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Perhaps O'Reilly Is Wrong

May 24, 2005

In a May 17 radio broadcast, telephilosopher Bill O'Reilly fantasized unpleasantly that terrorists might "grab" the Los Angeles Times editorial and opinion editor "out of his little house and ... cut his head off." O'Reilly went on, "And maybe when the blade sinks in, he'll go, 'Perhaps O'Reilly was right.' "

What popped O'Reilly's cork was an editorial one week ago on the Newsweek controversy. The magazine reported, apparently without good evidence, that American guards at the Guantanamo prison for terrorism "detainees" had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet. This reportedly led to riots in Pakistan and Afghanistan in which 14 people were killed.

Contrary to the impression you might get by following the story in the U.S. media, the riots were not about the journalists' use of anonymous sources. They were about perceived American contempt for the faith, the culture and ultimately the lives of Muslim Arabs and other dark-skinned people in distant lands.

It is legitimately maddening to Americans that people whom we have liberated from tyranny or the nearby threat of it, at a vast cost in American lives and dollars, should be so spectacularly ungrateful, and should misunderstand us so completely. Why don't they love us? It doesn't seem worthy of decapitation to suggest that ghastly stories (not all fabricated by Newsweek) about abuse of prisoners don't help. Or that American preaching about liberal democratic values might be enhanced by practicing them. For instance, by letting the Gitmo detainees (some totally innocent) have lawyers.

But to O'Reilly, "That's like saying, 'Well, if we're nicer to the people who want to KILL US, then the other people who want to KILL US will like us more.' "

Where did The Times' editorial page get the idea that winning the war on terrorism depends on persuading societies that breed terrorists that they should like us and adopt our values? Actually, this is not some wooly left-wing notion concocted over a joint during a lesbian wedding reception in Santa Monica. It is the cornerstone of the George Bush presidency, according to Bush himself.

In his State of the Union address in January, for instance, Bush said, "In the long term, the peace we seek will only be achieved by eliminating the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder. If whole regions of the world remain in despair and grow in hatred, they will be the recruiting grounds for terror, and that terror will stalk America...."

O'Reilly should be careful. Any further decapitation fantasies could get him in serious trouble with the Secret Service.

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