The ineffable New York Times carried a story last week, one that from first to last was designed – whether by the reporter, Scott Shane, or by his editors, is unknown – to tug at the heartstrings of the reader. And those heartstringed-tugged readers were to sympathize with the parents of Ramy Zamzam, one of the five Washington-area Muslims who went off to Pakistan to conduct Jihad through open warfare, with the Taliban (and possibly Al Qaeda) and against the Americans, even though all five boys were American citizens and had grown up in the United States.
Indeed, the story was not only directed, I think, at winning sympathy for the Zamzam parents, and especially for his mother Amal Khalifa, but by the principle of contiguity, to win sympathy for Ramy Zamzam himself. After all, you don’t have to star in “Mad Men” to know that most advertising is based on that very principle of Contiguity, which is a form of Metonymy (see, do, Roman Jakobson’s monograph published by Mouton on “The Metaphoric and Metonymic Poles”). You know, just like those cigarette ads Before the Flood, the ones that show the manly man and the womanly woman (yes, very much Before the Flood) and work by contiguity — as in those advertisements for Salem cigarettes, where the girl and the boy are taking puffs from Salems by a brook, which is to say, if the boy smokes Salems, the girl and the brook are thrown in at no additional cost.
The article is entitled “A Thanksgiving Meal, Then Charges of Jihad: A Mother’s Tale.” Here it is.
Let’s start with that very first sentence: here is “Ramy Zamzam, 22, is a proud first-year dental student in his new white jacket, framed by his beaming parents.” So there he is, like all of us, as we stand between our “beaming” parents, ourselves “proud” of being admitted to, or finally receiving a degree from, this or that institution. Here is Ramy Zamzam, doing just what all of us do, and his parents love him, and he loves them, and they are proud of him, and he is affectionate toward them, and so on.
The scene has been set for the reader, And the initial impression is given, that something is wrong, something is not quite right, in depicting Ramy Zamzam, as apparently those mean old Pakistani authorities have been depicting him, as a would-be participant in violent Jihad against the mortal enemies of the jihadists, Americans and the West.
We learn that Ramy Zamzam’s mother, Amal Khalifa, had, like mothers everywhere, worried about her son now in the clutches of what appears to be an unforgiving and cruel fate: She “described a harrowing visit she and her husband made early this month to the eldest of her three children. The confident student, she said, the ‘multitasker’ who had excelled as a student and community volunteer through high school and college, was shattered by four months in a Pakistani jail.”
So he’s a “multitasker” and had been a good student and “community volunteer.” A volunteer for what, exactly? Did his volunteering have, by any chance, a distinctly sectarian, even Islamic note? I ask because if he had volunteered in some other way, for some other cause, surely we would have heard of it, and here we do not learn a thing about it. And Ramy Zamzam was “shattered by four months in a Pakistani jail.”
And just to make sure you know how “shattered” he was, we get this:
“He cried and clung to me,” Ms. Khalifa said, choking up. “When I saw him like that, it broke my heart.”
It broke his mother’s heart. And it should, you know, break yours too, if you had an ounce of human sympathy in you.
Ramy Zamzam, good student, proud in his dental uniform, a volunteer at school, someone who never did wrong, somehow – how? – ends up in Pakistan, where he is held, cruelly held. And remember, he’s an all-American boy, who has only one thing – one thing – to tell his mother when she sees him. And that one thing he has to tell her is this:
“‘Mom, I love my country. I want to go back to my country. Why do the Pakistanis want to do this to us?'” Ms. Khalifa said in the interview, at the Washington offices of the Council on American Islamic Relations, an advocacy group that has assisted the parents.
So he “loves his country,” and wants “to go back to my country.” Well, well. How did Ramy Zamzam, again – we need, through our tears of sympathy evoked by Scott Shane’s prose, a little reminding – express his love of “his country”? Oh, first he made a DVD, one in which he apparently declares his steely determination to go off, with others, to distant Pakistan, in order to express his “love” for “his country” by fighting on the side of the Al-Qaeda-backed Taliban against the Americans and the “hypocrites” among the local Muslims who side, for whatever reason, with those Americans from that country “he loves” so very much. Yes, what better way to express your love of America than, say, to fly to Berlin in 1939, and offer to fight with the Nazi forces, in order to show your love of country? Or perhaps to Tokyo, to broadcast from Radio Tokyo, so as to show that you love your country, America, so much, that you want to convince its soldiers not to fight, so as to spare that country you love so much the anguish of defeat?
Now there is a piquant detail at the end of that paragraph that is slipped in but should not be missed. The interview with the voluble Amal Khalifa -why does her husband not say a word? Was it decided by someone advising, perhaps even directing them, that it would be more effective if only a distressed mother, longing for her son to be released so that he might return to the country that “he loves,” were to speak? Or was the father a little less cooperative, or perhaps not quite so willing to be manipulated? That piquant detail is this: the interview with Ms. Khalifa took place “at the Washington offices of the Council on American Islamic Relations, an advocacy group that has assisted the parents.”
CAIR is an “advocacy group”? What does this mean? Advocacy of what, exactly? Why, advocacy of, defense of, promotion of, Islam and of Muslims. That is its advocacy. And one can be sure that CAIR stage-managed this event, and found a reporter willing to collaborate with it, in presenting this sob-story, one which Americans are famously familiar with from the movies. The locus classicus of the weeping mother is in “Public Enemy Number One” – starring Jimmy Cagney. The mother of this murderous arch-criminal famously insists – despite the mountains of evidence that tell the police, and the movie audience, otherwise – that “my boy’s a good boy.” Thus Ms. Khalifa. Ramy Zamzam is a “good boy” who “loves his country” and has no idea why he is being treated so roughly in Pakistan.
Why, one might be tempted to ask her if she thinks he has any idea as to how he got to Pakistan in the first place. Does he have any idea why he kept his plans secret from his parents, deliberately deceiving them right up to, and even beyond, the time of his departure? And does her son, who so “loves his country,” does Ramy Zamzam, have the faintest idea as to why he made that tape he left behind, a tape so alarming that once it was seen, the parents of the five boys went – oh, not as most American parents would, to the police or the FBI or some other agency of the American government – but to CAIR, to see what they could do, not to help the Infidels of course, but to make sure their children were not killed while fighting on the Path of Allah.
And why did they go to CAIR? Well, they did so because CAIR works to convince Muslims living in America that they are not to trust the American government, not to reveal things to the American government, not to collaborate with the American authorities but always and everywhere to seek first the advice of….CAIR, and to be especially vigilant about any perceived slights to Islam, by any government official, or any “hate crimes” that they may observe or claim they have observed. The whole emphasis of CAIR’s presentation is not to convince Muslims to collaborate willingly, wholeheartedly, uncalculatedly, with government officials in trying to limit the “radicalization” (which relies on, consists of what strange new texts, exactly, that “misinterpret” the Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira?) of Muslims in America, but to report whatever attempts to monitor the Muslims by the police and FBI to CAIR so that it, in turn, can complain, can try to stop this perfectly reasonable vigilance and surveillance.
CAIR has attempted, not without success, to make itself the intermediary between Muslims living in the America and the American government. This has happened despite the fact that CAIR officials have been stung by a number of revelations about its officials (including the list of those who are in prison, or who have fled the country, or who have been otherwise subject to investigation and charges). But when those parents, including the parents of Ramy Zamzam, came to CAIR, imagine how the officials at CAIR must have calculated. They did not know, any longer, how much surveillance they might be under. They did not know if possibly this whole thing was a clever sting operation, with the parents having been persuaded to participate, in order to see what CAIR officials would advise them to do, or not do, and what those CAIR officials themselves would do. They couldn’t afford not to pass on the information to the government, because they couldn’t be sure, sure that the whole thing was not a sting designed to expose CAIR. But even if it was all on the level, and the sons had gone off to Pakistan and the parents were genuinely worried about them, what if CAIR advised them to “say and do nothing” and one or more of the parents ignored this, and went to the police or the FBI on their own? And there was that DVD left by Ramy Zamzam that showed clearly what his intentions were. Too many people had already learned of that DVD, of his intention to fight in the Path of Allah.
So the story goes on, and we learn more about this All-American boy, this Ramy Zamzam. What do we learn? Oh, that “the family was not especially religious,” according to Ms. Khalifa, “rarely visiting the mosque except at Muslim holidays.” For “Ramy and his teenage friends at West Potomac High School, she said, the small neighborhood mosque was ‘a club.'” Just a club. A club like the 4-H Club, or the Teen Center of yore, with its pingpong table, and sock-hop room, or was this mosque that the boys regarded as a “club” rather like another “club,” but one with politico-religious rather than the mercenary considerations of the assorted Siculo-American uomini d’onore, that is, the Ravenite Social Club where John Gotti used to, with his friends and wise guys, innocently socialize?
Yes, they didn’t go to the mosque for mosque-going purposes. They’d do other things, they’d do all-American things. Oh, what things? Well, things like this:
“They’d order pizza, play computer games and play basketball in the parking lot,” she said.
But notice here that even in this staged bit of propaganda, the mother of Ramy Zamzam knows enough, or her handlers know enough, to diminish the role of the mosque, to make it seem not to be the place where the texts and tenets are emphasized and drummed into the ear passages, and then the hearts and minds, of the worshippers during the khutbas, but rather that it’s merely a place where kids go – just like the guys and gals at the Teen Center, circa 1956 – eating their pizzas, dribbling their balls for a layup at the informal basketball court in the parking lot, and of course, this being an up-to-date social club, playing those computer games. It’s Art Linkletter time, at the Neighborhood Mosque and Social Club, and you know, Kids When They Go Off To Pakistan Do The Darndest Things!
And just two days before Ramy Zamzam disappeared to go off to fight the Jihad in Pakistan, his mother tells us that “I cooked 100 percent American food on Thanksgiving — turkey, mashed potatoes, corn.” Not even Tofurkey. No, the real thing, the handsome myles-standish thing, turkey and mashed potatoes and corn. What else do you need to know?
He “loves his country.” He was a dental student and he had been a “volunteer.” He ate pizza and played basketball at the mosque. His mother not only had a meal at Thanksgiving, but she cooked “100 percent American food” for that meal – my god, even though real Muslims are not supposed to even recognize, much less celebrate, any non-Muslim holiday.
What more do you want? That’s what Ramy Zamzam’s mother wants to know. That’s what CAIR officials, no doubt standing nearby in case she needed any prompting during the interview, want to know. And it is, it seems, what The New York Times also wants you to believe, derelict in its duty and not for the first time but rather for the third and fatal time. (See the coverage of the Nazi persecution and murder of the Jews, right up to and during World War II, and see the coverage of Stalin’s rule, and the famine in the Ukraine, by that Pulitzer-Prize-winning Walter Duranty.)
But if you were ever inclined to fall for this sob story and others like it, I hope that if this little piece has done nothing else, it has made clear to you how the campaign here of sentimental deception works. And who knows? If you find this piece useful, perhaps you will pass it on to others. Pass it on, even, to people who read, and still take irrationally to heart, the coverage of anything to do with Islam by the benighted, and unfairly — because insufficiently — maligned, New York Times.