Saturday, October 16, 2004

A Blast from the Past

Roger Simon suggests that time spent in places like Ramallah is never wholly wasted because it provides an accurate, if somewhat cynical perspective of the true state of human nature.

Andrew is tentatively flogging a Democratic Reformation argument today justifying hawks voting for Kerry ... But in the short term, next decade or so, many, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of lives will be on the line. I'm not willing to pull the lever for Kerry just to reform the Democratic Party. At its base, the senator's candidacy is too propelled by peacenik nostalgia to take that risk. ... What's behind a lot of Andrew's assertions seems to be a belief that the occupation of Iraq was botched. No doubt to some extent it was. Of course it will be many years before we know to what extent (if then). But, more importantly, could it have been another way? Not to any significant degree, I don't think. I am of a very different persuasion from Andrew on this (but perhaps I have spent more time in places like Ramallah than he has). I am actually stunned we have made as much progress in the Middle East as we have in a matter of a few years.

Mr. Simon is too modest. Time spent living in the Third World is an education without which one's understanding of Terror is sadly incomplete. Long before September 11, the Madrid train attack and the massacre of school children in Beslan they were forshadowed by Operation Bojinka, the LRT train attack and the mass abduction of schoolchildren in Basilan. Never heard of them? That's understandable.

Operation Bojinka was a series of planning exercises and dry runs in the Philippines in preparation for the September 11 attacks. Here's how Wikipedia describes it.

The term can refer to the "airline bombing plot" alone, or that combined with the "Pope assassination plot" and the "CIA plane crash plot". The first refers to a plot to destroy 11 airliners on January 21 and 22, 1995, the second refers to a plan to kill John Paul II on January 15, 1995, and the third refers a plan to crash a plane into the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia and other buildings. Operation Bojinka was prevented on January 6 and 7, 1995, but some lessons learned were apparently used by the planners of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

I can still see the Dona Josefa apartments, where these outrages were planned, in my mind's eye. It's along FB Harrison near a dusty children's playground not far from the city zoo.

On December 30, 2000 a Light Rail Transit (LRT) commuter train packed with children was blown up by Al Qaeda-affiliated Fathur Rohman Alghozi, with the assistance of Isamudin Riduan Hambali, killing 12 and mutilating 19 others. The Blumentritt station, where the blast occurred, is above an intersection so crowded the street below has been turned into a permanent wet market where hawkers sell vegetables and fish on plaited mats. The wreckage of the train was covered with bloody children's clothes and Christmas toys.

The kidnapping and murder of schoolchildren was common fare on the Island of Basilan, with which I am thoroughly familiar. In May, 2001 a Filipino journalist wrote:

It seems almost a lifetime ago since it happened. Even in the jungles of Mount Punoh Mahadji, there are hardly any signs left of the 44-day ordeal suffered by 53 kidnap victims at the hands of the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf. Indeed, the outcry over the bandits' abduction of 53 school children and teachers in Basilan on March 20 last year died down almost immediately after their rescue by a civilian paramilitary group 1 months later, on May 3. For the kidnap victims, however, the gruesome drama refuses to sink into oblivion. Memories of their sleepless nights in a cramped 12 by 38 ft. windowless wooden cell refuse to fade even in their sleep.

The victims may retain their impressions, but the world is innocent of forgetfulness; because first you have to remember before you forget. But it was not the first time Islamic rebels had kidnapped schoolboys. Just a year before a group of schoolchildren were being held for ransom by the Abu Sayyaf. A little later the Abu Sayyaf demonstrated their eclectic tastes by attacking two high schools. "They kidnapped 30 people after attacks on two high schools in March -- of them 15 have been rescued while six were killed by the guerrillas, including two adult males who were beheaded."

For those who have had the fortune, or misfortune to be acquainted with Ramallah or Basilan, 9/11, the Madrid bombing and Beslan are different only in degree to the low-level atrocities which the Western Press never stooped to notice and which, if it has its way, it can soon bury again. September 11 had the unpleasant effect of forcing them to cover what many pretended did not exist and the days since then have been an infinite trial, a bother and a wearisome task; a cross unwillingly borne by those whose calling is to higher things,  like staged United Nations fetes and spectacularly elegant diplomatic events. Possibly the only reason why Darfur, in the Sudan is not wholly forgotten in the name of political correctness is it's connection to September 11. The principal Liberal objection to the overthrow of Saddam is not that Saddam wasn't killing his own by the million; it was that President Bush had "unfairly" wired him to First World politics.

So it was with some interest that I came across an old article from July 2004 describing what had become of one of the child abductors of Basilan. He was arrested under an alias in a suburb of Manila operating a school bus service for children.

Manila -- Troops have arrested a senior commander of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf kidnap gang in Manila, Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Monday. Ibno Alih Ordonez is wanted for murder and several counts of kidnapping, including the abductions of more than 50 Christian students and teachers in the southern island of Basilan in 2001. Several hostages were killed in that incident, including a Catholic priest who was tortured and shot in the head by the gunmen. Ordonez was arrested last Thursday in the financial center of Makati, where according to investigation he operates a bus service for an exclusive school, Ermita said.

I would like to say, like many of those who urge "tolerance", that old Ibno Alih had turned a new leaf; that one should not judge too harshly from an alien cultural viewpoint. But I can't. An acquaintance with Basilan has lowered my expectations of people who kill and kidnap children; who torture and kill Catholic priests. It's dollars to donuts his school buses would been just the thing to effect another mass abduction. And when one reads that "25 Chechen terrorism suspects have illegally entered the US from Mexico", that this report may be behind "the warning issued by the US Education Department for American schools to be vigilant after Chechen militants took over a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, last month, a tragedy that cost at least 344 lives, half of them children", one can as Roger Simon does, wonder whether the Presidential election is an opportune time to reform the Democratic Party or an indulgence too grave to risk. Maybe we have to live in a Ramallah to find out.