Catching on to Condi
by Sarah Whalen
April 29, 2004

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This past Easter Sunday, President Bush engaged the press. He couldn’t have done this a week ago, but now he knows what to say. Because Condi Rice, his National Security Advisor, said everything already on TV.

Condi told 9/11 Commissioner Lee Hamilton, “Had we thought there was an attack coming in Washington or New York we would have moved heaven and earth to try and stop it.” Bush, being manly, says he would have “moved mountains.”

Condi swore the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing memo entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” was merely “historical information based on old reporting….There was nothing in this memo as to time, place, how or where…. There were no specifics….” Bush, combining Condi’s assertions with Hamilton’s claim that “some Muslims…hate us,” said Sunday that “Of course we knew that America was hated by Osama bin Laden. That was obvious. The question was, who was going to attack us, when and where and with what?”

Bush and Condi imply that no mortal being could know, so no action to prevent 9/11 was possible.

But this is not true.

The 8/6 memo says it all.

Who was going to attack? Al Qaeda.

When? Soon. The memo states “FBI information since [1998] indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.” “Recent” indicates preparation for something happening soon.

And where? Well, where are most of the “federal buildings in New York” located? Downtown—just blocks from the World Trade Center. In fact, there were federal offices—both overt and covert--in the WTC itself. So location, although not exact, was deducible within a few city blocks.

As to “with what,” the memo states: “Bin Ladin implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef.” What “example?” A huge car bomb that, in the WTC’s bunker-like basement, caused only minimal damage.

So this would require thinking like bin Laden. Thinking, gee, bombing from the bottom didn’t work. How about bombing from the top?

But thinking like a terrorist may scare other people. And it probably wasn’t in any course taught by Professor Korbel, Condi’s mentor.

So instead of Condi and her “Vulcans” standing around a map of Afghanistan the day after 9/11, why were they not all huddled around a map of lower Manhattan in the weeks following the 8/6 memo? Trying to think like terrorists?

They were on vacation.

But if they had decided to try, they could then have asked: Why did Ramzi Yousef choose the WTC in the first place? And why might al Qaeda choose it again? To answer, one would have to actually know something about Islam—a risky business in this administration, since one might then be accused of actually being a Muslim, of hating America and Israel, and then of being a terrorist or a sympathizer.

The main reason is that the building is big, and would certainly get peoples’ attention if it blew up, or at least fell down. Bombing the Cole, the Nairobi Embassy, and Khobar Towers did little, really, to wake up America. Bush himself said, oh, how did Condi put it? “He said he was tired of swatting flies,” Condi quoted Bush as saying to her.

Swatting flies.

Al Qaeda is the fly that roared.

And its roar is about several things. Al Qaeda wants U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia (although this has now reportedly expanded to include the whole Middle East), and it wants the Palestinian situation rectified. This may well mean an “end” to Israel, or at least to Sharon’s kind of Israel. The Bush Administration could have done a lot to defuse these contentions early on. In fact, the open presence of troops in the Persian Gulf states, the constant Iraq overflights, the enormous potential for conflict with local custom and religion, were never taken seriously as issues of contention by Bush and his advisors. And the chance for peace in Palestine, and the creation of a viable Palestinian state? Squandered by the Bush Administration. Shamefully.

And one would not even have had to guarantee “peace.” How would Americans feel if they knew that possibly this whole conflict—in New York, Afghanistan, and Iraq—could have been avoided by the merest changes in U.S. policy towards Israel? Just by, perhaps, letting U.N. resolutions critical of Israel, for good cause, pass without the U.S. exercising its veto. Truly, many Americans simply do not know the truth about Palestinians’ stateless status, the seizure of their lands and properties, the misery in which they are kept.

Most Americans, frankly, think that if Palestinians don’t like Sharon, they should just stop voting for him.

Most Americans just don’t know.

Most Americans count on their leadership to tell them the truth, as was done on the issue of South Africa. South Africa’s white, racist regime made many of the same arguments about giving black Africans the vote and allowing them full citizenship and participation that Israel makes about the Palestinians—that there would be a “blood bath,” that “tribalism” would run amok, that the high black birth rate will cause white South Africans to disappear. And yet eventually, the United States came around, largely because of popular opinion and education on the issue, and South Africa moved—not without violence, but effectively—towards a better, more moral public order.

So this would not have been impossible for Israel even a year or two ago. And certainly it was not impossible before 9/11.

But now the fly has roared. And the world is different.

But if one so dared to further speculate on target choice, one would also reason the WTC is largely a business, banking, and insurance center in the middle of an even larger business, banking, and insurance center (virtually all of New York City), and in the West, this necessarily means interest, or usury. And nothing in Islam is more sinful. Usury is more sinful than adultery, more sinful than even murder.

But no one, not even Osama bin Laden, yet escapes this horrendous Islamic sin. And al Qaeda’s actions have not eradicated this sin, but have blasphemously compounded it.

Islamic banking’s inherent dilemma is that virtually all the world’s monies move through Central banks, which are Western, interest-based banks linked irretrievably with international insurers. Bin Laden’s own financing schemes, or at least parts of them, move unavoidably through these banks and insurers, tainting his actions and making him complicit in the very sin he seeks to impugn to others, and profoundly punish. His actions ironically strengthen the Western, interest-based finance system—one which Westerners will be less ready to question, even though they are harmed by usury, because Western banking looms as a bulwark against Islamic finance, which is now wrongly but popularly viewed by Westerners as something terrorists do.

In trying to be a Muslim hero, bin Laden harmed Islam in the worst way imaginable.

If anyone in the Bush administration had bothered to study Islam, they might have been able to broadcast this fact from the first WTC bombing, and derail the whole al Qaeda operation. Or at least discredit it, dampening misguided enthusiasm.

Perhaps even get a fair-minded, brave Imam on board.

Instead of Chalabi.

So inastute, undeterred al Qaeda terrorists, unmindful they were attacking their own banking system and likely dooming their own souls, selected the WTC, which was not only the tallest building in New York, and one of the tallest in the world. It represented the biggest sin in the world.

Had Condi and company known anything about Islamic finance or Muslims views of usury, the memo and the “chatter” that accompanied it would have been a clear signpost.

What would bring this very, very, very, very big edifice and the very, very, very, very big sin it supported crashing down?

As Condi quoted from classified chatter, a “big event. There will be a very, very, very, very big uproar.”

Big building, big sin, big………bang?

Elsewhere, the memo mentions “Bin Ladin want[ing] to hijack a US aircraft.”

One might simply read newspapers. The 1996 incident where the Cuban government shot down a Cessna aircraft piloted by radical Cuban exiles who illegally entered Cuban air space and refused to leave after being repeatedly warned to do so is on point.

The United States excoriated the Cubans. But the Cubans claimed they feared the exiles planned to use their plane as a weapon to bring down the Castro government.

Gosh—would anticipating planes being used as missiles or bombs mean that one is—gasp—a Castroite Cuban? Better not mention having that thought.

International law establishes airspace over a nation as sovereign for national security. So it’s understood planes can carry weapons, and can be used as weapons. Small planes have previously crashed into government buildings, including the White House itself, so the phenomenon is hardly unknown.

What was needed to derail the 9/11 attack was creative, independent thinking, unstifled by political correctness.

Instead, Condi and Bush hold out their hands instead of exercising their brains, and say, “Oh, if we only had only been handed a detailed memo with specific dates, times, people, and places.”

But even then, they say they would have failed.

At least the Wizard of Oz’s scarecrow knew what anatomical part he was missing.

Condi and Bush seem oblivious.

But very poised, yes indeed. Condi on direct examination by her many Committee friends was unstoppable. Condi on cross examination by her presumed foes was still impressive.

Condi is used to being handed all the information she needs to look smart.

Then, immaculately coiffed, suited, and bejeweled, Condi does the rest.

The poised part.

But the thinking part? Stanford’s teacher of the year gets a failing grade.

Pity the nation. Pity the world.

Sarah Whalen is an Islamic Law expert who writes for Arab News.  She taught at Temple University School of Law in Philadelphia, and at Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans.  She is writing her first book.

Other Articles by Sarah Whalen

* From the Fish’s Mouth to Palestine’s Heart
Now in Arabia, Needed in Italy: America’s War on International Terror