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The Un-Americans

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It is possible to see these nineteen men as not Middle Easterners or Muslims or even Al Qaedaians, but as at least half-Americans. While there may be some comfort in calling them "sleepers," that may just be another name for immigrants with conflicting loyalties. (The other day, the Times ran a story from France headlined "In Suburban Squalor Near Paris, Echoes of Jihad" -- are there no such echoes in Jersey City or Paterson?) As immigrants, they may well see themselves, as generations have before them, as leading parallel lives -- the old life and the new. The former life and the American life. (Did they want to hang out with J.Lo? Did they hate others -- or themselves -- for wanting to hang out with J.Lo?) They may know so much about America because they are by some factor Americans (even if they never wanted to become Americans, they may have). And if they are Americans, they can, logically, be disaffected Americans.

They may, I am saying, have something in common with Timothy McVeigh. They may have picked up a strain of American craziness (on top of Middle Eastern craziness). My earlier crack about the lap dancer may be wrong. It implies what we take for granted -- that they were engaging in furtive-foreigner activity, sexual tourism. Instead of seeing this the way we would see it if they were Americans -- as potentially marginal, depressed, lonely, unsocialized behavior (for further scrutiny, the sexual repression angle: i.e., Mohamed Atta, his woman-hatred and his thing for B-girls). Combine this with -- like McVeigh -- a whole set of magnified, abstract, impersonal, nutty grievances.

One problem with this theory is that there were nineteen of them. Nineteen crazies acting in concert seems, in scale, different from McVeigh and his cohort, Terry Nichols. As different as the Murrah Federal Building is from the World Trade Center.

But exactly how different may be an important question to try to answer.

Let's say it is half an attack by foreign enemies and half an attack by home-grown nuts. Let's at least wonder if they were programmed, Manchurian Candidate-style, from abroad, or if, here in Florida or wherever, unhappy, unloved, disappointed, watching television, absorbing the vibes of everyday American life, picking up the tabs at the supermarket (puzzling over them, anyway), hating or loving Tom Brokaw on the Nightly News, they caught the crazy bug. Or, again, a little of both. They came here with a grudge -- but here the grudge might have gotten grimmer, and smarter, and pretty slick too.

E-mail: michael@burnrate.com


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