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Shibboleth! Shibboleth! Shibboleth!

Shibboleth! Shibboleth! Shibboleth!

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, out goes the top federal official, the minister for home affairs, Shivraj Patil. He says he should have done better. Popular indignation ratifies his judgment. Since Mumbai is in the state of Maharashtra, the chief minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, has offered his resignation and his No. 2, RR Patil, has quit. Deshmukh says he “accepts moral responsibility.” Remember that Maharashtra, at 100 million, has a third the population of the United States, so we’re talking about very powerful officials. Given the ratios of destruction, it’s as though New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Gov. George Pataki, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and heads of the CIA, NSA and FBI had all quit or at least tendered their resignations on Sept. 12, 2001, which of course none of them did. Like the tribe of Ephraim in the Book of Judges (12:5- 6), who couldn’t pronounce the word “shibboleth,” the tongue and palate of an American politician or bureaucrat simply cannot handle the phrase “moral responsibility,” at least as a condition applying to themselves. Remember that the tribe of Gilead made everyone trying to cross the Jordan after the battle say the word “shibboleth,” and those who couldn’t were put to the sword. The best the Ephraimites could do was “s-ssibboleth.” A good lesson here. Line up the high-ups, and make them say it. “I accept mowal wes … wes … wes … “ and down comes the ax. It’s the usual story. There were plenty of warnings. As papers such as the London Sunday Times detailed, in contrast to very poor real-time coverage here in the United States, months ago, the Mumbai police had information elicited from Fahim Ansari, a captive member of the Pakistani group Lashkare-Taiba, that a raid on the city was being planned and that he himself had reconnoitered the Taj and Oberoi hotels. The Indian authorities intercepted a telephone call made from the Arabian Sea less than two weeks before the attack in which a terrorist suspect on a boat in the Arabian Sea said “we’re coming to Mumbai.” The Indian coast guard was alerted. The brain initially translates the unexpected as a minor aberration of normalcy. Look at what happened in February 2003 in Key West, on the actual day Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge announced we’re One Nation Under Orange Alert. Four uniformed fugitives from Cuba’s navy patrol made landfall on the Homeland, passing undetected by Southern Florida’s vast flotillas of Coast Guard and Navy vessels. Clad in their Cuban army fatigues (one had a Chinese-made handgun strapped to his hip), they wandered about, looking for a police station where they could turn themselves in. If of malign intent, the Cubans could have wiped out half the authors on The New York Times’s bestseller list with a single salvo. As the Mumbai carnage raged on, the press here slowly accepted the fact that this wasn’t an attack on Westerners, that Indians weren’t merely collateral damage. On Dec. 2, Somini Sengupta had a rather sickening story in the Times

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