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What a Difference a Day Makes

Whether you’re in the oven or at the beach, you’re still roasting.

On holidays, which is any time of year we manage to be together, our family likes going to the beach while dinner is cooking. (Alternate itinerary: hiking along a ridge overlooking the beach.)

While this tradition proactively burns off a few calories, true, and does help you feel less anxious when dinner smells so ready but the timer says (sob!) 2 more hours, here’s the real reason:

You might just meet some nice people at the beach who don’t have any particular plans.

Naturally you invite the lonelies home for dinner and every holiday season thereafter receive beautiful cards with photos of their beautiful families.

This past Labor Day weekend, we went to the beach as usual, content in knowing this time someone else would surely have a grill fired up, burger accessories at the ready, and a full menu of guests.

The beach was perfectly foggy and still and there’s nothing like salt air to make everything seem right again on an end-of-summer field trip before everyone goes back to school and work…including Congress who, unlike most of us, just enjoyed a 5- or 6-week paid vacation.

Supposedly visiting their constituents in their home districts, although after checking their alibis, funny how no constituents actually saw them.

But I wonder how many of our elected officials drove home last weekend from the beach, where we should’ve looked for them in the first place, past pumpkin fields and Christmas tree farms, wondering as we did: is it just our imagination, or do these holidays keep coming on us earlier and earlier every year?

Today, the 10th anniversary of September 11th, I’m thinking: where has the decade gone?

I was driving to work that Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, when I heard the news over the radio. At first, it sounded like a replay for an anniversary piece about some other attack. Maybe the World Trade Center bombing? I scanned my memory for that date and came up empty.

Then I passed Starbucks and saw an out-of-place big-screen TV. I slammed on my brakes. Inside there were 4 baristas serving no-one and 100 customers ordering nothing.

Once we saw that infamous replay of the 2nd plane, United flight 175 from Boston to LAX, hitting the Twin Towers, any hope this was nothing more than a tragic accident was gone, overtaken by fear: at this very moment, are there more planes, circling over more cities?

Maybe even Seattle?

My colleagues and I dribbled into work, some learning about the attack for the first time, others already knowing and wandering around in a daze.

Facilities was broadcasting CNN onto movie screens in large conference rooms all over campus. Conference rooms filled with employees ‒ eerily silent, frozen in place ‒ missing meetings, phone calls, lunch, dinner…because nothing mattered except finding loved ones, and loved ones finding us.

And finding out who had done this, and why, and how in the world they’d gotten away with it.

(I didn’t realize until the next day that my family, mistakenly thinking I was on the East coast, had been trying frantically to reach me and getting voice mail.)

Then came our collective amazement ‒ and anger ‒ at how within hours of the attacks the FBI had identified all 19 perpetrators on the 4 airplanes and published detailed bios, yet somehow in all the months and years prior to 9/11 had never identified them at all, let alone as dangerous.

Despite bizarre details, telling anecdotes, and red flags just screaming for follow-ups that never happened. Right up until the very day of the attack.

(To be fair, the CIA already knew 2 of the men, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were members of al-Qaeda with strong Islamic militant credentials, but because the CIA didn’t share that knowledge with the FBI or Immigration, known terrorists were given US visas with warm welcomes. Warm welcomes they promptly repaid by killing thousands of Americans.)

A few years later, the 9/11 Commission published a damning report. I read it ‒ all 585 pages ‒ and found it well-written, even engrossing. But a stark reality stayed with me: as long as we have at least 15 different intelligence agencies, with varying levels and traditions of secrecy, competing for funding and credit, even another disaster as devastating as 9/11 ultimately can’t and won’t prevent the intelligence community ‒ umbrella bureaucracy or no ‒ from eventually sliding back into exactly the “we-just-didn’t-connect-the-dots” situation that terrorists love.

In which they thrive.

In which, while TSA gropes kindergarteners, scrutinizes our brand choices in toothpaste, and wipes the insides of our pockets for explosives residue, young men traveling with no luggage, from countries with known terrorism risks, whose own fathers have reported them to the authorities saying they’re dangerous, can still buy one-way airplane tickets to the United States.

With cash. No questions asked.

But how a good friend of mine ‒ a European woman in her 40s, a mother of American-born children, a classical musician with performance credits on 3 continents ‒ is inexplicably on the terrorist watch list and has to go through lengthy, humiliating secondary screening anytime she flies…all because she inherited her Arab maiden name from her immigrant great-grandparents.

But today we remember those who lost their lives on 9/11, the victims who never saw it coming, and some whose last moments on this earth were filled with horror, and the rescuers who looked at it square in the face and ran toward it anyway, to whom we owe a debt of honor.

After almost 3,000 memorial services and beginnings of the World Trade Center cleanup and tragic reprisals against Americans who “looked foreign,” I remember how profoundly 9/11 stayed with us through that fall. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s took on a new sobriety, even while family and friends carved pumpkins and counted shopping days, discussing holiday menus and what’s the story with him, her, and them becoming vegan since last year?

But before all that, before I moved overseas and began traveling to places where 9/11 was a news item, not an experience, I flew to Alaska.

The first state in which the FAA opened airspace after 9/11.

See, there were tourists on fishing trips in the wild who hadn’t heard anything about the terrorists attacks and were stranded, running low on provisions, day after day wondering why their rides never showed up. Kids who never made it home after school on 9/11 ‒ because their school bus is an airplane ‒ and were being cared for by generous local families.

Remote villages dependent on air freight, who’d started pooling their food, just in case.

The day of my completely full flight westward from Anchorage, the heat went out in our plane…everywhere except in the cockpit.

The flight attendants passed out blankets, coffee, and apologies. The captain left the cockpit door open for the duration of the flight, saying he hoped some warm air would flow back to us eventually.

This, just 3 weeks after 9/11.

Alaska tradeoff analysis: break countless new federal regulations on a flight carrying your postmaster, your pastor, and 10 of your relatives, or have to explain to your child’s teacher why you let his very pregnant wife in seat 3B catch cold on her flight home from the doctor?

And that’s how Americans went on after 9/11. Prudent, but not paralyzed. Devastated, yet determined.

Walking along the beach a few days later, we joked about our family tradition and how we really hoped to meet some people to invite home for dinner, but sadly no-one except us braved the icy wind off Bristol Bay.

Even the caribou stayed home.

Afterwards, we went to the airport to pick up other members of our dinner party, friends who were flying in for the weekend from the city.

We watched their plane circle around twice. Nothing ominous, we knew; just allowing another plane to take off first and giving visitors a 2nd-chance photo op of the tundra’s fall colors.

Then we watched it land safely, and soon family and friends, gifts and groceries, laughter and love came spilling out onto the runway.

#OBL est mort

Something tells me Osama bin Laden would be furious to be reduced to a Twitter acronym. He who wanted to drop-kick society back 1,400 years to the Caliphate…with him as the Caliph, of course.

Oh, plus the Imam Mahdi, The Prophesied Redeemer Awaited By Followers. (Remind you of anybody?)

I found out about bin Laden’s death the old-fashioned way: by listening to people gossip on the London tube.

I had a semi-legitimate reason: they were speaking Arabic and I was happy about how much I understood, being happy at present with 20%.

Two of the guys were probably Egyptian, I surmised, and the other guy was something else and was learning Arabic very slowly with Rosetta Stone. They were talking about some other guy “yadros” (studying) “al-handasa” (engineering) at some “jami3ah” (university) − remember what I wrote before about what the 3s mean − somewhere in “Misr” (Egypt), but they pronounced it “MAH-sr,” and also pronounced certain consonants in a strange way.

Strange only if your professor is a native speaker of Levantine Arabic, although at Stanford you learn Egyptian Arabic, too, if for no other reason than to sing pop lyrics accurately.

One of the guys took a call on his mobile phone from “my mother” (walidati).

No clue about the 3rd guy, who turned out to work for Hewlett-Packard, which made the previous conversation suddenly make perfect sense…which is how it usually works when you’re learning a new language.

Still trying not to be obvious here, which is really hard to do in a virtually empty car en route to the airport on a bank holiday.

But then they started talking about dead people.

So, something about Libya and the number 6 and “son of”…could it be Colonel Qaddafi? Seriously?

So, it had to be Saif, not the Saif al-Islam we know and love but haven’t heard from on the news lately, thankfully (which probably means he evaded the sanctions/travel ban and is drinking margaritas on a beach somewhere), but Saif al-Arab, Qaddafi’s unimportant younger son.

(How frustrating it must’ve been for Saif al-Arab, overshadowed all his life by his younger brother Khamis, whose elite military brigade is even named after him.)

Saif al-Arab was apparently living at or near a NATO military target. So, the UN Security Council resolution is finally starting to hit Qaddafi close to home, after over a month of air strikes.

But the Egyptian guys weren’t done. Then they started talking about…Osama bin Laden? Haven’t heard that name in awhile, since he’d taken a break from sending rambling videos to Al Jazeera. Isn’t that evil cowardly murderer still hiding out in some cave in Afghanistan?

Not even close, as it turns out.

Having exhausted my Arabic, I had to come clean about my blatant eavesdropping and get the full news report in English.

The 2 guys were indeed Egyptian, and laughed when I told them on what basis I decided that.

Before we tell you anything, though, you need to answer some questions about how you came to study Arabic in the first place. Looking at you…well, I guess you never know.

Right back at you.

So, they caught me up on the morning’s events, with some astute political commentary absolutely free.

The Egyptians had a lot to say about the Pakistanis, little of it complimentary. They didn’t believe for a moment that #OBL had been living for several years within shouting distance of a military base and nobody suspected a thing.

Either they should be fired, or they were in on it. We voted unanimously for the latter.

Keep in mind that Egypt overthrew its dictatorship only 3 months ago and has a long way to go “to cut off all the tentacles of the octopus.” Although the #jan25 movement was successful partly because of the faith Egyptian citizens place in their military’s neutrality, they’re oh so familiar with rampant, inbred police corruption.

“Somebody was paying” to keep bin Laden’s presence a secret. Simple as that.

Egyptians’ new-found taste of freedom seems to make young people who actively participated in the revolution hyper-aware, even hyper-critical, of other countries that aren’t there yet, and may never be. These guys attributed Pakistan’s apparently duplicitous behavior to the fact that the USA gives the Pakistani military billions of dollars per year to find bin Laden, so it’s in their best interest to keep not finding him and cashing those checks.

Fair enough. However, the Egyptian military gets billions per year from the USA, too. Just because Mubarak is gone doesn’t mean that cash flow ends, or are you prepared to give that money back?


By this time, we’re at Hounslow Central station, just 3 stops from Heathrow.

The wrap-up: what can be the significance of this one man, especially this bin Laden, who by the looks of him seemed most likely to inspire absolutely no-one?

In a positive sense, Egypt’s one man was Wael Ghonim. Someone who, while not officially in charge of anything, exemplified the goals of the peaceful revolution and articulated it perfectly.

Then, after Mubarak resigned, went back to his day job at Google. (He’s since taken a sabbatical to start a technology non-profit in Egypt.)

By contrast, the job description bin Laden really wanted was The One Who Is Worshipped By True Muslims (as defined by him) Everywhere 24×7.

“9/11” is self-explanatory. Bin Laden was the mastermind behind the most devastating terrorist attack in American history, an attack he didn’t answer for until almost 10 years later.

Ten years he was alive and well and his victims in the Twin Towers, on the 4 airplanes, and at the Pentagon were not.

I don’t wish anyone’s death, but sometimes the world needs to rid itself of certain people and I think #OBL qualifies. The Egyptians put it this way: we’re all better off that he’s gone, that despicable low-life killer and misguided embarrassment to Islam.

He wasn’t Egyptian, al-hamdu lillah (“thanks be to God”)!

However, the threat he represented isn’t over. The moment we think it’s over, we’re all in serious trouble.

Whether it’s the transition to a newly democratic government, or the fight against terrorism in an established democracy, there will always be dynamic personalities whose life’s work is to undermine those ambitions. Self-styled leaders who attract like magnets an easily recruited − and easily replenished − farm team of weak-minded fanatics to do their dirty work.

Although Osama was thousands of miles away when 9/11 took place, it was his brainchild and he made sure the whole world knew that, and gave him credit.

Bin Laden’s naïve foot soldiers didn’t just stop believing in him as of early Monday morning. Al Qaeda wannabe successors – Yemen’s “regional commander” Anwar al-Awlaki, for example, who’s on the CIA target list and probably looking for a new HQ right about now − would jump at the chance to fill that power vacuum.

Meanwhile, Egypt is finding out that democracies are hard work! Standing your ground in Tahrir Square was the easy part. There are so many things you don’t have to decide and deal with if somebody else has been deciding and dealing with them for you for 30 years.

It’s like starting a workout routine when you’ve never exercised before. It’s going to hurt for awhile. You’re going to fall off the wagon.

Dictators, terrorists, and other undermine-ers are counting on you, us, and everybody else to get lazy and frustrated, and to lose our nerve (or our will, or both).

Push through it.

Two of this week’s best quotes:

From Syria: “I want to be a citizen who is accountable, and can hold accountable.”

From Ground Zero: “Obama 1, Osama 0.”

The Terrorists Don’t Live Here Anymore

Riding around King Salmon, Alaska in the “terrorist-mobile” over Christmas, just waiting for something bad to happen.

And knowing it won’t.

Readers of this blog already know about convicted Islamic terrorists Paul and Nadia Rockwood, whose 4-year, Oscar-worthy performance of true friendship ‒ friendship akin to family ‒ while they hid in plain sight in remote Alaska, ended for us with their shocking arrest by the FBI in April and convictions in federal court last summer.

Before that, when all we knew to feel was sadness about the Rockwoods moving to the United Kingdom, but promising to keep in touch and visit someday, Paul sold my family his old Suburban.

Suburbans are the ideal bush Alaska vehicle. They’re heavy, sturdy on icy roads with snow tires. They have a huge hauling capacity. There are other Suburbans around that you can salvage for parts.

So, regardless of its condition, if a Suburban starts and the wheels go ‘round in some fashion, it’s a commodity and will cost you several thousand dollars, even from departing neighbors making you a sweet deal.

The last time I’d seen that Suburban, Christmas ’09, it had been parked in front of the Rockwood’s house…in FAA housing. Federal government housing, the very government that employed Paul and that he and his fellow jihadists hate and want to destroy.

Between Christmas and New Year’s, the Rockwoods hosted a dinner party for 30 or so. Their close circle of friends and out-of-town holiday guests attended, including ‒ just when you thought you’d heard every unbelievable aspect of this story ‒ a member of law enforcement!

When the party was over, I distinctly remember saying to goodbye to Paul, shaking his hand, and thanking him for his hospitality. “No problem,” he said.

Only later would we discover there was a far more serious problem in that household than we ever could’ve imagined.

Today is Christmas ’10 and our former host is a convicted terrorist, serving 8 years in federal prison, from which he’ll emerge spoiling for jihad and unfortunately is certain to find plenty more like-minded, under-the-radar Islamic terrorists still laughing at what idiots we are to believe their lame cover stories about loving the freedom here.

The holiday season in King Salmon is about the same this year as every year. Much the same as in Christmases past, too, long before my first visit in 1998.

Bristol Bay Angels high school basketball games. Moose meatballs (my original recipe, coveted by local cooks). Christmas ornament exchanges ‒ everything beautifully handmade, and if you stick around, we’ll teach you how.

Chilly walks in the snow down by the river, wearing everything in your suitcase…at once.

The can’t-miss Saturday Christmas bazaars, the “it” place to socialize over hot cocoa, buy enticing holiday gifts (again, beautifully handmade with local “ingredients”), and do the “Cake Walk,” which for reasons unknown I win at least once without fail and, being a cake detester, gladly give away my delicious-to-somebody-I’m-sure winnings to the chronically unlucky.

But we were completely outdone this year by the 5th graders in Quinhagak (pronounced QUINN-ah-hawk), another Yup’ik village along the Bering Sea coast near Bethel, who showcased their entire town ‒ which looks an awful lot like King Salmon, if you never make it up here for Christmas ‒ in an utterly original and hilarious Christmas music video.

Soundtrack: Handel’s Messiah!

Watch Jim Barthelman’s class on YouTube…and ponder what would happen if every public school teacher in this country was as creative as he is.

Then our annual Christmas concert at the chapel, this year with incredibly special guest violinist (and composer) Zach Spontak. We didn’t even have to beg because Zach’s mother is a talented singer/flutist in town.

Watch for Zach’s name up in lights, and soon. He’s a high school senior, headed to a top music conservatory ‒ he’ll probably have a half dozen offers of admission to choose from ‒ next fall, and is already just that good (and a nice guy, too).

If all that last-minute Christmas shopping stressed you out, close your eyes and listen to Zach’s Quartet Danae play Mendelssohn.

Anyway, it was surreal not to see the Rockwoods in their usual places on Tuesday night: Nadia and her mother on stage with the choir, anchoring the soprano section. Paul in the audience with the video camera, watching their son ‒ age 5 by now, with a newborn brother or sister ‒ out of the corner of his eye, with little success.

The shock of the Rockwoods being revealed for who and what they really were ‒ being seen off at the King Salmon airport by half the town (the weepy half), only to disembark in Anchorage an hour and a half later into the waiting arms of the FBI ‒ has faded.

However, make no mistake: this will never happen in King Salmon again.

Alaska has a long memory and I think there are a few bush residents, who, having gone out of their way to be respectful and trusting, only to be burned…and to have their hometown profiled in the Los Angeles Times for the worst possible reason…might not wait for the FBI to sort things out next time.

This is the Rockwood tragedy: falling in long-distance love with the crazed ideology of a jihadist killer and the lengths you’ll go to get his attention and prove your loyalty. Then how much you lose when your dreams come true.

Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

This year, I ordered up a white Christmas 3 months in advance and was not disappointed. Huge snowflakes falling. Ever. So. Slowly. Then, inevitably, huge snowballs catching you off-guard in the back of the head. (Thanks a lot, Dad, but remember: revenge is sweet and I’m here for another week.)

Breath-defying wind chill clocking in at -19F/-28C, although when you get down to those kinds of numbers, it’s all just plain ridiculously freezing cold, no doubt about it.

Regardless, there’s a comfort and safety in the sameness of bush Alaska that the Rockwoods threw away: their best chance of having a good life to count on and good people to count on. People who cared for them unconditionally, and wouldn’t have hesitated for a moment to put themselves in harm’s way to protect and save them if circumstances had called for it ‒ and in the unforgiving, frozen north it sometimes does.

(Sadly, Paul would’ve thought nothing of putting those same people in harm’s way ‒ or worse ‒ because he’s convinced his religion demands him to.)

This is what the holiday season is all about: not the most festive of carols, not the mountains of gifts that arrive at the post office daily, not even the biggest and best of all big and best Christmas dinners ‒ although, believe me, we’re giving the latter our very best team effort.

It’s about spending precious time with people who, given lots of better choices, choose to love us back anyway.

Try to Remember the Kind of September

September used to mean Labor Day, back to school, 100-something shopping days ‘til Christmas.

Then came 9/11, which changed September for us permanently. “Time to remember when life was so tender that no-one wept except the willow…”

Unfortunately, plenty of terrible, tragic things in history happened in September long before 2001.

Hitler invaded Poland (1939). Rome fell (476).

The Great Fire of London (1666) and the worst of the London Blitz (1941). The September Massacres of the French Revolution (1792). The Battle of Antietam (1862), the bloodiest day in American history.

Black September (1970).

Jerusalem was sacked (70). Wenceslas − Duke in life and Saint in death − was murdered (935). The “Great Leap Forward” famine in China began (1958), in which 30 million people starved to death.

Anne Frank was sent to Auschwitz (1944).

Past Septembers have brought us many good − even wonderful − things, too.

Victory Over Japan (V-J) Day (1945), which ended World War II. Viking II landing on Mars (1976). The first edition of the New York Times (1851).

The discovery of penicillin (1928). The founding of the Peace Corps (1961). The first Model T rolling off the assembly line (1908).

Ferdinand Magellan left Spain on his voyage around the world (1519). Michelangelo unveiled David in Florence (1504). Johann Guttenberg published the Bible (1452).

The Beatles recorded their first single, Love Me Do (1962).

A few September events changed the course of American history.

The Mayflower set sail (1620). The Continental Congress declared the United Colonies to be the United States (1776). The Treaty of Paris (1783), bringing an end to the Revolutionary War between the USA and Britain.

The Constitution was signed (1787) and the Bill of Rights passed (1791). President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation (1862). Sandra Day O’Connor, the Supreme Court’s first woman justice, was appointed (1981).

Francis Scott Key wrote The Star-Spangled Banner (1814).

All of these events happened in Septembers past and all of them influenced, in one way or another, who we became as citizens of the USA and of the world.

Sometimes a happy occasion can overlay a sad occasion. Not erase it from memory, certainly, but bring something new to the day: new people, new significance, new direction.

A new life, just beginning.

One September, I went to the wedding of two friends and colleagues, who’d been responsible for a major trend in our division of single people volunteering to share offices. It was a beautiful occasion, on a chartered boat in the bay at sunset. A nautical theme in blue and white, complete with buoy cushions and rope table runners. A 1950s swing band on a parquet dance floor, where sharp guys in sharp tuxedos danced with all takers.

(Those of us who weren’t even thought of in the 50s need to either try this at home beforehand or look around for somebody our dad’s age, my own dad excepted. There’s a good reason why he’s the musician.)

A few of us knew the history behind that setting and that day.

Years before, the bride’s 7-year-old brother had drowned in a tragic accident on that same day in September. She and her husband-to-be were considering several different dates and venues, until they realized maybe this was a way to honor him and bring comfort the family still needed.

Even thought it had happen many years before and 1000s of miles away, the bride always dreaded that day as it came around on the calendar every year. She’d been well into adulthood before she’d gone swimming or boating again.

The couple discussed their plans with the family and said that anyone who felt uncomfortable with the wedding date − including children who hadn’t even been born back then, and spouses who’d joined the family afterwards − could feel completely free to vote no on the idea and they’d stop everything.

Nobody did.

All the usual wedding checkpoints were passed. The processional, the vows, the toast. The speeches, both hilarious and heartfelt. A medley of traditions to represent the interfaith marriage. A terrifyingly tall cake, defiant of gravity, decorated with near-blue, “salmon,” and white flowers.

However, it was one of the few weddings I’ve ever attended that the bride didn’t toss her bouquet to some hapless bridesmaid. Instead, she stood on the ship’s bow, and − as we all watched − tossed it into the bay.

The title of this post is from the song Time to Remember (lyrics by Tom Jones, music by Harvey Schmidt) from the musical The Fantasticks, which debuted on Broadway in 1960.

The Guilty Innocents

Sometimes being guilty is getting off easy.

You don’t have to be a criminal to get a sentence. Sometimes innocence results in a punishment even longer and more painful than if you’d committed the crime yourself in the first place.

Yesterday, Paul and Nadia Rockwood, secret dévotes of Islamic terrorist Anwar Al-Awlaki, who pretended to be loving friends so they could use all of us as a cover for their assassination plot, stood before a federal judge in Anchorage, Alaska.

They’d pled guilty on July 21st to domestic terrorism and August 23rd was their day of reckoning.

Their sentences: 8 years in federal prison for Paul, 5 years of probation for Nadia, which she’ll serve in her native England.

Their 4-year-old son’s life sentence: convicted terrorist parents, who are no longer welcome in the country of his birth.

Growing up in a foreign (to him) country, under the cloud of his mother’s criminal history. Not seeing his dad again until he’s 12 years old…and then what?

(The Rockwood’s unborn child’s sentence: never, ever knowing what true family life is like.)

The Rockwood boy is a cute kid. Dark hair, a bit curly. Very energetic, borderline wild at times, but what kid that age isn’t? (If you think I’m picking on little boys, there are little girls his age in their former Alaskan hometown who are worthy competitors.)

For everyone who knew − or thought they knew − the Rockwoods, I think our first thought, when we heard of their arrest, was of their little child and was he OK. Too bad he wasn’t his parents’ first thought, or none of this ever would’ve happened.

The press’ only comment about this little boy was that he’d come along with his parents to federal court for the plea hearing. How bizarre. Thankfully, they didn’t mention him by name and I’m not going to, either. (His maternal grandmother took care of that deliberate omission when she was interviewed in the British press. Shame on her.)

The pre-schooler and his Batman backpack sat in the pews, playing, the American reporters duly noted, while his parents pled guilty to terrorism.

I’m flashing back to the King Salmon choir rehearsal, the few I attended − and he attended, too. A local church offers their space free for rehearsals and I can still picture him in my mind, alternately sitting and playing in the pews, running back to the foyer, using his “outside voice” (yelling) despite all guidance to the contrary, and then running back, worried he’d missed something…because when you’re 4 going on 5, that’s the worst possible thing.

Or, so he thought, until his parents were arrested.

Of all the choices available to Paul, this boy’s father, in this richest of all countries (and rich in openness and opportunity most of all), he chose to espouse Al-Awlaki’s ideology. He chose to hate America, a country he’d sworn to serve as a member of the military. He chose to make a list of 16 fellow Americans to assassinate, including his fellow veterans, as well as 4 other American businesses and organizations. (The hit list contained 20 targets in all, not 15 as originally reported.)

Then he took it one step further and chose the methods by which he thought these targets should be eliminated, as punishment for their alleged viewpoints contrary to radical Islam.

Option #1: kill them by mail, or kill by mail whoever(s) had the misfortune of opening the package first because you can be pretty sure they’re an enemy of Islam anyway. Better yet, be able to set off the bomb remotely, so you can watch it all happen.

Option #2: find them in person and shoot them in the head.

Anybody who still harbors doubt (or hope) about these convictions being a result of railroading by the FBI needs to take a look at the level of detail the hit list included, besides just the names of the assassination targets.

Ages. Hometowns. Business names and addresses. Military ranks and branches of service.

Names of targets’ spouses, siblings, parents, and CHILDREN.

Paul and Nadia planned to send bombs in the mail to addresses where they knew children lived and even knew the name of a child who might check the family mailbox on the way home from school and be killed?????


Nobody goes to this much trouble over “paperwork,” over a 4-year period. Nobody puts together an operational timeline for murder over a philosophical discussion. Nobody buys bomb-making components without intent to assemble them.

According to documents filed in federal court, Paul had already managed to create a small bomb that any mail carrier could deliver. So much for his family’s assertions that he was “mechanically unsophisticated.” He was one trip to the King Salmon post office away from 20 (at a minimum) people’s deaths.

8 years in federal prison is not even close to long enough for this guy (and neither is 5 years of probation for his wife, while she lives in a cushy London suburb). Paul is exactly the kind of deluded believer we’re going to see on the roster of a 9/11-like terrorist attack in the future.

And we know there will be one in the future. Islamic terrorists are not done with us, by any means.

This little boy’s mother Nadia knew her husband had become radicalized years before this and did nothing to stop it. Instead, she perpetuated his assassination plans as a go-between for him with like-minded believers.

Had she called the authorities early on, as did the brother of the Unabomber and the father of the Christmas Day airplane bomber, all would’ve been well. There would’ve been no question as to her culpability, since she had no idea the FBI had already had them under surveillance for some time.

Instead, she chose at the very least to enable her husband’s convictions and additionally, according to her plea bargain, to participate in their execution. (What a frightening word choice.)

Nadia’s statement in court: “To associate the word terrorist with me is absurd. I truly believe my husband never had any true intent to kill anyone.”

District Court Judge Ralph Beistline’s reply: “You’ve lived with a man who, by his words, is a militant jihadist. That’s not the kind of rights we gain by U.S. citizenship, those are the kinds of things we are protected from.”

Once Paul gets out of prison in 2018, the Rockwoods won’t have much of a life to pick up again (for which they’ll receive exactly zero pity). He’s lost his military benefits, his social security, his job prospects. They’ve lost their home, their friends, and any resources they might’ve acquired in the last decade.

Who hires a convicted terrorist except other terrorists? Who gives visas to convicted terrorists, except terrorist nations?

There’s already an outcry in Britain, reported by the press there: DO NOT under any circumstances let Paul Rockwood move to the UK after he serves his sentence! It’s bad enough that Nadia, pregnancy aside, is being allowed to live here while she serves hers. Our soft-on-crime government is probably going to let the family reunite here permanently. We already have enough Islamic terrorists in the UK without importing even more from the USA!

From the country of September 11th to the country of July 7th, we understand your feelings perfectly.

Regardless, anybody who Googles the Rockwood boy from this day forward will see that his parents are Islamic terrorists, no matter who he decides to be himself. That includes future employers, future friends, future wives. Credit bureaus. Mortgage companies. University admissions boards.

Guess who will be on the mother of all no-fly lists.

His father and mother decided all that for him before he was even born and, unless he grows up believing the same ideology (and let’s pray that he doesn’t), he’ll be forever explaining and explaining and explaining to people who look on him with immediate suspicion, if not fear.

Sometimes we read about parents who cut a child out of their will. You’re on your own, they say. Don’t ask us for money. Don’t ask us for help. Your unacceptable choices have forced us to take these painful, drastic measures that we’d give anything not to have to do, because we love you. But we cannot and will not condone or support what you do and who you are.

Imagine saying that to your parents.

The inheritance you’re leaving me – the poisonous hate and murderous betrayal of Islamic jihadism – I reject absolutely. Your unacceptable choices have forced me to take these painful, drastic measures that will separate me from you and everything you stand for. I’ll always love you, but you always loved something else − someone else − more.

And that’s a legacy I must live without.

The Boomerang of Respect

“So, I bet you support that mosque they want to build at Ground Zero, too.”

(To be accurate, the proposed site is 2 blocks away.)

Since I posted Stand Beside Her, and Guide Her, this is the tone of a few emails I’ve received. (It’s fine to have strong opinions, folks who stumble onto my blog, but have the guts to own them and post your comments publicly.)

No, for the record, I DON’T support building a mosque near Ground Zero. But I also don’t think it makes sense to file frivolous lawsuits, boycott businesses in the area, or ‒ not even! ‒ take matters into our own hands. Guess who we start resembling when we contemplate solutions like that.

I think this is a decision that the American Muslims who own this property and are managing this mosque development project need to make for themselves, whether voluntarily to choose another location in Manhattan.

Sure, it’s a free country. Sure, the law allows you to build anything you want to on private property. Both the President and the mayor of New York cited the Constitution’s unequivocal guarantee of religious freedom, a foundation of this nation. I couldn’t agree more.

Having said that, just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right. Doesn’t mean it’s kind. Doesn’t mean it’s appropriate, or respectful.

I was among the many volunteers who handed out bottles of water to recovery workers at Ground Zero during those late September days after the airspace reopened. We probably hydrated an equal number of frantic citizens still handing out flyers in search of missing loved ones, who they already knew, in their heart of hearts, had been lost.

(Thankfully, I hadn’t been in New York on that particular Tuesday morning, but I freaked out my family completely when they couldn’t reach me by phone until more than a day later.)

I knew people on one of those 4 hijacked airplanes. I knew people who worked above the 100th floor in the north tower. I knew people who lived in lower Manhattan, who were found safe, but for whom for hours or days we all were scared to death.

I also knew someone who survived the day, but didn’t survive the event.

A colleague and friend’s wife, a broker at Merrill Lynch, who from her office across the street watched people jump out of windows to their deaths, committed suicide in 2002. I had dinner with them in October 2001 and she was barely hanging on. She was wearing a business suit…and track shoes, the only shoes she could ever wear after that day, “in case I have to run home,” like she did all the way from Ground Zero to 98th & Lex, about 6 miles/9 kilometers, on September 11th. What a waste of a beautiful person with a beautiful life. RIP, Alison.

We all know it’s true that Muslims were among the dead on September 11th and that jihad is not a universal goal among Muslims. But I have, for my fellow Americans who want to worship Islam in this new mosque, just one simple request in this one special case: for Alison’s sake, and her loved ones, and for the sake of every family who had their hearts ripped out on September 11th, please have pity.

Forget for a moment what’s legal and imagine it was you.

Kindness, understanding, generosity, respect…they’re boomerangs. They’re the right kind of payback.

Imagine the uproar if next door to any mosque in America somebody built ‒ on private property, which they’d have an equally legal right to do ‒ an Islamic Terrorism Awareness Center? Even people who don’t think a mosque belongs anywhere near Ground Zero would find that highly provocative and offensive, and would say so. In a civil society you just don’t do stuff like that.

…and unless you’re tone-deaf and heartless, you don’t do stuff like this, either.

Stand Beside Her, and Guide Her

…Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.

American patriotic song written by Irving Berlin (a Russian immigrant), 1918.

As I expected, I got strong, immediate reactions from Muslim friends, and friends of friends, to my 22 July post on domestic terrorism by Islamic jihadists you didn’t realize you were friends with until they were arrested.

The replies ranged from worried and angry to sad and frustrated. Many are too personal to print. All share the same sentiment: we need to rid our religion of these extreme and dangerous people (to us, too – notice the “infidels” they’re intent on destroying include other Muslims who don’t endorse their radical philosophy?). Clearly we’ve been unsuccessful in doing that so far, and keep paying and paying and paying for it.

A few people expressed concern that either I or one of my loved ones had been on that hit list. No, don’t worry. We’d have been under FBI protection long before now and I’m sure none of us are important enough to make even the top 15 million jihadist targets in the Lower 48, let alone a list of 15, which presumably includes people like President Obama.

However, I’m Jeanette, I have a blog, and I’m not afraid to use it. If the posts I write somehow get me added to a future list of jihadist targets, that just means I’m doing something right. Sheik whoever, if you’re intent on taking out every American blogger who’s against Islamic terrorism, that’s a really, really long list (in the 10s of millions). You’ll need more than a staff of 2 in bush Alaska!

A few other people commented that Paul and Nadia Rockwood seemed not very savvy to get caught like that. I agree. Maybe they were dufuses who didn’t happen to hurt anybody. THIS TIME. LUCKILY.

But look at every terrorist attack in the last decade, successful or not. What do they all have in common? Without exception, they depended on passionate but unsophisticated foot soldiers whose blind commitment was exploited by more sophisticated, more deadly masterminds with actionable plans and funding in place. How convenient to have the targets all picked out, and the most convenient ways to kill them carefully researched, handed off to you like a…user guide?!

More importantly: how would you feel if you got that phone call from the FBI saying you made the Rockwood Top 15 and had to leave town on a moment’s notice?

Having said all that, it’s good to remember in these situations that other major religions have also, during one era or another, been hijacked by radicals on a global scale. This post isn’t nearly long enough to address the Crusades, for example. For 200 years, 1095 to 1291, there were 9 major waves – plus a few minor ones − of religiously motivated and politically sanctioned invasions from Western Europe into the Middle East, primarily to rid the Holy Land of Muslim influence, but also as a bonus to bring a half-dozen other objectionable groups of people under control. I know of no Christians today who are proud of their faith having been the force behind that bloodbath, which also carried millions of Christian victims, who were “in the way,” along with it.

Here’s a sampling of replies to my post, with reprint permission from the authors, all but one of whom are US citizens. I’ve included names and countries of origin, with my notes in italics. Smart, sane people from all over the globe who love America – and in some cases made extreme sacrifices to immigrate that we wouldn’t consider making − and reject the hatred of fundamentalism.

Sam (Saddam), Iraq:
(Sam’s real name is Saddam, but because his last initial unfortunately is H, he got a lot of death threats to his work email during the first Gulf War. He took Sam as a nickname and became a citizen in 1992. He was arrested once, in Iraq, because his brother-in-law criticized the government.)

“I’ve been a Muslim on this earth for almost 50 years and never even once have I felt the need to make a list of people to kill. If I ever wrote a list like that and gave it to Sharon (his wife), she’d call the FBI herself!”

Naeemah, Egypt:
“What can I say, here we go again. It’s sad that our (3 American-born) kids are really good at explaining why it’s not us.”

(I’d seen Naeemah around, but didn’t know her at all until we met in the women’s restroom on 9/11. She was fixing her headscarf and crying. I put my arms around her and we held each other for a long time. I found out later that her citizenship ceremony had originally been scheduled for 9/11.)

Dumadi, Indonesia:
“Pathetic criminals who need to stop calling themselves Muslims right now and find another religion in jail, which they deserve. WE REJECT VIOLENCE and want no part of this.”

Mohammed, United Arab Emirates:
“You don’t know me, but I work with Tom and he forwarded me your blog. WTF??????”

Another guy named Mohammed wrote me: “Do you remember when I came over to your team and moved into the building with my boxes and my prayer rug? Do you remember the sign you made for my door? Closed For Prayer.” I’d forgotten about that. Glad to hear, Mohammed, that you’re still praying 5 times a day and making your mama proud, although I’m sure she’s still not thrilled with that Southern Baptist girl you married. Can’t win ‘em all.

Zeytoona, Palestinian from Jordan:
(I met Zeytoona, which means “olive,” through our mutual humanitarian work.)

“So the FBI is just now realizing they should be looking for terrorists called Paul, not normal people called Ahmed (her husband)?”

Ahmed (a different Ahmed), Nigeria:
“Those people are TRAITORS. Deport them to Yemen (Anwar al-Awlaki’s headquarters)! They’ll love it there (NOT)!”

…and Hanan, Iraq, who I met in Barcelona and is the subject of my 9 June post The National Cookie of Iraq:

“I’m sorry. Please still come to Iraq.”

Hanan, you have nothing to be sorry about.

Islamic Terrorism Crashes Your Christmas Party

Their beautiful voices are preserved on the recording of our family and friends Christmas concert, which I made on December 21st. Exactly 7 months later, to the day − to the complete shock of everyone, including me – our former supposed friends/closet Islamic jihadists Paul and Nadia Rockwood pled guilty in federal court to domestic terrorism.

Actually, it was only Nadia and her mother Piroska (Piri) singing. Paul had dropped out of the choir earlier due to Ménière’s disease, a debilitating condition of the inner ear that’s sometimes combined with − or mistaken for − epilepsy. The doctors in Anchorage had told him that he wasn’t a good candidate for surgery, which had only a moderate chance of success anyway and would likely leave him deaf.

Since I have epilepsy, I felt Paul’s pain and wanted to get him an appointment with a true Ménière’s expert, to be sure there weren’t any other options with better prognoses.

Through my own neurologists and by calling in a couple of favors from former colleagues, who joked that I’d forgotten all about them until − sure enough − I needed something, I’d gotten a prize Ménière’s referral for Paul, plus the promise of an impossible-to-get appointment with a renowned physician who hadn’t taken any new patients in years. If this internationally known, widely published specialist couldn’t help Paul, at the end of the day they at least could feel sure they’d gone down every possible path. I’d then told Paul and Nadia about this third medical opinion and even organized some friends to host them for several days while they were in town for the evaluation.

What was I thinking?

Now I wonder whether Paul’s Ménière’s disease was really that debilitating, or if he even had it at all. I wonder if he was simply using his condition as an excuse to get sympathy, stay home from work, and communicate with his fellow Islamic terrorists about creative ways to kill other Americans.

Worse yet, he was a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. Who knows how he might’ve been planning to use his scientific and procedural expertise in the name of Allah. I’m sure the 9/11 terrorists would’ve loved to add him to their team. Since he apparently converted to Islam in late 2001 and early 2002, perhaps 9/11 was part of his motivation to convert in the first place.

Thanks to the FBI, nothing tragic that we know of ever came of Paul and Nadia’s conversion to Islam and their subsequent jihadist activities in remote Alaska, pretty much the least likely jihad destination on earth.

The Rockwoods were planning to move back to the United Kingdom, Nadia’s home country, because ongoing Ménière’s treatment for Paul would be free under the National Health Service. (This was before health care reform.) Given the high cost of treatment for neurological conditions, I understood that plan completely. She also would have family support for her 4-year-old son and unborn child, in case Paul wasn’t able to go back to work right away, or at all. My guess now is that they planned to move to the UK primarily to make terrorism easier and extradition more difficult.

Yes, she’s pregnant. Imaging the life that baby will be born into, a father in federal prison for betraying his country and a mother on parole for being complicit in those crimes, not to mention an older brother who one hopes isn’t yet old enough for indoctrination, but could hardly help it, with parents like that.

Crazy thing was, everything about the Rockwoods screamed politically moderate, even lackadaisically observant. Many Friday nights they were socializing with my sister’s family and their circle of friends, not praying toward Mecca as far as anyone could tell. Guess we were wrong on all counts.

I remember running into Nadia at the King Salmon airport a couple of years ago. I was flying out after a visit. She was flying out, too (urgently), to Anchorage, sure she’d just had a miscarriage. A mutual friend had by chance run into her at the airport, too, and hearing she was going to try to go to Anchorage alone, made the instant decision to rearrange her plans and accompany Nadia to the doctor, to make sure she got there safely.

That’s the kind of town King Salmon is. People help each other. If you’re new, your neighbors help you get settled and feel at home. If you want it, you can have an instant circle of friends. If you urgently need something that someone else can provide, no matter if it’s inconvenient, they’ll pull out the stops to make it happen – and anyone else they call on in town to lend a hand is happy to do so, too.

Then how does my sister, interviewed by the Anchorage Daily News today, explain to my niece that her ballet teacher wishes her dead?

Members of my family have also flown with Nadia to Anchorage a time or two. I wonder if it was on one of those trips during which, unbeknownst to them, Nadia handed off that list of terrorist targets to her and Paul’s partners in crime, who I certainly hope the FBI has arrested by now, too.

Paul, Nadia, and their young son planned to arrive in London in early May. By coincidence, I was passing through London for a day on my way to Paris. Nadia and I exchanged email in April about planning to meet for an afternoon – a Sunday, ironically − and share a meal together. Also in April, as we now know, Paul gave Nadia their jihadist hit list to give to somebody else, who presumably lives in the Lower 48 and was geographically better positioned to act on it.

I was disappointed at the time, but I’m ever so grateful now, that our visit never materialized. Imagine them moving to London and inviting me over for lunch, all the while planning with their terrorist friends a repeat of the July 2005 attacks on the London transit system. The excuse she gave me was that their move was delayed due to their respective medical issues. I now know they were under FBI surveillance. Just over 2 weeks after I would’ve met them in London, they were questioned by the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Nadia’s mother Piri Hawes, also a convert to Islam, lives near London and, as close as she and her daughter are, there’s no way on earth she didn’t know what was going on in that household. That’s where Nadia and her son (and the newborn) will live while Nadia serves out her 5-year probation, according to the British press. I certainly hope they’ll both remain under MI5’s watchful eye.

The three of them attended the Christmas Eve party at my sister’s family’s home. They brought an appetizer. They raved about my Swedish cabbage, citrus, and dill salad. They took some food home to Paul, whose ears supposedly couldn’t tolerate big groups of noisy people. Right. Maybe he just couldn’t trust himself to hide his hatred of Christmas Eve, and of Christmas in general.

This is what Islamic domestic terrorism is all about: duping innocent Americans, whose culture is to be open, kind, friendly, and welcoming to a fault, into real friendships (for us, at least), in order to establish themselves as “normal people” in normal communities and to operate under the radar until they’re ready to pull the trigger – literally, in Paul’s case – on even more innocent, open, kind, friendly, and welcoming Americans elsewhere.

To Paul and Nadia: bravo. Anwar Al-Awlaki would be proud. You duped us completely, you sick, sick bastards.

The scary thing is that we know full well there are more people out there like the Rockwoods, living quietly in other big cities and small towns in the USA. They could be borrowing your fishing pole. They could be standing next to you in the choir. They could be babysitting your kids (or you could be babysitting theirs).

I’ve always been comfortable and open with Muslims, having always had friends and co-workers of the Islamic faith and from traveling and living in predominantly Muslim countries. However, as much as I’ll try not to be suspicious from now on, in my mind I’ll always harbor that little doubt: are these people closet Islamic terrorists, members of sleeper cells, who are just befriending me − using us − to blend in, meanwhile plotting the deaths of other people we love, including those serving in the US military?

Yes, to confirm peaceful, law-abiding Muslims’ worst fears: Nadia and Paul, and people like them, have indeed − once again − ruined everything for you.

I listened to my Christmas concert recording one last time. “One small child in a land of a thousand,” the song goes. “One small dream of the people tonight.” This is the song they sang with us on that stage last December, all the while hating with a passion everything the song, the holiday, and the other singers stood for.

“One small Savior of Light.”

Bombs and Bakeries

Next time you’re in Jerusalem, I know where you can get the most heavenly pastries in town.

An Israeli fellow student at Le Cordon Bleu owns a bakery there. She was a huge talent in the pastry program and whenever she left the proceeds of one of her classes in the garden court for general consumption, chaos ensued. Pastry is her passion and she delights local customers and visitors from far and near. In the hospitality industry, being multilingual makes good business sense, so she’s fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, French, and English.

She has a parallel, much different, career that’s the opposite of joyful. Military service in Israel is mandatory, so pre-Le Cordon Bleu she trained as a medic. To this day, at least one night a week, she rides in an ambulance around the streets of the Holy City, usually to provide urgent care to people who’ve fallen into predictable trouble, such as car accidents and heart attacks, but every once in a while to cradle in her arms the hopeless, ordinary people blown apart by violence, and to aid those injured, sometimes badly, but by pure luck were not at the center of the blast.

She used to comment in amazement that, “for such a small country, we have so many problems.” Anybody who’s up on the news knows what some of those problems are. Surely it’s also crossed her mind that someday one of her customers, or a member of her family who works for her, could walk out the door of her bakery with a perfect loaf of brioche…smack into a bomb.

Here’s my context: while an undergrad at the University of Washington, I had the world’s best graphic artist/publicist/assistant chef job at the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation. I was the oddball Christian work-study student whose only usefulness initially was to chase out of building the non-observant freshmen and their taco salads. By the end of my tenure there 2 years later, I knew by heart the blessing recited over the Shabbat candles every Friday evening, knew how to cook Kosher (and cleanse the kitchen for Passover), and knew by name almost every board member of every Jewish organization in Seattle. I make a mean matzo ball soup, too.

I also learned a great deal about Israel, its history, and the role of Jewish America in its inception and progress. Don’t even get me started on the deliberately ignorant who minimize the Holocaust (referred to in Hebrew as “shoah,” meaning calamity) and desperately need to visit the stark and moving Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. The museum volunteers are themselves survivors and there’s no way you can hear their stories first-hand and leave the way you came. “Never again” is an unshakeable promise all of us, everywhere, need to make to each other.

Personally, I can’t endorse the strict interpretation of Zionism: this is exclusively our land, our rules, our destiny, and honestly we’d rather all of you other guys went somewhere else, we don’t really care where, and stayed there. I’m appalled at the attack on the humanitarian relief flotilla to Gaza and demand more details of its justification, if there even is one. But make no mistake: Israel has legitimate reasons, and 62 years of proof, to be paranoid about security.

Ask the pastry chefs who have to pick up the pieces.