Wednesday, December 4, 2002

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The war on leisure

The Bush administration now believes Al Qaeda is responsible for the latest attacks in Kenya. The Times ran a piece right after the Mombasa attack pointing out that Al Qaeda was now focusing on "soft" targets, but the pattern is even more specific than that. The attacks on Bali and Mombasa are attacks on the very principle of leisure. The pursuit of happiness is an essential part of Western liberalism, and an anathema to the brand of Islam that Al Qaeda espouses.

Three thoughts on this. The first is that, in the pursuit of homeland security, our focus may be off-target. The major concern is that Al Qaeda will hit major population centers or somew component of our critical infrastructure. However, given Al Qaeda's philosophy and it's post-9/11 material weakness, the likeliest places to be attacked may be vacation resorts -- Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Key West, and of course, any Disney theme park.

The second thought is that these attacks highlight the degree to which Al Qaeda and the fringe anti-globalization crowd often swim in the same waters. The latter tend to decry the whole notion of developing countries serving as vacation resorts for first-world travelers as some kind of neo-colonialism. Read this excellent Jane Perlez story on how tourism affects the Balinese economy, however, and you realize the vacuousness of this message:

Hoteliers say each room generates 25 jobs: receptionists, cooks, gardeners, money-changers, guides, dancers for nighttime entertainment, even lifeguards for protection at the beach.

The tourist economy in Kenya tells a similar story.

Finally, many pundits criticized President Bush for his exhortation last year to fight the war on terrorism by going shopping. Both Democrats and "national greatness" Republicans said that was the time to marshall Americans towards some greater collective goal. I sympathize with this response, but it smacks of an attempt to match Al Qaeda in their humorless puritanism. I say Bush didn't go far enough in the other direction. Given Al Qaeda's current predelictions, the best way to fight the war on terror is to put our decadent brand of hedonism on full display. So my advice is to take a long, luxuriant vacation. From personal experience, might I suggest Captiva island in Florida? [Boy, you really know how to dispense tough love --ed. Yes, I am a harsh taskmaster that way.]

posted by Dan on 12.04.02 at 04:58 AM