- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

One thing about this summer: there was no so-called silly season. Too much menace from Iraq to Indonesia to Northern Virginia for the media to muster the enthusiasm to tally shark attacks obsessively, track global warming assiduously, or chronicle even the most vapid celebrity breakups as if they cared. But, if there was no silly season, there may have been a summertime spike in the ludicrous, from California recall reports of, say, Arianna Huffington’s measly $771 two-year federal tax bill (but what did she pay the accountant?) to a Washington Post front-pager parsing the finer points of identity politics — as in why no self-respecting “Latino” wants to be known as “Hispanic.”

Then, there were outrages du jour that barely broke the media haze. I can think of no other category for the following Frenchery offered up by Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, an advisor to French president Jacques Chirac — who, of course, has his own troubles, as he presides over the final body count of thousands of elderly heat wave victims just now being claimed for burial as their offspring return from les vacances. (How do you say “heart of gold” in French?)

This is what Monsieur Gourdault-Montagne had to say about the Bush push for the European Union to outlaw Islamic Jihad and Hamas, two terror groups behind last week’s bus bombing in Jerusalem: “If we find that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are indeed terror groups opposed to peace, we may have to change the EU’s stand. However, we must not limit ourselves to one, clear-cut, position.”

If they are terror groups? If they are opposed to peace? After all the many Hamas-murdered and Hamas-maimed — ditto for Islamic Jihad — in the name of eradicating Israel from the world map, a bout of sputtering may be the first line of response to such amoral prattle. Better to sputter, though, than to dodge behind a figleafy distinction between the “military” and “political” wings of Hamas and Co., which the French have done, shunning the former and tolerating the latter.

By chance (well, maybe not by chance) www.memri.com this week posted an article from a Hamas publication by Dr. Abdel Aziz “I swear we will not leave a single Jew in Palestine” Rantisi that gives us all a gander at the world according to “political” Hamas. “It is no longer a secret that the Zionists were behind the Nazi’s murder of many Jews, and agreed to it, with the aim of intimidating [the Jews] and forcing them to immigrate to Palestine,” Mr. Aziz Rantisi writes, I mean, raves. “Every time they failed to persuade a group of Jews to immigrate to Palestine, they unhesitatingly sentenced them to death.” Mr. Aziz Rantisi also believes the gas chambers of the Third Reich were a myth, but never mind. “When we compare the Zionists to the Nazis,” he concludes, “we insult the Nazis.”

And when we compare “political Hamas” to political anything, we insult ourselves. This isn’t political, it’s diabolical — and in reality, alas, no mere aberration of the summer season. No doubt there’s more double-talk in store from the Maurice Gourdault-Montagnes of the world, who disguise such anti-Western venom as parlor-ready political discourse, masking their own motives, it seems, in the process. Which is one reason the next entry in the summer memory book — the obituary of a notable British explorer — is at least a little different.

Sir Wilfred Thesiger, dead at age 93, was by all accounts the last of the Mohicans when it comes to pre-modern desert exploration. He rode camels here and roughed it there, covering vast stretches of the Arabian Peninsula back when it was still uncharted, even by Standard Oil. His August death prompted suitably lengthy and predictably respectful obits in the British papers, but only Saudi Arabia’s Arab News got to the more curious heart of the matter.

According to a fellow explorer, Sir Wilfred was not just an eccentric reactionary opposed to “progress, education and cars” — odd enough — but he was also “able to travel to fulfill his antipathy to Western values.” How’s that? Here is an example: After Eton and Oxford—natch — dear Sir Wilfred trekked around Abyssinia with tribesmen “whose social standing,” the Arab News reports, “was measured by the number of men they had killed.” From his autobiography, Sir Wilfred is quoted as having written about the experience: “I knew that this moonlight meeting in unknown Africa with a savage potentate who hated Europeans was the realization of my boyhood dreams.”

At least the man was forthright about his antipathies, not to mention his dreams. Of course, there are those who dream of a home where the buffalo roam; others who dream of April, or even August, in Paris — a dream deferred this summer, as many Americans, in the travel story of the season, steered clear of France. Which wouldn’t have pleased Sir Wilfred much, all that traveling to fulfill an affinity for Western values.

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