Dear Aunt Sophie,
I am a US senator from a western state and Chair of the Subcommittee on Transportation. I recently gave a little talk for some high school students and somehow I think I stepped in it.
I was talking about Mr. bin Laden and all I said was, "We’ve got to ask: Why is this man so popular around the world? Why are people so supportive of him in many countries…that are riddled with poverty? The reason is he’s been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. We haven’t done that."
I wanted them to think about that because I myself have been thinking about it quite a lot lately. Until a few years ago I had never heard of the gentleman, and all of a sudden here he is with his face on a wanted poster. So I had to ask myself, why? If he is so unpopular here, why does he have so many followers in his own part of the world? And I had to conclude that the answer was public transportation. He has helped his people to develop public transportation…or at least roads. They didn’t have many of them before and now they do.
All I wanted to do was get the students thinking outside the box. I mean - what if we had public transportation all over the world? Free cruises..free air travel…free taxi from the airport. I wanted them to see that the right kind of public transportation could put an end to war.
There is really so much we could learn from a man like Osama bin Laden if we could just keep an open mind. I’m sure he would be the first one to tell us that it is foolish for us to refuse to build public transportation for people who really need it and then be surprised when our popularity suffers. Oh, I know there are poor people in our country, too, but there’s enough to go around if we all just give up our gas guzzlers and take the bus.
I will be running for re-election in 2004 and I think I’m going to need some help getting the message out that I didn’t mean to say that bin Laden is a good guy, just that we could learn a few things from him.
Ms. Western Senator
Dear Ms. Senator,
I’m sorry you’ve stepped in it, as you put it. "It" can be hard to scrape off.
Your problem may stem from fact that the average American feels that even public transportation czars can have a downside. You may remember hearing about another big-time proponent of public transportation, very popular in his own country, who made the trains run on time, but who was never very popular with Americans.
Actually, I doubt that public transportation does much to avert wars. In 1940, for example, both Berlin and London had great public transportation but that didn’t stop Hitler from bombing the daylights out of Old Blighty.
I am a little puzzled by your statement that we haven’t been building schools, roads, infrastructure, day care facilities, health care facilities, unless, of course, you mean that we haven’t been building them in Mr. bin Laden’s country. Just a guess on my part, but might that be while most Americans want to build these things in their own country, they figure that other people will build them in their own countries? As I said, just a guess.
By the way – I think you may have mixed up your bin Ladens. Bin Laden père is in the construction business, so of course he has been building things for years, but unfortunately, bin Laden fils has been operating an unlicensed demolition business within the United States, which largely accounts for his lack of popularity here.
Don’t let the smell of "it" get you down. You still have nearly two years until the election and a lot can happen in the meantime.
Good luck and God bless.