Fire From the Madding Crowd

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 6 2006 5:29 AM

Fire From the Madding Crowd

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times both lead with reports on Muslim protesters in Lebanon enraged by the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. The WP emphasizes that the protesters set fire to the Danish Embassy in Beirut, while the LAT spotlights their attack on a church. The New York Times leads with news that the Pentagon will ramp up efforts to counter homemade bombs in Iraq. USA Today leads with the news that the big telecom companies are going along with the NSA's program to spy on domestic phone calls. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with Iran's response to the International Atomic Energy Agency's decision to report it to the Security Council.

One day after Syrian protesters burned embassies in Damascus, Lebanese protestors followed suit, igniting the Danish Embassy in Beirut and rampaging though a Christian neighborhood. The protesters also threw rocks at a Maronite Catholic church, broke windows at the Red Cross, torched firetrucks, overturned police cars, and chanted anti-American and anti-Semitic slogans. In response to the mayhem, ad hoc Christian youth bands formed and, armed with sticks and iron bars, pledged to defend their neighborhoods. European and Muslim leaders alike called for calm, and the Lebanese PM hit the airwaves, saying, "Those who are committing these acts have nothing to do with Islam or with Lebanon." Lebanon's elder Sunni cleric warned that violence could communicate "a distorted image of Islam."

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The LAT focuses on religious tensions, mentioning the church, rather than the embassy, in its headline, and noting that this was the first time the protests over the caricatures targeted another community. Lebanon's 15-year civil war was also fought along religious lines. The LAT wonders whether the rioting in tightly controlled Syria could have occurred without tacit approval from the regime and notes the possibility of Syrian involvement in the Lebanese protest as well.

The NYT reports that the U.S. military will double the personnel and triple the spending devoted to combating homemade bombs, the No. 1 killer of American troops in Iraq. The number of makeshift bomb attacks doubled in the last year, accounting for 90 percent of the Army's casualties. But as it stands, the military only finds and defuses 40 percent of them. New technology and training techniques will be used, and new experts from the FBI and CIA will be brought in. The NYT interprets this as a "tacit acknowledgement" that the response so far has not been sufficiently "focused or coordinated at the highest levels."

USAT reports that AT&T, MCI, and Sprint are cooperating with the NSA's warantless wiretapping program. Anonymous telecom execs confirmed their cooperation, but the telecom giants officially had no comment. Until this program, phone companies required court orders before cooperating with a wiretap. USAT acknowledges that the NYT originally broke the news of the telecoms' cooperation in December but takes credit for digging up the company names. Absent warrants, the telecoms are granting access to their systems on the basis of "oral requests from senior government officials."

The WSJ reports that after the International Atomic Energy Agency board's vote to report Iran to the Security Council in response to fears that the country may be developing nuclear weapons, Iran will resume enriching uranium and will not submit to snap inspections. But it stopped short of ending all talks. After threatening to call off talks with Russia, Iran backed down, instead continuing to negotiate toward a deal that could avert U.N. sanctions. Iran also did not withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which means that the IAEA will continue searching for Iranian nuclear facilities. Meanwhile, Rumsfeld called Iran "the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism."

The NYT fronts news that as the U.S. military turns more and more control of Iraq's heartland over to Iraqi forces, it faces a dilemma: Most Iraqi soldiers and police are Shiites. As they restore order, Shiites are using tough tactics—including torture—to clamp down on the largely Sunni-backed insurgency. The use of excessive force not only presents a moral problem, but also risks fueling the insurgency.

The WP off-lead spends time with relatives of 9/11 victims who are preparing for the imminent trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker. Moussaoui pleaded guilty last year to conspiring with al-Qaida to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Eighteen secret jurors will decide whether Moussaoui is eligibile for the death penalty. This will be the first time the Bush administration outlines the 9/11 conspiracy in a public courtroom.

The NYT fronts news that state and local health departments are unprepared for an avian flu pandemic. "Hobbled by a lack of money" from the federal government, most will be unprepared for at least a year. In the event of an outbreak, the federal government is responsible for stockpiling vaccines and antiviral drugs, but it is city and state governments that must quarantine and care for the sick and actually deliver vaccines. The CDC issued a grim alarum: "If we prepare now, we may be able to decrease the death rate and keep society functioning." Until then, warns the National Academy of Sciences, the only strategy available will be "social distancing."

Apes of Wrath … The LAT offers an evolutionary psychology explanation for road rage: the urge to defend one's territory. We're wired to protect not just our turf, but also our reputations. The problem is that our territorial behaviors are designed for the Pleistocene era and misfire in a world where we routinely interact with strangers. Responses that helped cavemen reproduce now just get us sued or incarcerated.

Jay Dixit is a writer in New York. He has written for the New York Times and Rolling Stone.