When context is inconvenient

By Geraldine Sealey
Published March 8, 2004 3:51PM (EST)

The New York Post is touting an "exclusive" story by Deborah Orin in today's issue, claiming that John Kerry called Yasser Arafat a "statesman" and a "role model" in a 1997 book. According to Orin, what Kerry wrote in his book "The New War" contradicts what he said eight days ago "when he told Jewish leaders in New York that he shares President Bush's belief that Arafat must be isolated because he's not a 'partner for peace' -- much less a statesman." The Bush campaign is already sending out copies of the Orin story, and other news organizations, like NBC News in its daily campaign update First Read are also spreading word of Orin's "scoop."

But John Kerry's campaign tells Salon that it gave Orin passages of the out-of-print book, which put the Arafat comments into context. Perhaps Orin, undeterred by the context of Kerry's writing, hoped that no one could get their hands on the book to check the facts.

Here's what appeared in "The New War," from pps. 113-114:

"In his contribution to a symposium-like volume published in 1986 under the title Terrorism: How the West Can Win, the noted historian Paul Johnson writes, 'What has the PLO, the quintessential terrorist movement of modern times, achieved? After the PLO and the other terrorist movements it succored racked up an appalling total of lives extinguished and property destroyed, how far have they progressed toward achieving their stated political ends? Not at all; in fact they have regressed. The Palestinian state is further away than ever.'

"Only eleven years have passed since those words appeared in print. If nothing else, this indicates the velocity of change in the late twentieth century. Terrorist organizations with specific political agendas may be encouraged and emboldened by Yasser Arafat's transformation from outlaw to statesman, while those whose only object is to disrupt society require no such 'role models.' In fact, what most encourages and emboldens terrorists now are the unprecedented opportunities inherent in the new world of porous borders, instant communications, and access to weapons of mass destruction. Like everything else, global terrorism is mutating at a very rapid rate. Failure to prepare for the new strains verges on the suicidal 

"With the end of the superpower struggle, increased attention has fallen on radical Islam. It was twenty-five years ago that the world was treated to the murder of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich by a group of hooded Palestinian terrorists. Since then, we have witnessed dozens of other horrific incidents ... Under U.S. leadership, nations have arrayed themselves to discourage state sponsored terrorism. We have made such sponsorship a very risky business, as Libya, Iran, and Iraq and their peoples have learned through bitter experience. But as French interior minister Bernard Debre observed in the summer of 1996, today's terrorist networks are far harder to target, owing to their autonomy, lack of clear strategy, and rapid rate of reproduction. Debre concluded that what was necessary to stop them was for states to focus on monitoring banks, computer networks, and weapons trafficking as essential components of detecting terrorist networks as they emerge."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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