12:33 p.m. September 25, 2012

The War Nerd: The Price On Your Head

About that title: when I say “your head,” I don’t really mean yours, or mine either. Most heads, including mine (definitely) and yours (probably) aren’t worth a bounty-hunter’s time. We’re nothing but wads of earwax and nose hair. We’re the unwanted, the un-chased, the people who don’t matter enough to have a price on their heads.

But if you’re a born snitch who happens to be friends with a Jihadi, or a Muslim heretic, then for you, my friend, the War on Terror can become a War on Poverty, a license to snitch for fun and profit.

Snitching is a big part of any irregular war, and with big money on both sides, it’s a seller’s market for you sociopaths out there. By now there’s something like a “dueling bounties” situation, with the Islamists offering money for the head of Salman Rushdie, and the US countering with higher offers for the latest fake Mister Big among the Jihadists.

The U.S. has gone as high as $30 million per head for the right guy—that’s the free market at work right there, the invisible hand just itching for a killing—but the Imams haven’t been shy about sweetening the deal for a good murder either; they just don’t go as high, because they’re hoping the devout will do the killing on the cheap for them. When Ayatollah Khomeini put a bounty on the head of the Brit/Muslim writer Salman Rushdie, the highest he said he was willing to go was $1.7 million, which if you ask me is already too much for a society writer anyway. But the Iranians have a good long memory for grudges, and they’ve recently sweetened the deal--said they’ll go as high as $2 million, with the money put up by “a religious foundation” in Tehran. If you’ve ever seen a picture of Rushdie, who looks like a pumpkin with a beard, you’d know that’s a lot of money for a head no cannibal would be seen wearing around his neck.

Besides, Rushdie’s old news. The hot head in the headhunting wars now is our old friend Nakoula B. Nakoula, the cinematic genius behind The Innocence of Muslims. Just this week a Pakistani cabinet minister, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, offered his review of this year’s hit film, The Innocence of Muslims, by offering to pay from his own pocket a $100,000 bounty to anyone who killed Nakoula. Nakoula’s probably holed up somewhere in Costa Mesa reading that offer online and muttering, “$100,000??? If the bastards had offered me that I’d have made them a big biopic, Muhammed Was The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived! Now they go around offering money!”

Most people read about these bounty offers and just mutter under their breath, “Crazy Muslims,” but there’s no real craziness about it. Ghulam Bilour, the guy who made this grandstanding offer, is just a classic ethnic politician doing what they do: trying to distract the suckers by getting them mad at somebody far, far away  so they stop focusing on what a rotten job he’s doing at home.

Ghulam is famous in Pakistan as the stupidest man in government. He made this comment about public transport: “Why should Pakistan have railways? Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan don’t have railways, so why should we?” There’s so much to enjoy about that remark it’s hard to know where to begin. First… well, what do you suppose Ghulam’s job is, in the Pakistani cabinet? It’s too good to be true: he’s the Minster of Railways.

Then there’s the comical notion that Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan are your models of transport efficiency. Afghanistan is famous for its instant potholes, aka I.E.D.s, which encourage safe driving or better yet no driving at all, and Saudi Arabia is the only place in the world where gas still costs less than 50 cents a gallon. Saudis never get out of their cars at all, not even to get money out of the bank. Every little town in Saudi has drive-up ATMs, so the locals in their white bathrobes just drive up, collect their Riyals, and drive over to the local shops run by Pakistanis or Bangladeshis, then honk. The shopkeeper trots out to the car, takes their order, runs back with it and gets his money, then the Saudi drives off in his SUV without his feet ever touching the ground.

Pakistan is a poor, urban, crowded country with no oil.  It has nothing at all in common with either Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia—except the obvious, religion. And what Ghulam was saying, with this comment about Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, is that for him, those are the only two countries that matter. Saudi matters because it’s the Holy Land, not to mention the funding source for all the Salafist madrassi up there around Peshawar. But why use Afghanistan, the most messed-up country in the world, as your second example?

The answer is that Ghulam is a Pashtun, and Pashtuns are the religious hillbillies, the backwoods Baptists, of Pakistan. They’re the punchline of every hick joke in Pakistan and the easiest recruits when you need someone to strap on a Semtex vest and go strolling.

Ghulam is a classic example of your standard ethnic politician, making money off the home folks’ gullible ways. He’s from a rich political family in the F.A.T.A, the tribal zone on the Afghan border, and a player in the Pashtun political party, the ANP. So, in the classic manner of dealing with ethnic tokens everywhere, Ghulam was given the Railway Minister job as a safe cubbyhole, a place to put him where he couldn’t do any harm. Well, he proved ’em wrong; in his time as Railway Minister, Pakistani Railways has collapsed, while the Indian Railway system next door goes roaring along stronger than ever—and nothing makes Pakistanis madder than seeing their country fall apart while India zooms onward and upward.

Well, there is one thing that drives them even crazier—insults to the Prophet and such. And that’s where Ghulam, who’s stupid but not dumb, found his opportunity. There were already riots in every city in Pakistan over this dumb-ass movie, so Ghulam did what any cheap pol would do: He shoved his name right there in the center of the mess by offering a price for the head of the Kaffir Copt.

It’s an old script, and it works just as well in Pakistan as it does in the Bronx. Next thing you know, ol’ Ghulam’s a hero to all the faithful suckers back home, and they’re not so mad about the fact they can’t get a train to work, becasuse at least Ghulam’s on the job avenging the insult to the Prophet, PBUH.

(A note about “PBUH”: it means “Peace Be upon Him” and you’re supposed to add it when you say Mohammed’s name on Muslim blogs. It might be the most annoying set of initials around, if it wasn’t for “POTUS,” which is the dumbest way of saying “the president” ever invented—why you have to add “OTUS”? You think we were talking about the president of Paraguay? It’s just part of this sad way ordinary suckers try to sound like beltway wonks, which is about the most pathetic ambition in the world. Besides, “POTUS” just makes you think “POS” anyway, so it doesn’t exactly add to “the dignity of the office.”)

Both sides in this slapstick terror war are full of this pompous crap, which they use in place of actually doing anything. Ghulam is just doing his little bit to stay on the graft train, talking Allah instead of railways because he doesn’t know a thing about actual trains. They used to say that the fascists made the trains run on time, but Ghulam’s figured out a new twist: he can’t make the trains run, but he’s given everybody something to fume about while they wait around in the heat and the dirt for a train that’s not coming.  

That’s how the Bounty-Hunter game works, for both sides: distract the suckers back home from a problem you can’t solve by inventing a Mister Big who’s the real problem. The US used exactly the same technique in their most famous bounty-hunting boondoggle: The Case of the Insignificant Al Zarqawi. Remember Zarqawi? If you were watching the news back around 2005-6, when the US had no, literally no, counterinsurgency plan and was getting clobbered every day in the Sunni Triangle, you heard nothing but Zarqawi, Zarqawi, Zarqawi, as if he was personally planting every IED and spotting for the snipers in his spare time.

To make sure you believed in this fake Mister Big, the US forces in Iraq offered a $25 million bounty on Zarqawi’s head, the biggest since the $30 million they offered for Saddam’s sons Uday and Qusay. The truth is, Zarqawi was small time, overhyped. He was a liability to Al Qaeda Iraq (AQI), a loose cannon from Jordan who specialized in suicide bombings that killed huge numbers of Iraqi civilians and provoked the real counterinsurgency, when locals started snitching on AQI because they were sick of market bombings that didn’t kill a single American soldier but wiped out dozens of shopping housewives, almost always in Shia neighborhoods. Zarqawi was one of those Shia-hating Sunni Jihadis, and that wasn’t the angle AQI wanted to push in Iraq. It didn’t make strategic sense for them, because the Shia, unlike the American soldiers, knew who was who, and where, and could—and eventually did—make life impossible for your classic Al Qaeda Sunni sectarian fanatic.

Somebody finally turned Zarqawi in, and the USAF did its job and vaporized Zarqawi in June 2006—but what happened to the $25 million reward? As far as anybody’s saying, it was never collected. If they had paid it out, it might’ve had to go to AQI, because there’s a good chance that AQI was sick of Zarqawi’s counterproductive market bombings and wanted him gone just as much as the US did. As far as I know, AQI never actually tried to collect the reward for Zarqawi, but some other geniuses actually have tried collecting on their own bounties.

One of the true comic talents of this whole Mel Brooks war is another Pashtun, from the Afghan side this time, the one and only Mohammed Ashan. Ashan was a “mid-level Taliban commander,” whatever that means, who walked up to a US soldier in 2004 holding a wanted poster with his face on it. He explained that he’d come to collect the $100 reward on his head. If he’d been a little more streetwise he’d have been insulted at being worth such small change, but then Ashan was your classic Pashtun punchline, a hick from the sticks who actually expected to show his face, collect the $100, and go back to planting IEDs on the local byways. The soldier who met him said Ashan confirmed his identity “with considerable enthusiasm,” as in, “That’s me, yes! I’m famous, and now I’ll be rich too!”

It’s a great story, but when you read the Washington Post account of Ashan’s little skit from back in 2004, you see how both sides are working the gullible home folks bigtime, all the time. Remember, the Post was up to its stinking armpits in shilling for the Iraq invasion, and their whole effort was a classic Why We Are Winning campaign. So have a look at this bit, where they try to tell you the “real meaning” of Ashan’s self-arrest:  

"Wanted posters are often distributed by NATO forces, but rarely have such a direct impact on the apprehension of an insurgent. In restive Paktika province, civilians are typically afraid to pass on intelligence that might lead to an arrest. And insurgents tend to shy away from the urban centers where they’re being hunted, particularly while carrying evidence of their own transgressions.

Officials have guessed at what the unusual details of Ashan’s arrest might tell us about the state of the insurgency — its desperation, its lack of resources, its defiance of law and order."

  You see that last paragraph? Ashan’s blunder supposedly proves that the Taliban is marked by “…desperation, lack of resources, defiance of law and order.” Incredible that a professional reporter wrote those words -- I’m talking to you, Kevin Sieff of the Washington Post. Eight years later, the Taliban is winning easy in Afghanistan. So much for desperation. As far as “defiance of law and order”…what did this idiot Sieff even think he meant by that? The law, as far as any sane man in the world knows, is to fight the invader. I swear, if any American reporters who were blogging the wars back in 2004 had a conscience, they’d be hanging by a towel in their hotel bathrooms with a note saying “Please forgive me.”

What Ashan’s attempt to collect his own bounty actually proves is that Pashtun are very far from the world that invaded them, and don’t get its rules. That’s the basis of all those hick jokes about them in Pakistan, but it sure as Hell doesn’t prove they’ll lose. Hicks make the best guerrillas, always have. If it really happened at all, it taught Ashan’s colleagues a lesson: You can’t make a deal with these guys, better to kill them.

When bounties work, it’s with sleazes who only care about money—which Jihadis ain’t, whatever else you can say about them. Those Saudis who rammed the jets into the WTC left behind cushy lives; money wasn’t what they were about. Iraqis were happy to turn in Qusay and Uday, especially Uday, because he was a sick freak. Nobody turned in Osama, because he wasn’t. He sat there next door to the Pakistani military academy for years, untouched, because they loved him. It isn’t always that the locals are “afraid to pass on information that might lead to an arrest,” like the WP scum Sieff said in 2004. They don’t pass on information because they’re on the guerrillas’ side.

So the best a bounty can do is show up the weak point in the enemy’s structure. Where loyalty is weak or nonexistent, like it was for Saddam’s sons, money talks fast. Where loyalty is real and deep, money won’t do it. The Brits found that out long ago; Michael Collins bicycled around Dublin for months with adoring crowds waving to him on the sly, nobody even thinking about turning him in for the big price on his head even when they had nothing to feed their kids. Zarqawi got turned in because everybody was sick of him. And Salman Rushdie is still writing snotty novels full of in jokes for professors, because he has the SAS wiping his bum for him, and that organization’s not for sale. (I hear his SAS minders hated his guts, too, but they weren’t going to let some stranger kill him.)

There are still plenty of opportunities in the informer business, though, so if you want to make a million and/or die, convert to Islam, join your local mosque, and turn in whatever idiot slacker in the congregation is most addicted to woofing online. You’ll know, and he’ll know, and everybody in the mosque will know, that it’s just bullshit, but there still may be a dollar in it for you. These feds are the slow-pay type, but they do pay sometimes. An official State Department website says they’ve already paid out more than $100 million for info on terror suspects. I suspect professional con men like Chalabi got the bulk of that, but if you’re a friendly sociopath with a knack for joining things, just join that mosque and then, when you’ve got your victim on tape or email, go to the website of the “Rewards for Justice Program,”  run by the Department of State.

Even if you’re not planning to get rich quick through snitching, this website is worth checking out. I’d recommend doing it at an online café if you can still find one, because you can be sure that once you visit the site, a low-level analyst will be checking out your bank balance, taste in porn, and political stance—but it’s still worth reading, if only for the quiet, polite language it uses to encourage you to turn in your neighbor:  

"People with information on any past or planned act of international terrorism against the United States anywhere in the world are urged to contact the the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. military, or Rewards for Justice."
  You’ll notice the language there is weirdly clear and simple for a Federal agency. That’s because they’re using ESL English. It’s a fairly safe bet that the main audience for this message has “a first language other than English,” as the PC folks like to say. But that doesn’t rule you native speakers out. Like the Bible says, “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than 99 of the faithful,” and if there’s any joy that’s even greater than that, it’s the joy Muslims feel over Western converts. And you can be pretty sure some hothead at the mosque will give you some snitch-able material, too, because if there’s one thing Muslims love, it’s big talk, the kind that won’t ever lead to anything but can still get you paid by State.

Most of you aren’t gonna do it, because you’re not that low. But remember, somebody will. That’s what happens when snitching is the express lane to success. Snitching became a fine art in Stalin’s Russia—like that guy’s sofa? His job? His wife? Send a letter to your local NKVD about something he said that time he was drunk. The Drug War works that way too; you can believably snare any harmless druggie, wreck their lives forever with a planted ounce of coke. Kenny Stabler did that to a reporter who wrote him a bad review, worked like a charm.

I’ve noticed before, this world loves a joiner. The people I knew who did well in school were joiners, the type who just love to learn to use new words the way cool people say them. The fast-tracked office types were just the same. And now for you joiners, there’s a whole new set of words supplied for you by Mohammed, PBUH. And you can get paid for using them and then turning in your fellow joiners down at the mosque, courtesy of the POTUS.