- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2005

“Can’t we all just get along?”

Of course not. Taking offense and demanding apologies has become the No. 1 sport in certain precincts, exceeding baseball, soccer and camel racing. In some societies, collecting insults approaches the pursuit of sex.

Howard Dean screams for apologies from Republicans, and Sen. Harry Reid, the one-man Democratic insult machine, leaves regrets echoing in his wake. Indian tribes demand that college administrators eliminate “native American” mascots. Blacks want the names of dead white heroes of early America scrubbed from streets, parks and even cities. Saddam Hussein is outraged because we’ve seen him in his underwear. (If we can take it, why can’t he?)

Nobody plays this game better than our late-starting Muslim friends. Newsweek’s greatest gaffe, as it turns out, was not in incorrectly reporting that guards at Guantanamo “flushed” a copy of the Koran down a toilet, nor even in offering a tepid apology for doing so. The magazine’s gravest offense is that the story ain’t necessarily so. It’s hard to make a profit from an apology for something that didn’t happen.

Plumbers, who ought to know, thought the Newsweek item smelled bad from the start. A little toilet paper, even a Kleenex, is more than most modern toilets can handle, and something as big as a Koran, or a volume as small as the paperback edition of “Arab Heroes of Wars With Israel,” would choke the old four-gallon jobs. The less said the better about the elegant squat-and-let-fly toilets, which to Judeo-Christian eyes are just holes in the floor. These were installed for the pleasure of cultured terrorist guests at Guantanamo. Such conveniences, whatever they are, are not “flush” jobs.

But it’s not just the devotees of the Prophet. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the noted scholar, theologian and shakedown artist, got an unexpected opportunity from President Vicente Fox of Mexico, whose war on poverty consists of sending his tired, his poor and his huddled masses yearning to be free off to clean toilets in Tucson, Tucumcari and Beverly Hills. He forgot where he was and remarked that Mexican immigrants flood north to take jobs that “not even blacks” want. Mr. Fox, though astute, is not hip. He understands that in America we have free speech, but does not understand that free speech doesn’t necessarily include plain speech.

The Rev. Dr. Jackson flew off to Mexico City to confront el Presidente, and in anticipation of returning with the riches of Montezuma, took his fellow distinguished divine, the Rev. Dr. Al Sharpton, to help carry back the loot. El Presidente received him, but unlike pols north of the border, did not deck himself out in a tailored hair shirt. “In no case had there been a racist attitude,” the president’s press agent said. “The point is closed.” Yesterday, the NAACP said it had invited President Fox to its annual convention, where he will have further opportunity to discuss ethnic work ethics.

Only a little farther south, similar demands for apologies have grown to an international incident between Argentina and Brazil. This all began on the soccer field, the only truly serious venue south of the border. Gringo wars begin over trivial events — the firing on Fort Sumter, assassinating an archduke, bombing Pearl Harbor — but more than one war has been set off by a soccer match in the land of the big enchilada. This latest dispute began when an Argentine player called a Brazilian player “el negro.” Argentinians note that their own superstar, who is not black, is called “el negro” because he’s dark, and that the insulted Brazilian is called “Grafite” because he is, in fact, black. The particulars of this dispute are over the head of a mere gringo who likes baseball, but there’s hope that it can be worked out short of war. The powers that be, if any, should nevertheless consider holding the flight to Buenos Aires for Jesse and Al at the airport.

President Bush dispatched Laura to the Middle East in the wake of the Newsweek kerfuffle — sending women into combat is this administration’s default strategy — and a good thing, too. Muslims are in no mood to let the controversy die. The president of Afghanistan, visiting Washington, threw a late rock at Newsweek only yesterday.

Anyone who has enjoyed the spirit of live and let live in Arabia can understand why. You can’t get a drink of anything stronger than Pepsi. Girl-watching is reduced to comparing burkas. Unless there’s a beheading of a Christian or a Jew in the town square, life is bor-r-r-r-r-ing. Praying, listening to an imam read from the Koran and recite all the things you aren’t allowed to do gets old. Reciting insults and demanding apologies is the only Entertainment Tonight.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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