Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Hunt for Red Herring

I am the eternal scholar. I keep learning while I go along in life. This last week I learned a new expression in English language that doesn't even exist: Red Herring. In a literal sense, so Wikipedia tells me, there is no such fish species as a "red herring"; rather it refers to a particularly strong kipper, meaning a fish - typically a herring but not always - that has been strongly cured in brine and/or heavily smoked.

Cured in brine, hiding behind a smokescreen? I held my breath and went plunging into the very interesting science of etymology, digging up the second meaning of Red Herring which is the "idiomatic expression referring to the rhetorical or literary tactic of diverting attention away from an item of significance".

There were many potential Red Herrings passing me by in the last ten days. First the United Kingdom together with the rest of the colonizing world celebrated the Royal Wedding of the Century of Prince William and Kate Middleton, with everybody guessing, at least in hindsight, if Pippa Middleton wouldn't have been the better choice as the future Queen of England. The Windsors themselves are a Red Herring for Greater Britain, diverting from all kind of things that go wrong and making her Majesty's subjects feel majestically once in a while. 

Next up we had a NATO air strike on a compound in Tripoli Libya belonging to Muammar Ghaddafi that killed his youngest son Saif al-Arab and allegedly three of his grandchildren. The air strike was of course executed to save civilian lives in Libya. 

Just when I was deliberating if this air strike was worth a closer inquiry - had the grandchildren really been killed; and was it right for NATO to accept that innocent small children could be killed when not trying a regime change in Tripoli? - there came the biggest potential Red Herring in modern history: the US had finally found the hideout of "Geronimo" (I know, you are all tired of reading about Osama bin Laden, so I call him by the unfortunate and stupid name the US Navy Seals gave him) and killed him, in Abbottabad Pakistan, since then the best known unknown little city in the world.

With all the media attention on the death of Geronimo, Bashar al-Assad enjoyed a free hand in Syria last week. Bashar the Basher bashed and smashed the heads of dozens of protesters, demonstrating to them that they had been better protected under emergency law than without it. Did Bashar get away with this? Yes, quite easily. Hillary Clinton was still under shock from the strikeout in Abbottabad and the nerve wrecking play by play comment from Leon Panetta and could only utter a weak "stop it Bashar" and "we might think of tightening the sanctions on Syria if Assad keeps rampaging through his graveyard like this".

And that was about it. Because saying it more firmly or actually go into some kind of action would have brought to light another Red Herring story: that the Arab spring is as much about the freedom seeking aspirations of the Arab people as it shows the decades long failed US policies in the region. For too long the US and the Europeans, for the sake of a phony stability in Arab countries and the well-being of Israel, have supported and dealt with suspicious, oppressive personalities like Mubarak, Assad and the Wahhabi regime in Saudi Arabia. 

what's cookin' here? a Red Herring!

How much of a surprise was it for the US administration that they found Geronimo and executed him on the spot? Was it all pre-planned, scheduled right after the Royal Wedding and the air strike on Gaddhafi's house and in parallel with the ongoing activities of the Arab Spring, to establish a counterweight to this somewhat annoying initiative of the Arab people that the US can't really oppose but can't really support either? Was OBL (now I am tired of calling the man Geronimo) already dead when they US said they had killed him?

Of course I don't know this. If I did, I had to change my profession and become a full time journalist. But I was surprised to find out that US president Barack Obama had scheduled to pay tribute to the victims of 9/11 in New York last Thursday, laying down a wreath on Ground Zero only four days after OBL had been given the American treatment in Pakistan. I know my schedule and I certainly know the schedule of my boss: to have a meeting with him you have to plan it well in advance, weeks or months ahead. But I guess, BHO (H for Hussein) is not as busy as my boss is and he is happy to fill his empty time with a little trip to New York instead of helping Michelle doing the gardening in the White House backyard.

Anyway, Tom Clancy predicted it all. The author of "The Hunt for Red October" painted an eerily accurate picture of real life events, writing in his last novel "Dead or Alive" (with a rejected title of "In Plain Sight") that the US would take down OBL in an upscale house that is just a shortish drive from a major city, and just a few miles from a major military institution. Everything fits, except that the major city is not Islamabad, but Las Vegas. But bad luck is a constant follower, in Islamabad as much as in Las Vegas. 

In the meantime it has been confirmed: OBL is really dead. Al Qaeda issued a statement on one of their websites, confirming they had lost contact with their spiritual leader. Just when many were suspecting the US to have served us yet another Red Herring, AQ delivered the message on a silver screen, cutting Washington loose from every rope hanging from the tree of public opinion. Or as my Twitter buddy @JawazSafar put it: "so when the whole world debates whether they really killed #OBL or not, Al-Qaeda issues a statement to confirm it. It seems to me that the Al-Qaeda PR department lives in the West Wing...Kinda."

"Kinda" it is!

on a even lighter note, here's a little poem on red herrings, found on a blog called "The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment": 

A man in the wilderness asked this of me,
"How many strawberries grow in the sea?"
I answered him, as I thought good,
"As many red herrings as swim in the wood."

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