Stunning Beams of Light
An email conversation about the news of the day.
March 12 2002 12:58 PM




I'm glad that the Letterman-Koppel affair has been resolved with no one leaving. But I think older men—Koppel's base—need to organize and assert their power as consumers. No, seriously, if they were to do all the usual things that victimized people normally do in America—form an association, take out ads, have spokesmen on TV shows—they would be noticed. The message should be that older men have lots of money, and they do switch brands and even move to new ones like Amazon. So pay attention! If it works, everyone will get less obsessed with catering to the tastes of teen-agers, and you will see a general uplift in the culture. Why do I care about this? Well, I'm not old enough to fit the demographics yet, but as someone whose been 20 going on 50 for most of his life, I feel their pain. Besides, these are the people who read books and magazines, watch the news, follow politics and economics. These are my people.

The front page today is dominated by those two stunning beams of light surging out of the debris of the World Trade Center. I cannot imagine any future physical memorial will be able to match them for sheer effect. In his irresistible Weblog, Andrew Sullivan makes the excellent suggestion that they should be lit every Sept. 11 in memory of the attack. I've always thought that whatever buildings are built there, at the top of the tallest one, they should build a memorial tower with an eternal flame, easily visible from outside. Just imagine if whenever you flew to New York and circled around Lower Manhattan, or drove in from New Jersey, or walked along Battery Park, you saw that light. It would become a permanent part of the New York skyline, something that defined New York for future generations.

Six months on, I'm not sure exactly how I feel on a gut level. I feel safer than I thought I would. America's response to being attacked has been smart and effective. I think that Osama Bin Laden is dead or badly injured; if not, it would be in his interest to resurface on a videotape somewhere. And perhaps al-Qaida is not as deadly as we think, and this disruption and constant police and intelligence work will prove fatal for it. I don't share the hysteria about some of these smaller groups in Southeast Asia. Abu Sayyaf, the Philippine "affiliate" of al-Qaida, is probably 500 people and has few ties with Bin Laden. The Times Magazine's article last Sunday on Jaffar Thalib, "Indonesia's Bin Laden," was another strained effort to build up the importance of a guy who has a few thousand followers at best in a country of 240 million! Of course the Philippine and Indonesian governments will exaggerate the threat so that they can get American money, arms, and a pass on any human rights issues. Governments around the world know how to seize an opportunity when they see one.

The nagging fear I have is that in today's world, a massive terrorist disruption is so easy. All it takes is some preparation and a few people willing to die. That latter part is the distinctive feature of today's terrorism. It's always been easy to get people to kill. But getting people to die in the process is much, much rarer. And whatever we say, America is the main target. Because we are No.1, we are also target No. 1.

Talk to you soon,

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International and the author of The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.



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