have taken us into Iraq. Of course, Dean’s been all over the map, saying at one point we need to send in more troops, at another we need to withdraw them, etc. And while opposing the Iraqi intervention (notably unpopular with the Left), he favored intervention in Liberia for "humanitarian" reasons, something Bush was hesitant to pursue. Because Bush was cautious, opponents like Dean, who have raised the anti-war flag elsewhere, were eager to seize on it as something Bush should be doing. Imagine how they’d have reacted if he’d actually committed us heavily to this like they demanded!

Dr. Dean says we could take the money Bush wants to apply to our continuing war on terror and fund health insurance and other social programs here at home instead. I guess we’ll need plenty of that if the folks who brought us 9/11 find a way to breach our defenses again and manage to disperse some plague or smallpox in our major cities . . . or  detonate a dirty bomb or nuclear device in midtown Manhattan. In Dr. Dean’s view, Iraq smells like Vietnam. And, of course, with critics like him, it’s starting to feel that way too. But that’s just what Osama’s doctor ordered isn’t it? America withdraws, bleeding and whining, licking its wounds, so extremist Islam can revive its medieval "glories."

As we pass our second year since the dastardly attacks launched against us on September 11th, 2001, it pays to think about facts and what they really mean. In this country and, indeed, around the planet, we’ve been witness to the remarkable human propensity to tell stories. It may be the case that we don’t yet have eyewitness testimony that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda actually pulled the 9/11 trigger (and that we may never have it), but if their own testimony is not to be accepted, we might as well question whether American astronaut Neil Armstrong ever really walked on the moon (as some "alternative" theorists actually do)! And, given the two years we’ve just gone through without any follow-on attacks here on our shores, might we not also be just the least bit justified in thinking the Bush policies, including proactive military action abroad, intensified counter-terrorist surveillance and the linking of intelligence networks, have helped make us even a bit more secure? Maybe presidential politics ought to be about something more than spinning our way back into that old Vietnam vortex?

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