Rallying cries and battle cries

If the definition of terrorism is sowing terror, Osama bin Laden has won.

bin laden 88 (photo credit: )
bin laden 88
(photo credit: )
I have a secret (or two) I need to reveal. In July I admitted on these pages that I can't ride a bike, but nonetheless I'm addicted to the Tour de France. I have another double confession: I can't drive a car but I am a dedicated fan of the Dakar Rally. The summertime revelation was triggered by the interruptions to the broadcast of the world's greatest cycle race to announce that the Annapolis summit was being planned for the fall. As soon as the dates of President George W. Bush's Annapolis follow-up visit to the region were announced I resigned myself to the fact that Israel Television's coverage of what is fondly known as "The Dakar" would be compromised. In my wildest nightmares I did not imagine it would be canceled. Not the broadcast - the rally. But nightmare it is. Not because, too lazy to turn off the TV, I have been forced to watch more footage of Bush. The reason for calling off the rally at the very last moment should be preventing world leaders from sleeping wherever they might be. On a global level, we should all be hearing the sound of screeching brakes. The ASO (Amaury Sport Organization) canceled all eight stages of the 10,000-kilometer race, which was due to start in Lisbon on January 5, because the main part would have taken place in Mauritania, where a French family was killed on December 24 in an attack blamed on al-Qaida-linked terrorists. It makes me wonder who is the driving force behind world policy. And the more I think about it, the less it seems to be Bush. Particularly at the moment. The Dakar's failure to reach the starting line this year follows bumper-to-bumper on the cancellation of the major New Year's Eve festivities in Brussels, the capital of Belgium and home of the European Union, for the same reason: Osama said so. In fact, if the definition of terrorism is sowing terror, Osama bin Laden has won. Iran's nearly-nuclear president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is probably laughing, not shaking. ON THE eve of Bush's visit to Israel, al-Qaida also sent a message to the "Zionist entity" and cc'd the US president. Palestinian groups in Lebanon affiliated with bin Laden's organization are believed to have been behind the firing of two Katyusha rockets which hit the Galilean town of Shlomi in the early hours of January 8. The missiles failed to create the intended panic for the quirky reason that residents of the sort of community that begs the description "sleepy town" slept through the attack, putting the noise down to thunder. A Katyusha fired from Gaza struck northern Ashkelon on January 3. And many an Israeli has written to the papers and called in to radio shows to suggest that the US president visit Kassam-hit Sderot. Luckily Israel doesn't close down when under attack. Security for the Bush visit has been unprecedented. Understandably so. In its first taped message of the year, al-Qaida's US spokesman Adam Gadahn called on the network's terrorists to greet Bush with "bombs and booby-trapped vehicles" during his trip. So just who is calling the shots? Bush, who is meant to be in the driver's seat, has less than a year left as president. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, astute politician that he is, might survive the findings of the Winograd Committee into the Second Lebanon War, scheduled to be published at the end of this month, but it is by no means certain that he'll reach the finishing line, having completed a full four years in office. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has already lost a large portion of his electorate in the most literal sense as Gaza basically split from the rest of the PA autonomy and accepted Hamas control (the same Hamas that supports bin Laden but called for Bush to be arrested as the world's No. 1 criminal). You can see what I'm driving at... FOR THE US president to make the trip to Israel took guts. Not the same type of initiative and staying power that the Dakar participants have traditionally shown, but courage and dedication nonetheless. The comforts of Jerusalem's King David Hotel and the sights of the Israeli capital all spruced up cannot be compared to the rough terrain and sleeping conditions the competitors had prepared themselves to endure during almost three weeks of the race. The drivers have to excel in quick thinking and immediate responses. The president should show some longer-term planning. Discussing "the settlements" is all but pointless if you don't acknowledge how peripheral they are in the global conflict when Brussels can be closed down and Islamist terror hit commuters in places like London, Madrid and Moscow. That's why the cancellation of The Dakar gave me car sickness. My fascination with the event is illogical. As an environmentalist, I admit, the rally should have me seeing red. And I recognize, as American essayist Edward Abbey put it, "The longest journey begins with a single step, not with the turn of the ignition key." But there is something about the dedication of the participants, the willingness to conquer difficulties, the team work, and yes, even the international sporting spirit, that makes me watch the rally year after year. Of course politics has interfered with the off-road endurance test several times before, influencing both the starting point and the destination. However, various press reports in Africa have called this year's cancellation "a death sentence" for the race, a charge denied by the ASO. It could spell a death threat for almost every other international sporting event. The silence of the engines should echo in Beijing ahead of the Olympics, for instance. More importantly, it means the entire rational world could find its wheels spinning with no grip on the road. The dust kicked up by the non-event is like a Saharan sandstorm, part of some unseen ecological chain with global implications. A local victim of the cancellation is 40-year-old Dror Cohen, whose story sums up the spirit of The Dakar. The former IAF combat pilot was left paralyzed by a car crash in 1992. Refusing to be grounded, Cohen sought different challenges, eventually winning a gold medal for sailing in the 2004 Paralympics in Athens. He participated in the Paris-Dakar race in 2002 but was forced to quit after his engine burned out on the 11th day. Most of us would at that point take a shower and say, "Phew! Well, at least I tried." Cohen just geared up for this year's event, at considerable financial and personal cost. People like Cohen are more inspirational than most politicians. While Bush talks of "three tracks" to peace, it is the tracks that didn't appear in the African sand dunes that symbolize the state of the world. As the late Connecticut Republican Robbins B. Stoeckel once said: "Automobiles are not ferocious... it is man who is to be feared."