News item: After suicide bomb attacks on London and Glasgow by Islamists were foiled, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown ordered ministers never to use the word “Muslim” when discussing terrorism.
It was a dark and stormy night in London, which is just as well since my arrival was supposed to be a top secret.
I was picked up at Heathrow Airport by a limousine and driven immediately to Number 10 Downing Street. I had been called in by a government frustrated about what might well be the biggest mystery in British history. Gordon Brown was certainly glad to see me. “Tony Rodef, Middle East Detective! Just the man we need,” he said with a sigh of relief. “Quick, this is a major crisis. Let’s not waste any time but go straight to the briefing.”
We entered the prime minister’s briefing room and he introduced me to Moss, “Our top man on terrorism,” explained Brown.
“Moss?” I pondered. “Haven’t we met before.”
“Perhaps, sir, until last week I was in charge of stopping the import of stale vegetables from Central America.”
“Ah, yes. Do you like your new job?”
“Certainly,” he beamed. “Stale vegetables, detecting terrorists; it’s all the same thing, you see.”
“Now, here’s the first slide, September 11, 2001. A group of terrorists, mostly from Saudi Arabia, hijack planes and attack New York and Washington. Why might they have done such a thing? Hard to tell. But it gets even more mysterious.”
And so it went. Slide after slide. Bombs in Spain; bombs in Bali; bombs in Israel; bombs in the London subway. Six years of terrorism, often using the same methods.
“And finally,” Moss said showing the last slide, “the latest attacks in Britain. People from Iraq, Jordan, you know countries in your part of the world.”
I nodded. “So what’s the problem?”
“Ah,” said the prime minister, “that’s the point. We are trying to figure out who these people are and why they are doing this. We sort of suspect we might have done something to hurt their feelings.”
“Yes,” Brown continued. “We just cannot figure it out. Some of these people are Arabs but others are not. They come from lots of different countries. They often refer to someone named Al or Allah. Some are rich and some are poor. Some are common laborers; others are doctors. But what do they have in common? What’s linking them together?”
“Have you tried using James Bond?”
“He’s in semi-retirement now as a multicultural tolerance counselor in Manchester. So instead we have Philby who is heading our research section.”
“Philby?” pondered I. Haven’t we met before?”
“Yes, sir. Up until last week I was in charge of passing secret information to the Russians. Er, I mean collecting secret information on the Russians.”
Philby gave his briefing. They had run every known fact about the terrorists through the most advanced computers. The most promising correlations were height and the number of letters in their first names. They were all right-handed, a potentially promising lead. They didn’t eat pork or practice bungee-jumping.
“Is that all?” I asked Philby.
“Well there’s one more thing. All of them are Mu…Mu…Mu….”
“You’ll have to forgive Philby. He has a slight stutter.”
“Thank you, sir,” Philby gasped. “I meant to say that all of them are moustached men.”
“Moustaches, huh,” I retorted. “Perhaps that means something. A disguise perhaps?” I pondered some more. “So let me get this straight,” I summarized. “You have a bunch of men from a lot of countries running around setting off bombs for no apparent reason who are roughly the same height, have roughly the same number of letters in one of their names, don’t eat pork, and don’t jump off platforms with a cord attached to one of their legs.”
“That’s about it, sir,” said Philby. “Oh, and they go to mosques a lot and read religious literature in Arabic.”
“Philby!” the prime minister recoiled in horror.
“Sorry, sir. I meant to say they are sort of religious. But we’ve ruled that out as a motive.”
“A real puzzler,” I sighed.
“Look,” said the prime minister. “You must understand that solving this problem is of the greatest importance. We must find out who these people are, what they believe, why they are doing this, and how to counter them. The fate of our country depends on it. Nothing can stand in the way of our finding out what is going on!”
“I understand completely, prime minister,” I said in a properly deferential and sympathetic voice. “I, Tony Rodef, Middle East Detective, am on the job. And if there is any common factor that links these people together I’m sure we will find it.”
“Money is no object,” he said emphatically. “Now you must excuse me as I need to meet with the Muslim community leadership which is declaring its revulsion at these events.” We all stood up. “And remember if you find anything behind this wave of attacks you must let me know immediately.”
“Yes, prime minister,” we all said in chorus.
Barry Rubin is Director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center(GLORIA) Center, at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzilia, Israel. His latest book, %%AMAZON=1403982732 The Truth About Syria%% was published by Palgrave-Macmillan in May 2007.