Experienced in this sort of thing, it didn’t take Newcomb long to extract the van from the tangled wreckage. The windshield had been cratered by the force of the blast, yet because it was bulletproof, it had remained intact. "The Prime Minister is not going to be pleased when he sees his van," he observed with a wry smile.
With Isaac behind the wheel, the five men ascended an inclined drive and entered the VIP lot across from the main entrance to the Knesset. The guards studied the damage, but recognizing Adams and his Israeli escorts, they allowed them to pass. Although the Parliament building sat on a prominent knoll, it wasn’t much to look at - a low, modern, poured-concrete construct without form or style.
Some time ago, Thor had asked his friends to schedule a group meeting with an academician, an economist, a politician, a rabbi, a journalist, and even a historian. He wanted to learn. But now he wasn’t so sure. With each passing day, the enemy was becoming more sinister.
Sarah had planned to join him this afternoon, but now she had more pressing problems. Even when she finished attending to the little girl’s wounds, she would need to change from her bloodied clothes and shower - to do what she could to wash the stain and stench of death away. Thor, who was no stranger to mutilated flesh, simply removed the nails embedded in his side and wiped his hands. It was another day at the office.
Entering the security checkpoint, Team Bandage set off every alarm in the Parliament Building. As usual, they were armed, but no one seemed to care. Isaac pushed Joshua. Thor drove Moshe. Yacob hobbled on his heels. They looked more like an ad for a hospital supply company than valiant warriors. Strolling down the covered pathway, they took a couple of right turns and entered the Knesset’s main lobby.
Their hosts took them down, or rather around, a short flight of stairs. On the wall to the left, flanking them, was an enormous Chagall tapestry depicting the long history of the Jews. As they walked the perimeter of the square building, a wall of glass followed them on their right.
Reaching the southeast corner, they entered a small door. The legislative chamber for the nation of Israel opened before them. The room was modern, paneled in warm, dark woods set in angular strips. Its western wall was white stone. Although there were some 120 seats on the main floor, arranged in the shape of a menorah, and another hundred for the media on the balcony, very few were occupied. The presenters were all sitting in the Ministers’ chairs around a conference table, up front, in the center of the room. They had saved a seat for the Admiral at one end.
"What happened to you?" the eldest of the attendees asked Thor, holding out his hand and introducing himself.
"Couple of suicide bombers. Not very far from here. We’re all okay, but Sarah, my CIA associate, elected to ride to the hospital with an injured girl. Her mother was killed in the blast. Sarah was wounded too, but not badly. So I’m sorry, but she will not be joining us."
"And you?" a concerned woman asked, staring at a nail Thor had somehow missed. "Are you okay? Wouldn’t you like to reschedule this for another time?"
"No, ma’am. Seeing my friends here hanging from crosses was horrible, but seeing the look of terror in that little girl’s eyes was even more frightening. We must learn why they kill. We must stop them. Now!" He took a labored breath. "They murdered my people in the Pentagon and in the Twin Towers. They killed us with anthrax. They’ve hijacked our planes. They shot us in Somalia as we tried to feed them, and they blew up our barracks as we tried to bring peace. They maim innocent little girls and kill their mothers on the streets of Jerusalem. I’ve had my fill of Islamic terror. Enough, already."
As the Admiral motioned for the group to sit down, the economist pointed, saying, "Did you know you have a nail in your arm?"
Thor looked at his previously-injured right arm. "Oh, so I do," he said nonchalantly, plucking it out and placing it on table. It became a symbolic reminder of the importance of their mission.
The ice was broken. This wasn’t an academic exercise. Thor quickly discovered that the experts surrounding him were as frank as they were informed. All told a story of a world poised on the brink of war.
"They despise most everything we represent," the journalist began. She was a beautiful, bright-eyed, blonde woman. Her "we" was collective. It included most of the West, but especially America and Israel. "They blame our very existence on America. Hating us has become the cause celeb of the Muslim world." Her "they" was even larger. It covered dozens of nations and hundreds of millions of enraged youth.
"We stand for freedom, which they disdain. There are few places on earth more repressive than those controlled by Islamic regimes. Our success gives rise and substance to their envy. The Arab nations are among the world’s most destitute. They resent our prosperity, and they view us as arrogant, for they have experienced only failure and defeat."
The politician stepped into the fray. With olive skin and graying hair, he had lived in Israel for forty years. "There are no free Arab societies. The citizens of Egypt, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Kuwait enjoy few human rights. But in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia, there are no human rights - none. Their citizens are little more than prisoners. While the Iranians are mostly Persians, the same can be said for them. Tunisia and Algeria are no better. There is no freedom of the press in any Muslim nation. Only two even make a pretense of it. Freedom of religion is nonexistent. The penalty for discussing the merits of another faith is life in prison. Criticize their Prophet or renounce Islam, and you die. Truth frightens them. If it wasn’t for lies, they wouldn’t have much to say."
Thor swallowed hard. His friends shared an uneasy glance. They knew that the Prophet and his faith were at the root of all of this. Ignoring his legacy would doom the world.
"Their treatment of women is deplorable." The beautifully attired journalist was well spoken. "In most Arab nations they are denied rights we award our pets. And there are no SPCAs looking after their interests," she said. "Where else can tens of thousands of women and children be killed, as they were in Syria, without consequence? Or a hundred thousand in Algeria? Where else can they be gassed with impunity, as they were in Iraq? Or butchered by the tens-of-thousands as they were by the Taliban. Where else could one hundred million young girls be savaged by their fathers. Without anesthetic, held down by family members, as men mutilate their daughters’ privates. This savagery guarantees virgins who will never sense pleasure. Even in this more-enlightened age, sir, Muslims are still barbaric, and their governments are brutal."
"With all due respect, having spent time here, you can’t tell me that Muslims living in Israel are anything but second-class citizens." Adams had made a good point, although considering what he had been through, it was hard for him to say it.
"Perhaps, but by comparison," the Knesset Member returned, "Israeli Arabs have more rights, freedoms, and opportunities than they do in any Muslim nation. So why criticize us? The Palestinians, at least when they were integrated into Israel, were better off here than they would have been under any Islamic regime." His assessment was accurate, yet few outside Israel understood this.
The economist, a pleasantly plump woman in her fifties, waded in. "Their economies rank as the world’s most inefficient. This is particularly bothersome because in the same region, from the same desert, we have been able to build a thriving high-tech economy, feed our people, and defend our borders. Arab nations can’t do any of these things. Egypt and Syria have per capita GDPs of less than a thousand dollars, one twentieth of Israel’s. Not surprisingly," she said, "they find this embarrassing." Listening to her, Thor wished Sarah were here.
It was the historian’s turn. "But all of this pales in comparison to their biggest problem. Over half the population of every Arab nation is under the age of twenty-five. It’s sixty percent in places like Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Libya. It’s nearly seventy percent among the Palestinians." An author of several books on Middle-Eastern peoples, the middle-aged historian even looked "authorish" with his crew- neck shirt and wire-rimmed glasses.
"Why is that such a problem?" one historian asked the other. "In America they say we’re in trouble because a large percentage of our population is over fifty."
"There are few things more incendiary than youth in a troubled land," the dapper gentleman offered. "In the context of the despair these youths experience and the indoctrination they endure, it’s little wonder they envy us, or that their envy has given rise to hate."
Adams looked down at the blood encrusted on his shirt.
"Any large influx of restless youth is a challenge for a culture, sir. You’re too young to remember, but America in the sixties was awash in youth - the result of the baby boom that followed the war. It was a tumultuous decade for your country. It became the ‘me generation’, and soon thereafter, the age of entitlements was born.
"Societies overrun with impetuous young people fall prey to revolutionaries. France went through a similar proliferation of under twenty-fives just prior to the French Revolution, as did Iran in the late seventies before their revolution. It’s one of the reasons why the Palestinians are so out of control today."
"Young people are more impressionable," the rabbi added, "especially during difficult times. As you saw today, they can be impulsive."
Thor looked down at his hands. So that’s what they’re calling mass murderers now - impulsive.
"The educational systems in Muslim nations are failing." It was the first time the academic had entered into the fray. It had been a lively table. "They teach Arabic grammar so that students can study the Qur’an. Children memorize the Prophet’s speeches in class. It’s little wonder these nations breed unthinking terrorists. Uneducated people are easily stupefied. Fact is, if you read their textbooks, you’ll see that they are actually taught to hate.
"Upon examination of a hundred and forty PA textbooks, scholars found three principal themes: hate Jews, wage war, revise history. These themes are consistent, pervasive, and repetitive. Here’s something from a third grade textbook: ‘Jews and Israel are the enemy of Arabs, of Islam, and people in general, since the Jews are evil and dangerous. They are killers and robbers, and have stolen Arab land. Zionism is a synonym for Nazism, a prototype of racism. One must be aware of the Jews, for they are treacherous and wage racial cleansing wars against innocent Palestinians with appalling massacres of women and children.’
"The ‘Song of the Martyr’ is presented in a fifth-grade textbook: ‘I shall take my soul in my hand and hurl it into the abyss of death. I see my death, and I am marching speedily toward it....’
"From the seventh grade: ‘Islam will defeat all other religions, and will be disseminated by Allah through Muslim jihad fighters.’ And how’s this for revisionist silliness? ‘Jerusalem was built by Arabs,’ ‘the Jews are not the Israelites of the Bible,’ and we ‘Jews lived in Yemen, not Israel.’"
"How do they account for the fact that the Bible is the most accurate and detailed history of a people and their attachment to their land?"
"Truth is not popular here," she answered.
The historian had studied this. "The biggest problem is in Saudi Arabia. The royals are viewed as American puppets. They’re gluttonous and detached. They garner just enough popular support to keep from being assassinated by funding the most extreme madras schools. That’s the devil’s own bargain. They deflect attention from their shoddy record by breeding terrorists, the very people who want to bring them down and install an even more intolerant regime in their place. The population has now been indoctrinated beyond hope. There will be no peaceful transition to a freer, more responsible government. Thanks in large part to a collusion of media, mullahs, and madrases, the people have become more radical than their leaders. By funding these schools, the Saudi ruling family is responsible for killing Americans and Jews. They build the factories that manufacture terrorists. If it gets any worse, terrorism will surpass oil as Saudi’s largest export."
"But they are not alone, Admiral Adams," the Knesset Member added. "These terror-manufacturing facilities exist in every Muslim nation in both public and madras schools. The failure of their dysfunctional political institutions gives rise to Islamic fundamentalists, who in turn create schools that breed like-minded individuals. Over the past twenty years, the Saudi ruling family, the Iranians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, et al., have funded ‘schools’ that have turned out millions of fanatical half-educated Muslims who view America as the Great Satan and Jews as their mortal enemy. They have taught an entire generation to hate."
"Muslims, sir, seem eager to believe deceptions rational people would consider laughable." The rabbi sounded more learned than pious. "In spite of what you’ve been told, Admiral, Islamic political leaders are complicit in the deaths of Americans."
The economist spoke next. "The Muslim killing machine runs on money, oil money." She stared directly into Adams’ eyes. "The killing will continue until you cut off the fuel. If you want to derail this thing, you’ve got to start with the basics. Stopping the flow of money is more important than shutting down the madras schools, which in turn is more important than eradicating individual terrorist leaders. It’s money to madrases to murder. They flow from one to the other. Eliminate the murderers and the madrases will simply manufacture more. But if you stop the flow of money from Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, you’ll stymie the schools and emasculate the killers."
The aging Knesset Member tapped Adams’ arm to gain his attention. "If you intend to make a difference, you’re going to have to take the battle to the real source, which is not Afghanistan. It’s Arabia. When you send foreign aid to Egypt and Syria, when you support the monarchies in Saudi and Kuwait, and when you simply tongue-lash Iran for its behavior, you fashion a future too frightful for words. America buys a quarter of a billion dollars worth of Arab oil a day, for crying out loud. You’re funding your own execution."
"Do you know the history of Islam, sir?" the author asked.
"The basics," Thor answered. "I know that the Prophet’s closest friend, Abu Bekr, unified Arabia under Islam at sword point within a year of Muhammad’s death. In the warrior mode, Muslims immediately lashed out at Syria and Persia. In a genocidal rage, they decapitated 70,000 Persians. The following year they started a war against the Byzantines. They conquered Egypt next. Then under the Umaiyid dynasty, they invaded the greater part of the civilized world. A hundred years after the Prophet’s death, territorially, they had reached their zenith."
Adams gestured as he spoke. "They prevailed because there was a vacuum of leadership at the time. The Byzantines and the Persians had bludgeoned each other into bankruptcy. Europe was crumbling - in the Dark Ages. And there was something about Islam that motivated otherwise-peaceful Bedouins to wield a merciless sword."
"Right, so far," the historian acknowledged.
"Then the Muslim capital moved from Syria to Baghdad, resulting in what I would call the orientalization of Islam. With the Arabs out of power, they reached their cultural zenith between 750 to 850. It’s all been downhill from there. Centuries later the Turks built the Ottoman Empire using Muhammad’s original three-part formula: demanding that the conquered either surrender to Islam, pay a tax, or die. They didn’t much care which option their victims chose - which in a manner of speaking made them the most tolerant regime on the planet for several hundred years."
Thor continued, "The Turks were defeated by a coalition of British and Arabian warlords in the First World War. That in turn led to the establishment of ‘kingdoms’. The French and British drew lines on a map and rewarded the warlords who had fought against their Muslim brethren by giving them their own fiefdoms."
"Very good," the author said. "And more recently they’ve flirted with Communism. The Arabs, following Nasser’s lead, chose poorly. They established modified Communist states that were especially inept."
The economist barged in. "The result was burdensome bureaucracy, stagnation, and repression. Central planning allowed dictators to entrench themselves by incarcerating their opponents. Yet craving the reassurance of the Russians and coveting their weaponry, they toed the Soviet line," she said. "Muslims were the mouthpiece of the pro-Communist ‘non-aligned’ movement of the sixties and seventies."
"If you look beneath the surface, there are remarkable similarities between Islamic and Communist regimes, Admiral." The dapper historian adjusted his glasses.
"Each prefers to conquer with the sword. They use evangelists only to undermine the culture they’re about to attack. Both systems target young people, who display more idealism than wisdom, and the poor, who are more desperate than discerning. Prisons and gangs are fertile recruiting grounds, Admiral." He shot him a harrowing look. "Communist and Islamic governments are totalitarian. If you don’t agree with the ruling junta, they kill you. There are no civil liberties, no freedom of religion, no freedom of the press, no freedom of expression. It’s their way or no way."
The historian continued. "The justice system is a sham under either regime. In both Communist and Islamic states, children are indoctrinated rather than educated. Typically, only five to ten percent of the people are zealots - Communist hardliners or Islamic fundamentalists - yet they always manage to impose their will on everyone. Brutality is common, but with their borders sealed to independent journalists, their internal terror goes unreported. There is evidence, for example, that Muslims in the Sudan have murdered or enslaved nearly two million Christians - making it the most horrific genocide since Hitler’s and Stalin’s."
"And in case you don’t think religion is at the core of a Communist society, just read their books, visit their schools, gaze upon their statues and billboards." The rabbi’s dark eyes were fixed on Adams. He knew. He had emigrated from Russia in 1965. "Lenin and Marx became godlike. So did Mao. The people memorized their sayings in the identical way young Muslims memorize Muhammad’s. In one regime you’re a ‘comrade’, in the other, a ‘brother’."
"In North Korea, the Communists celebrate their leader’s birthday by singing songs that worship him," the professor interjected. There were ten times more pictures and statues of Saddam in Iraq than mosques.
"For both groups, the ends justify the means, and the agenda is always set by zealots." The author tapped the table as he made his points. "They think nothing of killing innocents, viewing them as mere collateral damage in a clash of cultures. They use propaganda to shape public opinion. Those with the courage to stand up and confront the lies, to hold leaders accountable, are silenced - brutally tortured.
"Interestingly, Communist and Islamic states have both found a willing ally in the media," the politician intoned. "Anyone who dares call their behavior evil is publicly humiliated. Yet they seem eager to give the thugs a free forum." He had learned much along life’s rugged road.
The young journalist slouched in her chair, frowning. She wasn’t comfortable having her profession critiqued. She and her associates were good at applying labels but didn’t much like wearing them.
"If you do as you’ve promised, Admiral, if you expose them for who they really are, you’ll be brutalized by your own media. By exposing the extremists, you’ll be labeled an extremist. You’re a historian," one said to the other. "You know what I’m saying is true."
The Knesset member agreed. "Our Prime Minister stole one of Ronald Reagan’s best lines. He told the Palestinian Chairman, ‘We share something in common. In your country you control the press, and in my country you control the press.’" He paused, looking directly at Adams. "The media will hate your words, so they will hate you. But then, sanctimoniously, they will label you the hater." With age had come wisdom.
The beautiful blonde reporter lowered her eyes. It was a lot more fun dishing it out than it was being the object of scrutiny. It would be a while before she spoke again.
The historian rapped his knuckles on the conference table. He hadn’t finished his comparison. "In both Islamic and Communist societies, those preferring freedom to tyranny are far more numerous, as you might expect. But the masses are completely powerless to effect change. Dissenting opinions are viewed as treason. Stating them publicly, in either culture, is a death sentence."
"Communist and Islamic leaders despise each other, and one another," the professor proclaimed, "yet their nations band together because they have a common enemy."
"The outward manifestations of both systems - their propensity to terrorize their own people and their willingness to export terror in the name of their doctrine - are frighteningly similar." The distinguished gentleman said, "Admiral, if you want to defeat this deadly foe - state-sponsored terrorism - you have to start by recognizing that their belief systems and politics are similar and inseparable. Muslim and Communist doctrines are woven inextricably through every nuance of their societies."
Thor raised his bloodied hands and stood. He wanted to assimilate what he had heard. The implications were staggering. As he thought, he stared up at the enormous white limestone wall before him.
"Prior to 1967, Jerusalem was a divided city, sir, severed by a wall, not unlike Berlin," someone said behind his back. "We Jews were not even allowed to see our holiest of places, the Temple Mount. So we built this, the Western Wall of the Knesset, in remembrance."
"Why are politicians so interested in creating divisions?" Adams asked the wall, himself, everyone, and no one, all at the same time.
"Nowhere are divisions more apparent, sir. This very body is a prime example," the Knesset Member answered. "Divided left and right between Labor and Likud, the real power is held by the Shas, Socialists, and Arab minority parties. They are appeased to form temporary coalitions. Political enemies serve as ministers. Rather than weaving a durable fabric, our nation is pulled apart at the seams."
Adams turned back around.
"Divided or not," the educator said, "we are not at war with a mere handful of bad guys, those openly calling themselves terrorists: al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Fatah, or Islamic Jihad. The resentment, the jealousy, I dare say, the hate, runs deep and cuts a broad swath through Muslim societies. Have you ever read an Arabic newspaper?" the professor inquired. "Especially after the September ’01 attacks?"
"No. My Arabic’s a little rusty."
She laughed. "Well, they all pretty much say the same thing. They renounce the killing of innocents, saying they’re peace-loving, and then in the same breath they say we had it coming, that our occupation of their lands justifies what they’ve done, and are doing. And then they encourage more of it. Not too long ago, the state-controlled paper in Saudi Arabia said that we Jews are so perverse, we kill children so we can drink their blood as part of our religious rituals."
"Come on. No way."
She reached into her folder and found a clipping. "A Saudi columnist, Dr. Umayma al-Jalahma, wrote this for the nation’s leading newspaper: ‘The Jewish people must obtain human blood. And for Passover there are some special requirements: the blood must be from Christian and Muslim children under the age of ten.’ She went on to describe the procedure. ‘A needle-studded barrel is used. The victim suffers dreadful torment that affords the Jewish vampires great delight.’" Her point made, the academician set down the clipping. "You’ll can find the same kind of lie in every state-controlled newspaper in the Muslim world."
"The Saudis made the execution of Daniel Pearl into a recruiting film. It was played religiously on Arab TV and Muslim Internet sites."
That was enough. The reporter needed to redeem herself. "It’s true. The governments in this part of the world encourage America-bashing in their state-run media outlets. They glorify suicide bombings. Even the ‘independent’ station the Emir launched in Qatar, Al-Jazeera, plays along. They are the devil’s cheerleader."
The portly brunette professor removed her glasses. "The more Muslims focus on how horrible your country is, the less they have to face their own reality. ‘The Great Satan is out there - not around here.’ Their leaders, especially the terrorists, are presented as righteous freedom fighters in Allah’s Cause. It’s like throwing gas on an open flame."
"Although you don’t know it, you’re responsible for everything bad," the politician concurred. "By perpetuating this myth, the ruling juntas absolve themselves of responsibility."
"If there is a Satan, as they claim, he’s alive and well - living quite nicely in the delusional world of the Muslim militants, within the Arab dictatorships themselves," the rabbi noted.
Isaac spoke for the first time. "The terrorists are not demented loners, contrary to what you’ve been told, my friend." As a Mossad agent, he was privy to information few others had. "They are prolific and popular. That’s why eliminating bin Laden made so little difference. As murderous as Alafat’s PLO was, and his Fatah is, Hamas is far worse, and worse still, Hamas is more popular than Alafat. Islam has created sewers that breed terrorists like rotting garbage breeds flies. It creates ’em faster than we can swat ’em, Admiral."
"But not all Arabs are bad," Thor protested. "America has good relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. They’re considered ‘moderate’."
"You pay Egypt over two billion dollars a year for Mubarak’s tacit support. Carter bought the Camp David Peace Accord." In her thirties, the economist wasn’t old enough to remember, but she’d read the accounts. "Bush forgave Egypt twenty-nine and a half billion dollars in foreign debt in return for their verbal support during the Gulf War. And what did they do with the money? Feed their people? Improve their schools? No. Twenty-eight percent of their GDP goes toward armament - nearly twenty times what most nations allocate - over fourteen billion dollars last year alone! And since they claim to have but one enemy, why do you suppose they bankrupt their country to buy these weapons?"
"Because the peace accord wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on," the historian interjected. "Muslim nations have violated every agreement they’ve signed - in fact, they take pride in doing so. By way of example, in ’98 Yasman Alafat said on Egyptian Orbit TV, "My signature on the Oslo accords was a setup, just like Muhammad’s non-belligerence pact with Jewish tribes at Hudaibiya.’ Alafat told his audience, ‘When Muhammad’s forces grew strong enough, he reneged on the pact, and surprised and slaughtered the Jews. Muhammad established the principle that lies and the disregard of signed agreements are legitmate acts if they are committed for the glory of Islam.’"
"Why would anybody trust the survival of their nation to peace treaties signed by those who brag about using them to destroy you?"
"Admiral, this quote from Shimon Peres, leader of the Israeli left and the driving force behind the ‘Peace Process’, says it all: ‘The past interests me as much as the snows of yesteryear. There is no greater mistake than learning from history. We have nothing to learn from it."
"That’s suicidal!" Thor said, staring blankly ahead.
Isaac stood and circumambulated the table. "The leaders of the Islamic states lie awake wondering which night will be their last." The Mossad agent passed menacingly behind the participants’ backs, making his point.
The historian leaned forward. "They have many more zealots in their midst than Hitler had Brown Shirts during his rise. Yet because their tactics are so similar to Hitler’s, the Arab dictators know they’re but a breath away from an assassin’s bullet."
"And when that happens," the professor added, studying the room, "these nations will be plunged into even more barbarous rule. So many have been brainwashed, assassinations would serve to expand the rule of Islamic clerics, the fundamentalists. Why do you think the elder Bush didn’t let your troops march into Baghdad?"
"Fear of the unknown. He knew that as bad as Saddam was, his replacement might be worse." The Navy had briefed the Admiral.
The rabbi twisted his beard. "Those with access to the pulpits and the guns are as rotten as they are numerous. Kill one and you just elevate another. They may publicly claim that they and their faith are nonviolent. They may want us to believe that their culture does not condone terrorism. They may even find it useful to infer that we all worship the same God. But none of it’s true."
The historian pulled out a pipe and lit it. Thor, though a non-smoker, enjoyed the pungent aroma. The reporter coughed, but said nothing.
Taking a thoughtful puff, he said, "Their faith and their governance seem to require an enemy, someone to hate. We ought to know."
"Yes. We ‘infidels’," the rabbi proclaimed, "are considered a sub-human form of life, one unworthy of sharing Allah’s planet. They want us dead." He stared holes through the Admiral. "All of us."
"And don’t delude yourself," the historian warned, puffing away. "Their societies breed terror. They fuel fanaticism. To say that al-Qaeda is a fringe group may sound reassuring, but it is false. If nothing else, I hope you understand that." This was the crux of the matter.
Brushing aside a stray blonde hair, the reporter said, "I will never forget the sheik’s opening line in the bin Laden video tape, the one where he was caught bragging about bombing the Twin Towers. The sheik said, and I quote, ‘Everybody praises the great action which you did, which was first and foremost by the grace of Allah. This is the guidance of Allah and the blessed fruit of Jihad...a beautiful fatwa. May Allah bless you.’"
"I remember bin Laden’s response." The author held his pipe to one side. "His words are etched on my soul. He said, ‘We calculated in advance the number of the casualties the enemy would suffer, and who would be killed based upon the position of the planes as they hit the towers. I,’ he said, ‘was the most optimistic of all. Due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the planes would melt the iron structure of the buildings and collapse them. This is all I had hoped for.’"
"To which the sheik answered, ‘Allah be praised,’" the reporter said. "Then the sheik shared how Egyptian families watching the attack on television ‘exploded with joy.’ He explained it this way to bin Laden: ‘Do you know when there is a soccer game and your team wins? It was the same expression of joy.’ He said that the Egyptian TV station ran a subtitle that read: ‘In revenge for the children of Al Aqsa, Osama bin Laden executes an operation against America.’"
The author finished the sorry tale. "Bin Laden shared his sentiments, telling his fellow Muslims, ‘The brothers that conducted the operation all knew that they were on a martyrdom mission. Allah bless their souls.’"
The table fell into a troubled silence. Al-Qaeda was clearly a symptom of a much more serious problem - Islam.
The reporter could sit no more. She pushed back her chair with a heavy sigh, stood, and paced. "When America first focused her energies on annihilating al-Qaeda, you elevated their prestige."
"Yes. They revel in one of their own gaining respect, tweaking the nose of the Great Satan," the historian growled, threatening to bite through the end of his pipe. "Fact is, despite the line they fed your gullible media, Admiral, bin Laden wasn’t an extremist. He is loved throughout the Muslim world. You made him a hero; then you made him a martyr. Your actions swelled the size and resolve of his army."
It was time for a short speech from the Knesset’s point of view. This was his room, after all. "In this part of the world, they make no pretense of hiding their admiration for al-Qaeda or any other group committed to Jihad, to killing infidels."
The Admiral held up his bloodied hands. "I know you mean well, but you’re wearing me out. This sounds hopeless. I’m tempted to just give up."
"You wouldn’t be the first." Isaac said, making his way to Thor’s end of the table. "The problems are horrendous, my friend. But you cannot quit. It’s not in you to quit. You have earned the ear of the world. You may be our last hope." He placed his hands on Adams’ shoulders.
Thor stood and walked toward the imposing stone wall, pausing at the speaker’s platform. Every eye followed him. He placed a calloused hand on either side of the rostrum, bracing himself. "This is a suicide mission," he said. "You have described a collusion of influences that make this battle unwinnable with words. The state-controlled media is promoting a violent and delusional doctrine. Politically empowered mullahs are preaching a violent and delusional doctrine. State-supported madrases are teaching a violent and delusional doctrine. And repressive, dictatorial governments are enforcing the same violent and delusional doctrine. How can reason seep in, much less prevail?"
"Islamic fundamentalism is virulent throughout the Arab world, sir," the journalist proclaimed. "You’re right. There is a raw, violent, and hateful anti-American, anti-Israeli sentiment that permeates the place. It’s pervasive. Too many characterize Islamic terrorists as ‘extremists’, as if they’re rare, isolated, and out of step with their societies. That’s dangerously delusional. Politicized Islam is a doctrine of arms, Holy War in Allah’s Cause, Jihad. It allows no rival, no alternative. This is the land of flag and effigy burners. It is the place where hatemongering mullahs inspire impressionable youth to heinous acts, where suicide bombers are revered and idolized. Murder is celebrated here."
"Delusions cloud their thinking - and ours." The Knesset Member liked seeing Thor behind his bully pulpit.
The historian concurred. Looking up at Adams, he said, "Not a single Afghani has been tied to terrorism. The Taliban merely turned their nation into a campground for the Islamic army that is battling America. Sure, they were brutal and repressive. But they were no different than other fundamentalist Muslims. Fact is, all good Muslims are bad."
"Then I suppose the Afghanis have already forgotten that we freed them from the abuses of the Taliban?"
"Yes, because that only made it possible for other warlords to brutalize them."
"What about the fact that we fought on the behalf of the Muslim minority in Yugoslavia?"
"That wasn’t reported here."
"But surely they know Americans shed their blood to free Kuwait and save Saudi Arabia from the same megalomaniac that was willing to use poisonous gas on his own people!" the Admiral protested.
"Did you know that, per capita, the greatest number of Taliban prisoners hauled to Guantanamo Bay were Kuwaitis? The very nation you saved. Here they think you rescued these nations for the ruling families and for the oil. They despise their dictators, seeing them as corrupt puppets of the world they hate. There’s a big difference."
"As for what was once Yugoslavia," the rabbi interjected, "they simply discard facts that don’t fit with their conclusions. Islam is not a religion that is popular with rational men." He rubbed his forehead.
"What makes them so irrational?" Thor’s frustration was showing.
"What makes anyone irrational? Seductive lies. Half truths. Self-serving agendas. Hate. Despair. Poverty. Greed. Lust. Paranoia. Oh, and don’t forget gunpowder. It levels the playing field, emboldening the timid and empowering the weak."
"Testosterone and gunpowder - quite a combination," Thor said, leaning against the rostrum.
"Your nation was befuddled, sir. You sought revenge for 9/11 by killing Afghanis because they harbored al-Qaeda. And then you negotiated with the founders of al-Qaeda - the Palestinians - right here in Israel," Mr. Knesset explained.
"If you haven’t figured it out yet, Admiral, you soon will," Isaac predicted as sat back down at the far end of the wooden table. "Islam encourages, even rewards killing. Read the Hadith, if you haven’t already."
"The Qur’an itself," the rabbi cautioned, looking up at the Admiral. "It’s a vague and repetitious book filled with plagiarism and contradictions. You can find expressions of tolerance next to passages that openly condemn Jews and Christians. Its words, like those found in Judeo-Christian scriptures, have been the motivation for a great many things, both good and bad." While this view was popular, it was errant. The rabbi had said it just to appear tolerant.
"I’m really getting confused here." Adams decided to play devil’s advocate. "There are some imams who sound peaceful, even reasonable." I’ve heard Muhammad Othman quoted on the news. He says that Islam forbids killing innocents."
"He’s wrong," the overly nourished professor declared, squinting through her glasses. "He needs to study his own scriptures, especially The True Traditions, Muhammad’s own words. Othman is a lonely man, a cleric without a congregation. He even admits that there’s no other Islamic scholar in all of Egypt who shares his view."
The rabbi added, "Militant Islam is nothing more than a return to the religion’s roots. Islam hasn’t been twisted by those bent on violence; it is bent on violence. The more one tries to emulate the life of the Prophet - the more one follows his advice - the more like bin Laden one becomes."
"He’s right, Admiral," Isaac said. "I know it’s not what you wanted to hear. But that’s what we found too. Reality is grim."
"Then," Adams put the pieces together, "fundamental Islam and fundamental Christianity are polar opposites."
"Yes, Admiral." The politician leaned forward at the near end of the table. "Interpreting the Qur’an is a matter of politics, not scholarship. The religion is not believed; it’s used. It’s used by power-hungry men to replace secular governments with Islamic ones, repressive and ruthless enough to ensure that once they’re empowered, they’ll stay that way. Touting Islam is politically expedient. Even Saddam Hussein acted religious - building mosques and carrying his prayer blankie everywhere."
"I believe," the reporter said, "that the attitudes men like him display toward women, toward education, their economies, toward personal freedoms, and human rights tell us more about them than their scriptures do." She obviously hadn’t read them, for they were the same. Muslim women exist solely to make and pleasure men. But men are slaves as well: submission is required of all Muslims.
The historian fiddled with his pipe. "Nasser, the Lion of Egypt, roared into power courting Soviet-style Communism. While he was a Muslim, the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t see it that way and opposed him - violently. So Nasser, like the good despot he was, cracked down on their dissent. He threw the bums into prison, where they were ceremoniously tortured. One of those jailed was Sayyid Qutub. He wrote a book in prison that has become the modern ‘Muslim Manifesto.’ It’s entitled Signposts on the Road. This fiery work became the inspiration for radical Islam - a terrorist guidebook."
The parallel wasn’t lost on Thor. Making his way back to his seat, he said, "Sort of like another guest of the state, a guy named Adolph. He wrote a book in prison too, called it Mein Kampf. You may have read it."
"Six million Jewish voices snuffed out during the Holocaust warn us today," rabbi said sternly. "They implore us not to tolerate a doctrine that advocates racial violence." He flicked away the nail that had once pierced Thor’s body. "As costly as that lesson was, it doesn’t appear that we’ve heeded it."
Signifying his agreement, the author said, "In his book, Qutub condemned Nassar, saying he was a bad Muslim. Mind you, Muhammad expressly forbids any Muslim to judge another’s faith. But Qutub didn’t let that stand in his way. He went on to say that every Arab regime was un-Islamic and therefore flawed. The solution? Create a new state, an Islamic State, governed by Islamic principles and based entirely upon the Prophet’s sayings. He wanted Muhammad’s speeches, like those recorded by al-Bukhari in the Hadith, to become law."
"The House of Islam is a political desert," the Knesset Member explained, rubbing his gray and balding head. "There are no political parties, no free expression, no open debate. From the Muslim Brotherhood to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, from Hezbollah to al-Qaeda, the most religious groups control public discourse; they shape the national agenda. Cleric and crackpot become one, as do mosque and state. And like the Nazis, the most devout adherents make their people feel good by telling them they’re superior, and that others, the infidels, are subhuman. They stir the faithful by proclaiming that they will ultimately rule the earth. They call them to war."
"That should sound hauntingly familiar. The Nazis proved that a small, vocal, and especially violent minority, properly indoctrinated, could bring the world to its knees. Muslims are told by the madmen, the media, the mullahs, and in the madrases that it is good to eradicate the infidels. After all, we’re just infesting their planet. We have no right to soil their holy places. You worm, you," the author concluded, puffing his pipe.
"A moment ago," Adams said, returning the historian’s gaze, "you very effectively compared Islamic states to Communist states. But Nazis are usually placed on the far right of the political spectrum, not the far left."
"It’s a circle, not a line. The Nazi Party was the National Socialist Worker’s Party. Communism and Nazism are very similar. Most productive assets are either controlled or nationalized, and the governments loom large in the form of totalitarian dictatorships. Even the ruthless manner in which their adherents claw their way into power is similar."
"In your studies, Admiral," the professor inquired, "have you discovered how Muhammad salvaged his career? Do you know what he did after he squandered his wife’s money, when he was being humiliated on all fronts, after he had been driven out of Mecca?"
"That’s when he started robbing Arab caravans and Jewish villages, right?" Thor answered.
"Ja vol. And how did he get his followers to go along?"
"He gave them an equal share of the plunder." The Admiral paused. "Sounds pretty socialistic, doesn’t it?"
"Da," she said. "He taught his followers that family and country were immaterial. Allegiance had to be sworn to him and his doctrine - just as the Nazis did with Hitler, and Communists do today with their party oaths."
"So what can be done?" Enough about the problems. Adams needed a solution. "Don’t they need to clean up their own mess?" he pondered. "Why should we do it for them."
"Some say we must. Others argue we can’t." Mr. Knesset knew all about dissenting views. "Newsweek’s editorial staff presented a chilling portrayal of the Islamic world after 9/11. They said America should get into the business of country making. They said your nation should free Muslims from those who have convoluted their faith into ‘a manifesto for killing’. They wanted America to rebuild the Muslim economies, moderate their governments, and change their people’s attitudes."
"Gimme a break! Rebuilding Afghanistan cost the American taxpayers twenty billion dollars, and all we got for our investment was a black eye. Iran spent bupkis and picked up a satellite nation. We drove al-Qaeda into Pakistan, where they promptly destabilized the government. Now they’re but a breath away from having atomic weapons. So I suppose Newsweek said we should establish their governments for them and correct their religion, too."
"Yes. Seen one megalomaniac, seen ’em all."
"Good grief. Aren’t these the same people who wanted us to capitulate on Israel? They would have you trade your land, which you have too little of, to thugs who already have too much, for a ‘promise’ of peace. And all this from people who abhor it. Aren’t they the same folks who mocked Reagan when he stood up to Communism, calling it what it was - evil? What Islam is too, by the way."
"They are. Maybe they got religion," the rabbi quipped. "’Cause now they say America must do all these things: stop the political, educational, economic, and religious collapse that underlies Islamic rage - or else...."
"Or else the world as we know it will cease to exist. Like other armed doctrines before it, fundamentalist Islam must be defeated."
"A clash of cultures. The mother of all battles. World War III - Armageddon."
Mercifully, the presentation had come to a conclusion. Politely, the distinguished panel of presenters waited for Adams to rise. Yet he didn’t, not right away. Finally, he brought his blood-stained hands up, placing them firmly on the table.
"I think I have a better plan." He looked slowly around the room. Nobody moved. "It all makes sense to me now."
Thor had asked Isaac to call the doctors for an update every thirty minutes since Sarah had climbed into the ambulance. He knew she was sore, riddled with wounds where nails had punctured her skin, but otherwise uninjured. He had also learned that the little girl was going to live.
"When did you say she was going to be here, Isaac?"
"I didn’t, ’cause she didn’t." The question had been asked and answered a dozen times.
Miserable, Adams paced back and forth past the large fountain in the lobby of the Jerusalem Hyatt. With each turn he looked expectantly at the door, hoping to see her. He was dying to hold Sarah, to comfort her, to ask her all she knew about Mary. But beyond all that, he had arrived at a solution to Islamic terror. He wanted her to know.
Thor’s friends were in knots. Just watching him pace was making them nervous. The pain of separation was chiseled all over him.
The second the ambulance pulled through the hotel’s circular drive, Thor ran out the door, found Sarah, and wrapped his arms around her still-bruised body. She let out an uncomfortable gasp and pulled back.
"I’m sorry. I missed you."
"I know. I needed a hug, too. I’m just a little sore, that’s all."
The moment Sarah had wiped the blood from her face, the paramedics had recognized who she was - and who she wasn’t: the injured child’s mother. Nottingly’s transition from CIA Agent to mother hen had touched them. So they had stayed with her at the hospital, hoping they could help. Now they were standing by the door.
"Please, come in," Adams said, motioning for them to sit. A number of large couches and overstuffed chairs were arranged near the entry.
The paramedics provided them with an update. "They killed five, injured thirty. The little girl’s mother was one of the victims."
"Did you find her father?" Adams asked. "Did he get to the hospital?"
"No," one of the drivers said, looking at the floor.
"Mary doesn’t have a father," Sarah said quietly, sitting next to Thor.
"He was killed, sir, about six months ago," the paramedic explained. "He was serving in the IDF near the Gaza Strip. Some Hamas gunmen cut through the fence and threw a grenade. Killed him, along with two of his comrades. He was a reserve officer, only twenty-eight years old."
"What about her grandparents?" Isaac asked.
"No family. The hospital checked. They wanted permission to operate. Mary had shrapnel embedded in her neck and face," the medic shared. "Suicide bombers cover themselves with nails."
"Yes, I know." Thor brought his hand to his mouth, rubbing it, as if by magic it would help him say the right words. He turned to Sarah. "I know we’re not married, not even engaged yet, but...."
Her eyes widened, encouraging him. You can do it; just say the words.
"If it’s all right with you, Sarah, I want to adopt her."
Team Bandage was shocked. This was not the Thor Adams they knew, the tough guy. This was a kinder, gentler Thor.
Sarah couldn’t have been happier. Next to "will you marry me," these were the words she most wanted to hear. Since the moment Mary had told her that she didn’t have a daddy anymore, Sarah had prayed for this very thing, though she didn’t think it would occur to Thor.
"You’re really something." Her eyes had grown moist. Sarah knew she looked awful, but she didn’t care. Her dress was still soaked in blood. She bit her lip. No one else said a word. They didn’t even move.
"When I told Mary that her mother had died...." She paused, trying to collect herself. "I told her that I would be her mommy. I know I had no right to, but I couldn’t help myself. She was so fragile, so alone, so...."
She buried her head in Thor’s chest and began to cry. He stroked her blood-spattered hair, looking up at the paramedics. "Can you take us to see Mary?"
They nodded, too emotional to speak.
"Guys, can I have a moment, please?" Adams asked.
His friends all moved toward the lobby door with the ambulance drivers. They wanted to give him space, but they also wanted to stay close, to know where he was going, what he was going to do.
"Sarah," Thor said, reaching for her hands. "I want you to know...." He paused to make sure she was looking directly at him, "I love you, and I’m going to propose." He waited again. "But not now, not here tonight. I want it to be special."
Tears rolled down her still blood-smeared face. She freed one of her hands and pushed a crusty section of hair out of her eyes. She was so happy she couldn’t stand it, so emotional she couldn’t express it. She wanted to scream, "I do," but he hadn’t asked a question.
"What we have to tell Mary is forever. I just thought we should be forever too, that’s all." He gave her a hug, more gently this time, and a kiss on the cheek. "Shall we?"
Thirty-six hours. That’s all that remained. Anwar Abu could no longer sleep. Camping on the warehouse floor, though uncomfortable, wasn’t the reason. Nor was sharing a bedroom with forty smelly guys, twenty-four trash trucks, and a few gazillion anthrax spores. He was nervous. The brilliant and compulsively religious Aymen Halaweh was no longer at his side. He was winging his way toward a whole new adventure.
The trucks were painted, fueled, loaded, and ready to roll, although none had been tested properly. The drivers were no better prepared to handle these beasts than their counterparts of 9/11 fame had been to fly. A special license and training was required to drive vehicles of this weight and size, but there hadn’t been sufficient time for any of that. And Anwar knew that with Aymen gone, there was little he could do about it.
The first machines would be dispatched in three hours. With drivers and crewmembers sharing time behind the wheel, the trek west would be completed just as the trucks were ready to roll in the East.
Although no one had the courage to ask, Anwar was sure they had figured it out: this was a martyrdom mission. They weren’t going to live long. His first clue was the wild expression in their eyes. The second was how readily they had accepted the notion of bringing in prostitutes. Ten high-priced call girls had been limo’d in from Washington.
But what really gave it away was the kibitzing among the boys, the eager exchange of ideas on positions and techniques. After sharing, the newly initiated would run off gleefully to one of the private offices to practice what they had discussed on the girls. Once in paradise, the virgins would be so impressed with what they had learned.
After spending the evening at the hospital, Sarah and Thor returned to the hotel, weary, excited, and apprehensive, all at the same time. The Hyatt had offered the Admiral the Presidential Suite on the ninth floor. It came equipped with a kitchen, a dining room, two seating areas, and a pair of large bedrooms at either end of the opulent complex. He had slept in one, she, in the other.
They both needed a shower, so they headed for their respective rooms. But try as they might, they were unable to wash the evidence of the day’s events away. Thor came out wearing one of the white terrycloth robes the hotel had provided. Either it was too small, or he was too large. He quickly turned off all the lights and opened every drape. The suite had a wall of windows overlooking the old city and the Temple Mount.
The sky was black, yet a billion points of light burned in its vastness. As if envious of the grandeur of the heavenly canopy, the city sparkled brightly. On its rolling hills a million lights shined from buildings, homes, and streets. From Thor’s vantage point on the balcony, Jerusalem looked like a wrinkled magic carpet. A crescent moon lingered directly over the golden Dome.
Dazed by the day’s events, his mind wandered as his eyes stared blankly off into the distance. In the space of twenty-four hours, Thor Adams had gone from what he had been all of his life - his own master, free and independent - to none of the above. He now had a really big and powerful boss, the God responsible for all he could see. He was as close to being married as a single guy could get. And for good measure, he was now a dad. Then he thought about Sarah: a semi-betrothed virgin with a child. It reminded him of another story.
She walked quietly out onto the balcony, reaching her arms around his waist and placing her chin on his shoulder. She, too, was wearing a terry robe. Thor could feel it against his arms.
"I love you, Thor Adams," was all she said.
I love you, too wouldn’t have been nearly enough, so he said nothing. She didn’t mind. She already knew.
They stood that way for quite some time - eyes open, taking in the view, then closed, replaying the day’s events. Life for them had become a perilous journey.
Finally, they turned, faced each other, and kissed. This time it was more love than passion. There was time for both, they knew. And both, they had discovered, were equally good.
"I don’t want to be alone tonight, sweetheart. Would you sleep with me?" she asked.
He stroked her hair, kissed her forehead, rubbed her back. "I think I can." He wasn’t trying to be cute. This night he wanted to comfort her even more than he wanted to make love to her. And he knew that the only way he could do the one was not to do the other.
They walked inside, toward her room, hand in hand. Upon reaching the bed she let the white terry robe slide from her shoulders. She was wearing a silky nightgown that clung to her body, neither seductive nor matronly. Washed by the soft glow of the city lights, she was even more spectacular than he had imagined.
"Oh my God," he gasped. He prayed for strength.
She smiled as she reached out and undid the tie on his robe. Placing her hands on his chest, she pushed it off his shoulders and let it fall to the floor. He was wearing only a pair of boxers and a smile he couldn’t repress. She kissed him softly and slid gracefully into bed, still looking at him the whole way down. But he was frozen. Everything and nothing wanted to move, all at the same time.
"Thor, come here and hold me." She patted the bed next to where she was lying. She had no idea how hard this was for him.
Somehow he mustered the strength and complied, wrapping his arms around her sender waist. Cuddled together, utterly fatigued, emotionally drained, they just fell asleep.
Trixi Lightheart was back on the air. She arched her back and repressed an unprofessional smile. "Last night, FOX News lost one of its very best. Blaine Edwards, the anchor made famous around the world by his revelation of the crucifixion tapes, has died." Trixi read an obituary that had been prepared by the staff. She hadn’t known Edwards as anything but a rival. There was no emotion in her voice. It was just business.
"Including Mr. Edwards, the death toll from the most recent round of anthrax attacks has reached nine thousand four hundred seventy six. A total of forty-eight thousand four hundred ninety five people have been infected." FOX showed file footage of overwhelmed hospitals and overstuffed morgues.
"In related news, the Secretary of Homeland Security has announced that the CIA and the FBI, working together with the new administration, have discovered what was behind these attacks. We go now to the news conference they held an hour ago. CIA Director James Barnes is speaking from the podium of the National Press Club."
"NSA agents intercepted a suspicious-sounding phone call between al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq and here in America. Although they did not identify themselves, experts have determined that the Iraqi voices are those of those of Kahn Haqqani and Omen Quagmer. These are al-Qaeda’s two highest-ranking officers now that we have Halam Ghumani in custody."
Director Barnes looked down through his bifocals onto the briefing notes he had placed on the rostrum. "The HVAC blower attacks on our commercial buildings in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston were coordinated out of a group of small warehouses in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. Our agents, working with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, have raided these facilities in a coordinated and cooperative manner. But unfortunately, it appears that the perpetrators escaped only hours before our arrival.
"I am pleased to report, however, that this administration has confiscated thirty blower devices, identical to those we found here in Washington. That means that there will be thirty fewer office buildings contaminated with anthrax. We may have saved the lives of a hundred thousand Americans. The terrorists are on the run. We have given America some breathing room."
He looked back up at the audience, mostly reporters, in the enormous old room. "That is all I have to report. Are there any questions?"
"Yes, Director Barnes. Do we know where the perpetrators have fled?"
"No, not exactly. That’s all I’m at liberty to say."
Another reporter shouted. "Do you know if they’re planning any more attacks?"
"They seem to be struggling with whatever they’re doing. The conversation we intercepted was an unpleasant one. And now that our agents have confiscated their blowers, I think we’ll be okay for a while."
"Can we have a copy of the tape? Where will the next attack take place? What are they going to do?"
"We don’t know, and I can’t say. Some of that information is classified. Our agents, working with other departments in law enforcement, are trying to track down these fugitives and bring them to justice."
"Was your agency guilty of illegal wire taps or racial profiling as it has been in the past? If you find the terrorists, will they be released as a result?" a reporter from the New York Times asked.
"That is all the time we have for questions."