Yana Djin

  Bits And Pieces

Moscow News
August, 2000


As Christmas approaches, Americans across the country are trying to get into the holiday cheer. Understandably, with the country at war, and with the economy at its lowest since 1990, when the senior member of the Bush clan resided at the White House, Santa, America’s supreme advertising agent, is showing some restraint. With all of our popular television anchors and personalities breaking their tongues in vain attempts to pronounce yet another ‘..lalabad’ or ‘...khachistan’ that keep falling, like domino pieces, to the hands of the Northern Alliance warlords, our economy is not the only thing that has officially entered the recession. So has our capacity to celebrate this year. Despite incessant urgings by the government officials to go on as though nothing has happened and to “enjoy life as usual”, Americans are tightening their belts and zipping their pockets. Recently, the president requested that the pubic show its patriotism and spend money for the sake of the flailing economy. So far, Americans are not budging. I suppose, most of them figure that investing couple of bucks into purchasing an American flag is patriotic enough at the time when people are getting laid off by the tens of thousands and the rise in the homeless population is skyrocketing. I really think that George W. and his cronies should reconsider their aggressive advertising crusade that is meant to evoke guilt feelings of inadequacy in the hearts of average Americans for not purchasing a 9th television set for their teenage children. Wasn’t one of the promises of the Bush campaign that the administration trusts the American people to handle their own money? Yes, they would reply, but this war changed everything.

Indeed, the war did change a lot. It certainly made everything else either irrelevant or insufficiently important to comment on.

There have been no significant changes or news coming from Afghanistan over the past week. The capture of an American, John Walker, fighting alongside Taliban was, probably, the most noteworthy occurrence. American politicians as well as the media are presenting the wayward 20-year-old Californian, as a traitor, which, in fact, he is. However, upon a closer look at the unfortunate youngster, one cannot help but feel sorry for him and his fate to come. Yet another studious, overly sensitive kid losing his wits. Having acquainted myself with his story, John Walker strikes me more as a classic example of an impressionable, easily manipulated, naive idealist rather than a self-serving traitor.

Watching the television footage of his capture and questioning, it is difficult not to be struck at the total transformation that the boy must have underwent. Speaking with a madrasa accent in his native English, he whispered that “his heart got attached to Taliban”. As a teenage son of a divorced couple, Walker discovered Islam by surfing the websites of his favorite hip-hop CD’s which he later sold and requested to be sent to a madrasa. He studied Islam and its laws in Yemen and Pakistan and the muftis that supervised him were amazed at his studiousness and his lack of interest in any social life which he considered “a waste of time”. The people in the village where his madrasa was located loved the boy and would take turns sending him food and clothing. Apparently, he had told his teacher that the reason he left his country was that America was a loveless land that exalted the self above all else. He felt that family members in the US were so busy pursuing their own goals that they had hardly any time for each other.

Perhaps, he had a point in his own case if his parents, fresh from a divorce, allowed their teenage son to relocate alone to a foreign country with less than favorable conditions. In any case, his and his parents’ is truly a tragic story in my view. The Justice Department, reportedly, is already warming for a case against him and John Ashcroft is determined to make an example out of John Walker.

I can’t say that I am surprised. Ashcroft isn’t exactly a forgiving or understanding soul. He is the kind of a man for whom laws are made not to protect the individual but to punish him. Appointed by our “compassionate republican” George W mainly to appease the ultra-conservative right, Ashcroft’s record is far from appealing to many tastes in this country. Let’s just name a few of his “goals and aspirations”: to criminalize abortion even in the cases of rape or incest, to amend the Constitution in such areas as school prayer and flag-burning, and to deny the homosexuals equal rights in society. Not too compassionate, is it?

Well, Ashcroft is causing quite a stir from various groups in this country who feel increasingly unsettled over additional rights and privileges that the Attorney General want to grant himself and his department. The idea of military tribunals for non-American citizens is, thankfully, not sliding by without protest, especially as the past terrorist trials did not cause any alarm over security issues for the country. His order to eavesdrop on conversations between prisoners and their lawyers without a warrant did not strike many in America as befitting a democracy, even if it is in danger. Those raising the alarm are not only liberal organizations like the ACLU but conservative institutions like the CATO Institute. William Safire, the respected columnists from the NY Times, a conservative himself, attempted to blow the whistle of caution on Ashcroft numerous times since the start of the war. And, finally, this week, one of the most respected magazines in the world, the New Yorker, openly called for Ashcrfot’s replacement. I sincerely doubt that George Jr. is going to heed to the latter call. So, with the country at war outside its borders, with the slugging economy and threatened civil rights within, it is not to hard to fathom why we don’t exactly feel like partying. Besides, we, the people in America, don’t exactly know how to have a good time in the times of peace and plenty either. We don’t travel much, we don’t read much, we don’t converse with each other much. I suppose, this year we would also stay away from our “beloved shopping malls" and live with the fact that we’ll use the same remote control for the second year in the row.

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