First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Al-Qaeda's Secret Message to America
For the first time, Al-Qaeda has claimed credit for a terrorist act.
Till now, they have kept their silence and let their victims figure out as best they could who did it. So why the change?
It may be that, having become so publicly known, there is no further point in remaining secret. After all, they are likely to be the first ones blamed, so why not just admit it from the start?
But personally, I don't think that's their reason at all.
They were severely damaged in Afghanistan, and they have been further damaged by our policy vis-a-vis other nations that used to provide them protection and sponsorship. Fear of getting the same treatment Afghanistan got has caused sponsors of terrorism to think twice about getting -- or staying -- in bed with Al-Qaeda.
This is what a firm -- or even, if you choose to use the term, brutal -- foreign policy accomplishes. Nations that, out of cowardice or malice, support terrorism do so because they don't want to face the consequences of malicious actions.
So when they see that they will face the consequences for the actions of terrorists they sponsor or protect, then there is no further benefit to them from supporting terrorism.
Seen in that light, the missile attack on an Israeli airliner and the bombing aimed at Jews in Kenya take on a very different meaning.
What Al-Qaeda meant to tell the world is:
1. Al-Qaeda is still strong and still capable of mounting credible terrorist threats.
2. Al-Qaeda is now attacking Jews just like Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad and Al Fatah, showing solidarity with the suffering Palestinians.
In fact, however, these attacks teach us a lot of things about Al-Qaeda that they'd just as soon we didn't realize:
1. Al-Qaeda has been severely weakened, and instead of attacking America directly the way they used to do, they are reduced to attacking defenseless people in third-world nations.
2. Al-Qaeda, instead of being mythically competent, can't even shoot down an undefended, unsuspecting airliner.
3. Al-Qaeda is perfectly willing to kill large numbers of innocent African bystanders in order to get at just a handful of "enemies." It is worth noting that they only do this sort of thing in Africa. In Al-Qaeda's world view, it apparently doesn't matter how many black people you kill, even though they have never harmed Islam in any way.
4. Al-Qaeda knows it's weak, but doesn't want the Muslim world to think they're weak, so they have to claim credit now for any feeble, cowardly thing they do, just so their audience will keep watching the show.
5. Al-Qaeda is terrified of being blamed by the Muslim world for bringing the wrath of America down upon Muslim nations. Therefore they are making a point of attacking non-American targets. They know that Americans don't make war on groups that kill Jews -- in fact, America pressures Israel to negotiate with such groups. They hope that as long as they are only killing Jews, they won't provoke America to any more attacks against sponsoring nations.
6. Al-Qaeda has always been apart from other Muslim groups. And those others have good reason to think that Al-Qaeda looks down on them. This has kept them from getting much help when they need it. So by attacking Israeli targets, they hope to get Muslims to think of them as "one of the gang."
Good news. One of the first actions of the new Department of Homeland Security was to eliminate the stupidest and most annoying "security" measure at airports: No more random searches of people who are actually in the process of boarding an airplane.
This was the thing I hated worst -- to be in line to get on the plane, weary and ready to sink into my seat, only to be the one singled out to sit down, take off my shoes, then stand up and get wanded while they unpack my luggage.
This sort of thing could happen to the same person several times during the same trip, but the most maddening time was when you had to lose your place in line in order to submit to it.
By the time you got onto the plane, all the overhead compartments were taken, all the pillows were gone, and you had to climb over people in order to get to your seat.
Those days are finally over. They will still do random searches at other points in the airport -- including random searches of people sitting down waiting for their flights. But once your group has been called and you're actually in line to get on the plane, they'll leave you alone.
Heck ... I might even start flying again.
United Airlines is the first major airline to go over the line into Chapter 11 bankruptcy because of the sharp downturn in air travel after 911.
Part of the downturn in air travel is because of a fundamental misunderstanding by the government.
They thought we weren't flying as much because we were afraid of terrorist attacks. To get us back in the air, therefore, they thought we needed lots of highly visible assurances that flying was safe now.
That's why they chose the most obtrusive of "safety measures" -- so we would absolutely see how much they were doing to protect us.
But we're not actually as stupid or fearful as the government thinks. For a few days it was fear that kept people out of the air. But very quickly most people realized that no one was ever going to be able to take over an airliner again, period -- the passengers will immediately assume that they're going to die anyway, so they might as well spend their last moments fighting to regain control of the plane.
In other words, we air travelers decided that it didn't much matter what the government did, as long as they kept guns and bombs off the planes and made it a lot harder to get into a locked cockpit. We would take care of the rest.
From that point on, the main reason air travel stayed so far down was because all those highly visible but deeply useless "security measures" made it so annoying to fly that most of us preferred to drive or take the train or not go at all.
In the time since 9/11, I have taken about a dozen flights. But I have also not taken about three dozen flights that I would otherwise have taken.
When the harassment in the airports is confined to those measures that actually might have some positive effect on security, then I'll fly again as much as I did before.
Still, it was no surprise that United was the first to hit the wall. As an employee-owned airline, it was hard for management to conduct tough wage negotiations. What can you do when the stockholders and the work force are the same people?
There's no chance the government will allow United to go under. United is too big and too important a part of the American air transportation system. United is the only airline that goes absolutely everywhere, and it would cripple the system for them to go under.
But the government turned down United's request for loan guarantees because the employees rejected the wage concessions that the government required in order to put United on a sound financial footing.
Now, let's be realistic here. This is union labor we're talking about. When you go begging to a Republican administration, the Republicans call the tune -- and that includes a distinct lack of sympathy for unions which, after all, spend vast amounts of money trying to throw Republicans out of office.
In the end, the unions will make the concessions and United will keep flying.
And when somebody complains that the Republicans were playing politics by forcing wage concessions before bailing out the airline, remember: If they hadn't stuck it to the unions, would the unions have changed their policies and supported Republicans out of gratitude?
Politics goes on, war or no war, recession or no recession. When one segment of the population chooses one party and sticks to it, then when that party loses, you can't expect to get favored -- or even strictly fair -- treatment.
Parties in power invariably help those groups that got them there, and do no favors for those that fought to keep them out.
It's good for America to keep United flying. But it's bad for Republicans to keep unions prospering. You do the math. No matter what happens, the unions are going to lose. At some point, they'll realize that it's better to have a deep wage cut than to have no job at all.
United will fly.
And unions will keep pouring money into Democrats' campaigns.
Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card.
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