- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

What do a cardinal, a prince and a comedian have in common? Assuming that the cardinal we are speaking about is not a bird or a ballplayer, the answer would be, "nothing" unless you somehow make a mishmash of all three and conjure up images of a cardinal who is, after all, a prince of the church telling jokes.

Cardinal Edward Egan was not telling jokes at the Oct. 2 Rome Conference for Bishops. He was asked if the United States might have helped create the climate of hate that was a cause of the Sept. 11 massacre, and should Americans now do some introspection on the subject? His answer: "Definitely, we have to examine our consciences." He went on to say, "… words like 'vengeance,' 'retaliation' and so forth are not the words of civilized people."

We always believed that the purpose of words was communication, and for effective communication both sides have to be speaking the same language. If we told a joke in Polish to an audience of Chinese people, it is a reasonable assumption that we would have a hard time getting a laugh. While it is unpleasant to use a word like "retaliation," if that is the only language available for meaningful communication, then sadly, it must be used to get the message across. Before we began to love our enemies, the Book of Exodus told us, "An eye for eye, tooth for tooth … Burning for burning, wound for wound."

On Oct. 11, dressed in a white sheet, Prince Alwaleed came to New York. What distinguished him from a member of the KKK, an organization with whom he shares many beliefs, or your run-of-the-mill cross-dresser, was the fact that he clutched a $10 million check in his hand. He visited the horror that was the World Trade Center and duly handed the check to Mayor Rudy Giuliani as a contribution for the Twin Towers fund, along with a letter expressing appropriate condolences and condemnation of "… all forms of terrorism." However, shortly thereafter the prince issued a press release stating, "At times like this one, we must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack. I believe the United States of America should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance towards the Palestinian cause. Our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of the Israelis while the world turns the other cheek." The mayor promptly told him where he could stick his check and it was not into one of the prince's oil wells.

Bill Maher, host of the television show "Politically Incorrect," presents himself as a comedian and then somehow metamorphoses that talent, slight though it may be, into a legitimization of himself as a political pundit a combination of Walter Lippman and Groucho Marx. During Mr. Maher's first show after the Sept. 11 outrage he said: "We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly."

He should try to speak that nonsense to the 5,000 families who had a member incinerated, or the 5,000 people who were not at war, who were preparing for a day's work, and whose only fault was showing up for work on time on that terrible day.

Knowing that he went too far and, obviously, fearful of losing his job, Mr. Maher offered an apology. The pertinent part reads: "In no way was I intending, nor have ever thought, that the men and women who defend our nation in uniform are anything but courageous and valiant, and I offer my apologies to anyone who took it wrong."

Sadly, words are a reflection of one's thoughts and, indeed, a careful reading even of his "apology" indicates that he still is apparently treating the obscene murderers who caused the death of 5,000 people as brave men. He carefully omits mention of them in his apology, but rather limits the apology to our own armed forces. Someone should explain to him it does not take a brave man to slit a helpless flight attendant's throat and use an airplane to murder thousands of defenseless people. It takes an evil lunatic. It doesn't take a brave man to anonymously put anthrax in envelopes and poison a 7-month-old child. It takes an ultimate coward to do this.

We are left therefore with a cardinal who should know better, a prince from whom we can't expect more and, at best, a comedian who has been given more television time than common sense. For all the talents the cardinal, prince and television clown might have, they lack one which comes with maturity and wisdom knowing when to keep one's mouth shut.

Jackie Mason is a comedian. Raoul Felder is a lawyer.

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