When I first heard of the young man who had opened fire in a Salt Lake City shopping mall, killing (I think) six and wounding three, I immediately began to wonder to which group of pschopaths the kid belonged: spoiled suburban white boy or Muslim. When it took more than an hour to release the name (Suleymen Talovic), I correctly concluded Muslim. Suleymen came from Bosnia—he has been invariably described in the press as “refugee from war-torn Bosnia”—either three or nine years ago, depending on what report you read.
The FBI assures the country that young man’s killing spree was not an act of Islamic terrorism. How do they know? Of course, they don’t know, and they know they don’t know. But nearly every police official tells these lies, though the supply of credulous listeners is in sharp decline. On the other hand, yahoo bloggers are convinced the kid was an Al Quaeda agent, and the more I read from such people, the more sympathy I have with FBI liars. Too few Americans are sufficiently morally stable to be told facts about anything. What if it turns out that Talovic cared nothing for the Koran, that he was only one more embittered immigrant out for revenge against the country that had taken him in? Or what if the fault lay with divorced or separated parents or with the stupid teachers who wasted tens of thousands of tax dollars? None of this is discussable here in America. Just hint, once, that many young girls who have been molested and/or murdered were being brought up in morally disordered households, and the Harpies will descend upon your life and poison all its pleasures.Naturally, in a nation of lies, a “Bosnijak” killing spree is just the occasion for repeating the “Bosnijak” version of history, how the poor down-trodden little Muzzie-Wuzzies were oppressed by the mean old Christian Serbs. One of the best impassioned outcries comes from a maudlin columnist in the Salt Lake City Tribune. Not content with giving the basic Bosnijak myth manufactured by PR agencies, Rebecca Walsh decided to go Pulitzer:
” . . . The details are antiseptic, written in journalistic shorthand. No gory details about homes being burned, fathers marched off to concentration camps or mothers and sisters raped.”
One wonders how much time Ms. Walsh spent in Bosnia before adopting her morality-play version of contemporary history.
Left out of her—and virtually every other—account is any hint that the “Bosnijaks” were ruthless agents of Ottoman oppression or that that they committed unspeakable war crimes during WWII or that their renewed violence and aggression helped to bring on the Bosnian War. Best of all, Ms Walsh seems to know nothing about the active role played by the Clinton administration in continuing the war. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” is the inevitable refrain of American journalists whose knowledge of history comes from Ken Burns’ mockumentaries.
Perhaps young Talovic was deeply affected by the violence he witnessed in childhood—though from experience I have learned to take these refugee stories with handfuls of salt: It is their tale of suffering that has made it possible for them to live in the American paradise. We shall probably never find out what made him tick so loud he ultimately exploded, but that is because we do not want to know. Truth, in America today, is whatever story can be trimmed to fit an historical template created by pop historians, high school civics teachers, news producers, State Department spokesmen—and other propagandists.
It probably does not need saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Political liberty cannot survive in a country in which public “debate” consists of statements made by dishonest law enforcement agencies, a lying and ignorant press corps, and the self-abusing white trash who infest the blogosphere.
Part of my job is to make a daily descent into the sewage stream we call the “news”—though nothing new happens in the course of the average year. You, dear reader, can make an honest living without listening to NPR or looking at Drudge. At least, take up Proust’s suggestion: buy cheap editions of great books and read them at the table and on trains and save the newspaper gossip, suitably bound in leather, for that rare occasion when you want to slum it.
PS: If my mood seems too jovial, my outlook too optimistic, please blame it on ten days of a “cold with flu-like symptoms” that forced me to take to my bed where I reread four volumes of Waugh, a bunch of Venetian history, and several Restoration plays. I did force myself to listen to the news but made up for it with Manhattans and the first “Mr. Moto” film—70 minutes of mindless entertainment unalloyed, so far as I could tell, by any highminded agenda. I’d forgotten how good Peter Lorre could be, when he had to work for a living.