Mark Steyn is a terrific, wryly funny writer who's not afraid to take on radical Islam, and he proved it again yesterday with this column in The Australian (thanks to Louis for the link). But is Steyn using a fictitious story to make his point? Here are the first four paragraphs of his ripping good yarn.
The defining encounter of the age was not between Mohammed Atta's jet and the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, but that between Mohammed Atta and Johnelle Bryant a year earlier. Bryant is an official with the US Department of Agriculture in Florida, and the late Atta had gone to see her about getting a $US 650,000 government loan to convert a plane into the world's largest crop-duster. A novel idea.
The meeting got off to a rocky start when Atta refused to deal with Bryant because she was but a woman. But, after this unpleasantness had been smoothed out, things went swimmingly. When it was explained to him that, alas, he wouldn't get the 650 grand in cash that day, Atta threatened to cut Bryant's throat. He then pointed to a picture behind her desk showing an aerial view of downtown Washington — the White House, the Pentagon et al — and asked: "How would America like it if another country destroyed that city and some of the monuments in it?"
Fortunately, Bryant's been on the training course and knows an opportunity for multicultural outreach when she sees one. "I felt that he was trying to make the cultural leap from the country that he came from," she recalled. "I was attempting, in every manner I could, to help him make his relocation into our country as easy for him as I could."
So a few weeks later, when fellow 9/11 terrorist Marwan al-Shehhi arrived to request another half-million dollar farm subsidy and Atta showed up cunningly disguised with a pair of glasses and claiming to be another person entirely — to whit, al-Shehhi's accountant — Bryant sportingly pretended not to recognise him and went along with the wheeze. The fake specs, like the threat to slit her throat and blow up the Pentagon, were just another example of the multicultural diversity that so enriches our society.
Steyn uses this stunning account to great effect, seamlessly segueing into an incontrovertible conclusion.
For four years, much of the western world behaved like Bryant. Bomb us, and we agonise over the "root causes" (that is, what we did wrong). Decapitate us, and our politicians rush to the nearest mosque to declare that "Islam is a religion of peace". Issue bloodcurdling calls at Friday prayers to kill all the Jews and infidels, and we fret that it may cause a backlash against Muslims. Behead sodomites and mutilate female genitalia, and gay groups and feminist groups can't wait to march alongside you denouncing Bush, Blair and Howard. Murder a schoolful of children, and our scholars explain that to the "vast majority" of Muslims "jihad" is a harmless concept meaning "decaf latte with skimmed milk and cinnamon sprinkles".
But hang on now. As much as I like (and second) where Steyn is going with this, I'm honor-bound, in this case, to spoil the party and ask: Did the surreal, farcical encounter between Atta and Bryant really happen? There's something very fishy about Bryant's account of the meeting, as many people have pointed out after Bryant came forward in a 2002 ABC TV interview. Just check out this story, and this one, and then this one. Ask yourself, as did the writer of that third article I just linked to,
The fabulously wealthy Osama bin Laden, with all the resources of a worldwide terrorist empire at his disposal, was too cheap to put up a mere $650 thousand? Given all the long-range planning and additional resources he poured into the preparations for the 9/11 attacks, this hardly seems possible. Even more unbelievable is the idea that the hijackers had been counting on that government loan to finance their plans, and, when they didn't get it, had to radically shift course.
Like so many details in Bryant's account, Atta's supposed re-appearance in Bryant's office, wearing glasses to allow him to pretend he was someone else, strains credulity. Did Atta think Bryant wouldn't recognize the man who'd repeatedly insulted her as "merely a woman" just weeks before, and, worse, had threatened to cut her throat?
In Steyn's earlier recounting of the bizarre get-together, he and Bryant further claimed that Atta had literally thrown wads of cash at his host because he wanted to buy, on a whim, the aerial photograph of Washington DC that was hanging on the wall behind her.
These are scenes worthy of a Monty Python sketch. If Atta was the well-educated, highly disciplined operative we've been hearing about — an evil "mastermind," by many accounts — could he also have been a kook who, with his outrageous behavior, virtually begged to fall under suspicion and to be arrested right there and then?
Or take this little factoid: Atta allegedly also asked Bryant — she said — how she'd feel if someone wiped out major American cities just as the U.S. had "destroyed cities in my country." Um, did Atta also have "Osama Bin Laden Forever" tattooed across a blood-red heart on his forehead, by any chance? Come on — he would have had to be the worst kind of bumbling idiot to be drawing attention to himself with such a highly charged, alarming question. But more to the point: Atta was an Egyptian, as far as we know. Which Egyptian cities has the West wiped out? Which cities anywhere in Islam's sphere of influence? (Remember, the meeting allegedly took place in 2000, well before coalition forces retaliated against Afghanistan's Taliban regime, and well before the invasion of Iraq.) Again, it doesn't add up, and it doesn't pass the smell test.
And finally, during Mark Steyn's research for his latest piece (I'm assuming he doublechecked his facts), did he not come across the multiple protestations that Bryant couldn't have met the terrorist ringleader (at least not when she said she did), becauase, as it turns out, he wasn't in the country then?
There may be explanations for all or most of this. But as it stands, Johnelle Bryant's story has too many holes in it to repeat it as gospel. Yet yesterday was at least the second time that Steyn made Bryant's tale the backbone of one of his columns. He might not have known about the doubts surrounding the story the first time. But what's Steyn's excuse now? Why would he use suspicious or discredited anecdotes to buttress his otherwise excellent points?
Leftists and multiculturalists everywhere have yet to face up to the very real dangers posed by radical Islam. Reiterating an infamously chimerical account as though it were a matter of record is not going to help bring about that crucial change.