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The power of negative thinking

By Steven Zak
web posted July 15, 2002

Ever since September 11, two questions have been nagging at my nervous mind: Which American city will terrorists target next, and what can our government do to keep us safe? The bad news: Terror struck right here in my town of Los Angeles. The good news: Our leaders chased it away by simply refusing to acknowledge it was ever there.

It was the power of negative thinking.

Hadayet: Not a terrorist
Hadayet: Not a terrorist

No one does it better than FBI agent in charge of Los Angeles, Richard Garcia. He suggested that Hesham Muhammad Hadayet, an Egyptian immigrant who had driven an hour from home armed with two guns and a knife but no airline ticket and who shot and stabbed his way to martyrdom at an El Al counter while yelling "God is great" in Arabic, "might simply have been despondent for some as yet unknown reason, perhaps a financial problem or a family dispute."

Cling to that thought.

What, you have a problem with it? You just need to practice your negative-thinking technique. Let's say you're concerned about terrorist attacks in America. You know that a fifth column here is reinforced by new arrivals every day with the blessings of a State Department more concerned with appeasing the Saudis than keeping you safe. And you're getting a little anxious because you heard about that business at LAX and you see the terrorist writing on the wall. Start with an alternative explanation -- preposterous is okay so long as it can't be absolutely ruled out as a matter of logic -- then just defend it in your mind no matter how ridiculous you feel.

Here, let me start it out for you: It wasn't terrorism; there are just a lot of Jews in many parts of Los Angeles (for instance, around the El Al ticket counter) and in those congested areas it would be darn hard to fire ten rounds, even with your eyes shut, without hitting at least one or two. Say out loud: There is insufficient evidence to conclude that there was terror involved. See if you can't make yourself believe it. If you don't get it right away, not to worry. That's why we have elected representatives.

The White House understands how this works. Spokesman Ari Fleischer announced, as forthrightly as is his habit, that there was no reason to believe a terrorist act had occurred. So, I'm happy to say, did the mayor of Los Angeles. Unlike New York Mayor Rudy Guliani, who shamefully gave in to terrorism after September 11 by admitting that it had actually happened, Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn refused to empower a would-be terrorist by recognizing him for what he was. "We have absolutely no evidence," he said bravely and with a reasonably straight face, "that this is an act of terror." I've never been prouder of Mayor Hahn, and I doubt I ever will be.

Victoria Hen Ya'acov Aminov
Victoria Hen and Ya'acov Aminov: Not victims of terrorism

Cynics may say what they will, but the strategy worked. The next day, Victoria Hen and Ya'acov Aminov were no longer dead victims of terror. Like so many other people who have crossed paths with Islamists, they were just dead.

Creating alternative realities is a skill we'd all do well to cultivate, and you can speed the learning process by observing the best. Take Hadayet's uncle in Egypt, Hassan Mustapha Mahfouz. Confronted with the overwhelming evidence that his nephew was a crazed terrorist and a vicious killer of Jews, he immediately began to apply the technique: "From my point of view," he told reporters gamely, "it is just a random fight over the rent for the car."

That's perfect. It makes no sense on any planet this side of Venus, but he put it out there, he stands by it, and for him I'm sure it's as real as the idea that five hundred million Arabs are the victims and Israel is the aggressor. Uncle Hassan, of course, has the advantage of an environment where this methodology is second nature, but Americans, as we've seen, are quick studies when the chips are down.

Which is why I've finally found serenity in a world filled with billions of America- and Jew-hating psychos. I have every confidence that if terrorists show their faces here again, our leaders will stand up and wish them away.

Steven Zak is a writer and attorney in California. This is his first contribution to Enter Stage Right.

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