"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -Aldous Huxley

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wTuesday, July 08, 2003

MY MISTAKE: Philip Jenkins e-mails to say that he enjoyed my review of his new terrorism book in the American Conservative (not online yet, but readers can download a Word version of it over at my portfolio site), but I got one thing very, very wrong:

I am however shocked - SHOCKED - that you think I might not have read a Dave Barry book. I am in fact one of his alert readers.

Here's what I had written:

DAVE BARRY is a funny guy but sometimes he isn't very bright. In the introduction to his book on the foibles of the federal government, he held up the alternate-reality Democrats-are-still-in-the-White-House television drama "The West Wing" as a good example of what is wrong with the culture of Washington, D.C. The characters on the show act as if every little thing that they do has enormous repercussions, as is often the case in real life. He singled out one episode in which the regular cast "hotly debat[ed] the question of whether the president should chide some environmental group for not condemning ecoterrorism. In other words, the issue was totally about words -- whether the president should say harsh words to a group because that group had failed to say harsh words to another group. Nobody was talking about doing anything."

Penn State professor Philip Jenkins has probably not read Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway, but if he has he would have winced at the suggestion that White House debates about how to deal with any kind of terrorism didn't have real world repercussions. All that jaw-jawing sets things in motion. "If a movement associated with a particular cause is commonly agreed to be terrorist," Jenkins explains in his new book Images of Terror, "then…that stigma adheres not only to the armed group itself, but also to other peaceful groups that might share its views, whether or not they have any connection with violence."

At the law enforcement level, the terrorist label leads to greater surveillance of both the offending group and its peaceful fellow travelers, which in turn leads to deportations and other restrictions and inconveniences. Little wonder then, says Jenkins, that political movements work so hard to resist the application of the T-word to their violent but well meaning fellow ideologues. In fact, one might wonder what the West Wing's President Bartlett , a liberal Democrat, was doing sabotaging his own base. Maybe it was one of those post election Sistah Souljah moments for which fictional Democrats are so famous.

I stand corrected.

posted by Jeremy at 12:50 AM