Most of us have grown accustomed to the Bush era security lapses. A trillion or so squandered on a faux war on terror. Hundreds of billions more flushed down the toilet of Homeland Security. Then a story breaks by ProPublica, Washington Post and the New York Times – our government knew of the Mumbai plot two years in advance and did nothing. Despite the the all tough-on-terror spin, trashing of the Bill of Rights and the Geneva Convention, and enriching their defense contractor cronies, the Republicans again proved that they were inept at security as they were at waging war, managing the economy, mitigating disasters, educating our young, caring for wounded veterans, or telling the truth. But that isn’t the part of the story that has me losing faith.
I have this naïve belief that what makes our society civilized is voluntarily compliance with our common values. My list would include honesty, respect, diligence and responsibility. Each of us would likely have a different list, which is why we have laws. In order to also have freedom, our laws are largely faith-based – each us must act with the faith that most of us will obey the laws and believe that those who do not will be brought to justice.
My faith in this glue of voluntary compliance and goodness, which enables civility, has been shaken in recent years. One after another, our elected officials, corporate owners, and religious leaders have betrayed it and have not been held accountable. I’m not referring to OJ and Mel Gibson, or Bonds, or McGuire. I’m referring to those who lie, cheat, bribe, con, steal, abuse, maim, ruin, torture and murder – presidents, popes and evangelists among them. The co-dependent cynic in me can deal with these grand failures – marking them up and filing them away as more examples of the Icarus syndrome and the subject of Lord Acton’s famous quote.
Then the story comes along of American-born, Daood Sayed Gilani – an extraordinary story of an ordinary man who betrays our civil faith time after time so exquisitely that it shakes me that he was not stopped long before 166 died and hundreds more were injured. It is Gilani’s back story that has me losing faith.
I naïvely believed that if I were to smuggle heroin into the US from Pakistan and get caught, I would go to prison for a long time and likely never have a job or family again. Gilani did 15 months in a low-security prison before being given a job with the DEA.
I naïvely believed, that if I were to travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan and attend terrorist training camps during the Bush years , I’d be abducted by the CIA, tortured and still be living in Guantánamo. Three times Gilani attended Lashkar-e-Taiba training camps in Pakistan and, as far as we know, he never even made the watch list.
I naïvely believed that if I were to be married to two women at the same time, I would be emasculated or at least go to jail. Gilani was married to three women at the same time.
I naïvely believed that if I were a convicted heroin smuggler, confirmed serial bigamist, and my American ex-wife filed domestic abuse charges against me and went on to tell the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force that I was an active member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, had terrorist training in Pakistan and had purchased military equipment, that I probably wouldn’t get custody of my children. Gilani did.
I naïvely believed that if a foreign spy agency gave me money, say, $25,000, and it was reported to our embassy by my wife, that I’d get in a boat load of life-as-I-knew-it-ending trouble. Another of Gilani’s wives went at least twice to the US Embassy in Islamabad and met with regional security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers telling them that he was involved, planning and plotting terrorism and had been given $25,000 by the Pakistani spy agency. Nothing.
I naïvely believed that if I were on the payroll of a foreign government spy agency, had dual Pakistani-US citizenship, and named “Daood Sayed Gilani” that changing my name in 2006 to “David Coleman Headly” wouldn’t fool anyone and would more likely raise more attention. When Gilani — now Headly did it, he was able to get a quick visa to India with no mention of his nationality.
How could it happen? Or am I just a chump for all those times I didn’t litter or jaywalk? All those times when I could have robbed a bank or launched a Madoff or Enron-like scheme rather than working and didn’t? All those opportunities for mayhem I let pass? I realize that we live in a society where moral values are graded on a curve, but I don’t know where to put this story. I need to Google or Bing “relativism.” Perhaps, Fox News or Bishop Eddie Long can offer me perspective.