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Crying Terrorist
Published on Thursday, July 13, 2006 by the Los Angeles Times
Crying Terrorist
Yes, bad guys are out to get us -- but U.S. officials see them everywhere.
by Patt Morrison
 

Now we know why France's team captain lost his cool in the World Cup finals and France lost the trophy to Italy.

Terrorism.

Zinedine Zidane, who is of French and Algerian ancestry, head-butted an Italian player who insulted him. Although Zidane in an interview Wednesday would not say what words provoked him, a lip reader hired by the Times of London claims Marco Materazzi called Zidane "the son of a terrorist whore.''

That's pure trickle-down politics. From the White House to the soccer pitch, "terrorist" has "cooties" and "your mother wears combat boots" flat beat as the top playground potty-mouth slur for the 21st century.

Who's surprised? The Bush administration has been scattering the word like ticker tape on a Manhattan parade. Old McDonald left the farm for the NSA, and now it's here a terrorist, there a terrorist, everywhere a terrorist.

Before the Fourth of July holiday, The Times reported that California's homeland security office had tracked garden-variety demonstrations. How dare people gather outside the Canadian Consulate and protest the vicious clubbing of baby harp seals? What is Democratic Rep. George Miller thinking, speaking out against the war to all those people in Walnut Creek? Who do those women in Santa Barbara think they are, rallying outside a courthouse to support an antiwar protester?

Personally, I think real, hard-core Al Qaeda-grade terrorists have nothing but contempt for touchy-feely "We Are the World" American do-gooder protesters; after all, didn't George Bush say terrorists hate our freedoms?

California's homeland security operation is an office of 53 people, running mostly on federal dollars, and 53 people have to keep finding something to do to justify their paychecks. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office hurried to put a lid on this. The governor believes that any inappropriate information gathering like this is unacceptable; it's a one-time-only occurrence that won't happen again; and come look at the 80 or so reports after we take out the stuff we don't think you should see.

Which turned out to be a lot. There were hints that the state was keeping an eye on the Minutemen, and something about "suspicious conversations" at a San Diego mosque, but large passages on page after page had been blacked out. A TV cameraman wasn't allowed to shoot video of the whole lotta nothing. Can't take a chance that terrorists might have X-ray vision.

Terrorism is real, and it's virulent. And we are not paranoid they are out to get us. But don't go overboard on who "they" are and start seeing terrorists everywhere. To start accusing every "other" of terrorism is a diversion and the best possible cover for the real terrorists. The Los Angeles Police Department went off the rails the same way a couple of decades ago. Its drift-net spying on "subversives" ended up hauling in data on Quakers and people who traded teddy bears for toy guns and an anti-Soviet Jewish group founded by a guy named Zev Yaroslavsky, who's now an L.A. County supervisor. Two million files in all some of which a detective passed along to a right-wing group in Virginia.

Throwing around a potent word like "terrorism" only cheapens it. Perfect example: a New York Times report that the federal Homeland Security Department's list of juicy terrorist targets is so broad and flawed that it includes the Amish Country Popcorn Factory, a petting zoo and a Mule Day parade among the vulnerable sites. Indiana not California, not New York was the state with the most terrorist targets (8,591). Keep this kind of stuff coming out of Washington and Jay Leno and Jon Stewart can fire their writers. With the same lavishness, the administration is frenetically classifying documents as "secret," and even reclassifying information that had been public for years; "top secret" will cease to mean anything at all.

In the same spirit, the administration has been free and easy with the word "eco-terrorism" to describe the property destruction, chiefly arson, wrought by radical environmental groups who point out, conversely, that the real "eco-terrorism" is what corporate America is doing to the nation's rivers, forests and wildlife.

Osama bin Laden has said that he fears mockery more than death. If eco-protesters want to do some real damage, they should give up arson and take up ridicule. Don't torch those SUVs; put a cardboard cutout of Bin Laden in the passenger seat of an H2, and one of Dubya in the driver's seat beside him, then alert the media.

In a Humor Deficit Disorder world, even tactics like this can backfire. Newsweek reported that a satirical protest outside Halliburton's offices about 10 people handing out peanut butter sandwiches to Halliburton employees to mock the company's alleged overcharging on food contracts in Iraq got written up as a potential threat to national security. Today, if guys dressed as Mohawk Indians dumped tea in Boston Harbor as a protest, guess which side the administration would be on?

When everything is terrorism, nothing is. A cynical leadership may not be at all reluctant to exploit a gullible and fearful public to cry "terrorist," but as any reader of Aesop can tell you, pretty soon, everyone realizes what's going on even the wolf.

© 2006 Los Angeles Times

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