Who's sorrier: Janet Jackson or Abdul Khan?

What the foreign papers are saying.
Feb. 6 2004 6:20 PM

The Fallout From the Fall-Out

Who's sorrier: Janet Jackson or Abdul Qadeer Khan?

The world was shocked by two revelations this week: Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan outed himself as a source of nuclear secrets for Iran, Libya, and North Korea; and Janet Jackson's right nipple exposed itself to an estimated 140 million Super Bowl viewers as an argument for time-delayed broadcasting. While many Pakistani papers rallied around the man viewed as the father of the nation's nuclear program, Jackson and her partner in crime, Justin Timberlake, were almost universally condemned.

"The country's pride and our heroic scientists are being humiliated in the name of American pressure," wrote the Urdu-language daily Nawa-e-Waqt (translation courtesy of Al Jazeera). Both Khan and Jackson offered contrite apologies this week, with Khan asking for and receiving a pardon from Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. "I am really sorry if I offended anyone. That was not my intention," said Janet Jackson in her own mea culpa. Unfortunately, breast-baring is apparently a more severe crime than vending to the axis of evil: As Australia's Age reported, Jackson lost her gig at Sunday's Grammys.

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While both Jackson and Khan assumed full responsibility for their actions, the brunt of criticism has fallen on the organizations that backed them. Jackson, Timberlake, CBS, MTV, and Viacom are all being sued by a woman in Tennessee, on behalf of all those who watched the half-time performance, for the "outrage, anger, embarrassment and serious injury" they may have suffered. CBS could also face federal fines of millions of dollars as part of what the Toronto Star called the "fallout from the fall-out." The Times of London reported that Janet Jackson "generated more internet traffic than the September 11 terror attacks, becoming the most searched event on the Lycos search engine."

Regarding Khan's confession, global sentiment is united in smelling a rat. The Toronto Star suggested that he isn't just a "greedy fellow who for 15 years has been running a sleazy weapons bazaar on the side." Instead, the paper warned, the "truth is likely to be darker, and may well implicate Pakistan's senior political and military echelons in proliferation-for-profit." India's Hindustan Timesargued, "The Pakistani government cannot succeed in hiding its own sins by victimising only Qadeer Khan."

While Jackson's mistake will be quickly forgotten, Khan's public abasement has added fuel to a broader proliferation debate in South Asia. When Pakistani papers weren't defending him, they were casting aspersions on the investigation that uncovered Khan's misdeeds. The Pakistani daily Ausaf observed: "The US wants to end our nuclear status and we are making its job easier. Now if it puts forward allegations of our government's involvement in the proliferation of nukes, who then could stop it from attacking us?" (Translation courtesy of BBC Monitoring.)

While it's unclear whether Khan sold hardware or just designs, the Daily Times of Lahore expressed a widely held sentiment in its editorial: "No one believes that the scientists could have smuggled some heavy nuclear hardware abroad without the knowledge of the Pakistan army."

Ed Finn is the director of the Center for Science and the Imagination and an assistant professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the Department of English at Arizona State University.

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