Of course, to those involved in such tragedies, these stories are a big deal. But to the rest of us, the attraction is that of the voyeur.
That the news business thrives on voyeurism isn't news. It dates back to the thrilling murder/rape stories that catapulted 19th-century newspapers, owned by such icons as Joseph Pulitzer, to market dominance.
Though a large-scale disaster, such as the London suicide bombings, can intrude on this kind of story, it usually takes only a day or two for TV news to return to business as usual.
But while most of us are focused on trivia or even domestic battles, such as the partisan jousting over the alleged threat of religious Christians to our religious liberty, a very dangerous world is lurking on the periphery of our consciousness. Even as we while away the dog days of summer, it might be instructive to take a short inventory of the things that Americans should prepare to put on their radar screens.
The London bombings generated a lot of interest, but the real story of the rise of fundamentalist Islam in Europe tended to be obscured by concerns over discrimination against Muslims. The specter of a home-grown brand of Islamic fundamentalism in the heartland of Western civilization ought to send shivers down all our spines.
Missing, as usual, from reactions to these events was a genuine understanding of the threat from militant Islam and any real sense of responsibility on the part of non-violent Muslims for their acceptance of Islamists as legitimate leaders. The knee-jerk reactions of many intellectuals to rationalize the actions of the murderers as a product of authentic and understandable Muslim rage at Western society are appalling but familiar to those of us who've heard the same excuses given for terror against Israel.
Rather than worrying about the sensitive feelings of young Muslim males who aren't interested in becoming part of the West, Europeans should be paying more heed to writers such as historian Bat Ye'or, whose recent book Eurabia foretold the conversion of Western Europe into a new Islamic sphere of influence.
The world mourned the death of the King Fahd of Saudi Arabia this week. The coverage here of the death of the head of this family corporation/theocratic tyranny wasn't entirely obsequious, as some newspapers were rude enough to include biographical facts detailing Fahd's status as a libertine playboy who made whoopee with Western oil money while his government spread fundamentalism and funded terrorists.
What this ought to do is light a fire under news editors to give us more about what the desert kingdom is really doing. The anomalous position of this dubious ally, which serves as the home office for a worldwide scourge of terror, deserves more than a passing mention.
While America goes nuts over the latest celebrity crime story, a much bigger crime has gone almost unnoticed. Ethnic cleansing of non-Islamic minorities in the Darfur region of Sudan has reached the point where the United States has called it genocide. But as long as the TV cameras are in Aruba – or staking out Michael Jackson's home – I guess Americans won't be that interested.
That the war in the Sudan is a complex story stretching back several decades makes it hard for American journalists who think history is the Kobe Bryant trial. Even worse, it lacks the sheer glamour of cross-racial conflict that might attract a news media sensitive to the legacy of imperialism. But since this is essentially a black-on-black atrocity, most editors and world leaders aren't that interested. That's too bad for the victims who now number in the hundreds of thousands. But if they can't produce a story that makes for good TV, what do they expect?
Another barely noticed story is the ongoing controversy about the threat of the Iranian regime acquiring nuclear capabilities. The so-called "cowboys" of the Bush administration have been deferring to the experienced diplomats of Old Europe just as many of Bush's critics wanted him to do on other fronts. The result: The Europeans' policy of making nice with the ayatollahs has gotten the West exactly nothing in terms of Iranian concessions.
Tehran's chutzpah and European appeasement have brought about a situation where the Iranians are now prepared to break the United Nations seals on their nuclear facilities and to take the next step toward a bomb they've already threatened to use to incinerate Israel. Maybe it's time to page the cowboys and see if they have any fresh ideas.
Of course, while the Iranians are moving towards getting nukes, we already know that the lunatics running the Stalinist prison we call North Korea already have them. Former President Jimmy Carter brokered a deal to get them to give up their bombs, but they laughed in his face and reneged. Both the hawks and the doves are out of strategies, and Pyongyang is too well-armed to knock off easily. So all we can do is sit back and wait as the people of that country starve and their insane leaders get itchy trigger fingers.
While the world is applauding Israel's skedaddle out of Gaza -and most Israelis are happy to be rid of the place and its million Arabs – few have given much thought as to what will happen after the Jews leave.
One obvious possibility is the conversion of this small area into a new resort for international terrorists, much in the same way that southern Lebanon was before Ariel Sharon led the Israel Defense Force north in 1982. A worst-case scenario might lead a future U.S. administration to give Gaza the same treatment they gave Afghanistan. In which case, Sharon's scheme won't look as good to Americans as it does today.
Due to the toll of American casualties, the war in Iraq remains on our radar screens. But the understandable focus on American losses doesn't help us understand where we currently stand in terms of winning or losing. Doomsayers call it another Vietnam while pro-Bush optimists are sure we're winning. But based on what we're getting from the media, how can any of us really tell who's right?
The problem here is that the proverbial fog of war, even in a 24-hour satellite television news cycle, still obscures the path ahead.
For Americans who'd rather read about what Jennifer Anniston really thinks about Brad Pitt, all of this is clearly an unwelcome intrusion.
Indeed, for some of us serious folk who'd rather swing away at the mythical threat of an assault on American liberty by religious Christians, it is a diversion from the war they're really interested in.
But like it or not, the real war is out there beyond our borders waiting for us. Will it take another 9/11 before we notice?
Jonathan S. Tobin is reachable via e-mail at: [email protected]