Some of my favourite articles, posts and videos from the past week
The Holes in “Homeland” by Richard A. Falkenrath
The terrorists in Homeland are a lethal bunch. Their ringleader, Abu Nazir, has tentacles that span the globe. He has long-term sleeper agents and bomb-makers inside the United States. He can simultaneously brainwash two marines and choreograph their parallel operations against the United States from across the ocean. He can elude America’s global dragnet, and then suddenly appear inside the Beltway. On short notice, he can summon helicopters from the sky and dispatch a squad of highly trained gunmen with body armor and automatic weapons. He even has a henchman who can, with the right serial number, hack into a man’s pacemaker and trigger a lethal heart attack.
The truth is that terrorists like this are purely the stuff of fiction. There is indeed a real threat of terrorism in the United States, but the country has never faced a terrorist even remotely as competent and powerful as Abu Nazir. And that is a good thing, because such a foe could easily inflict civilian casualties far in excess of the nearly 3,000 who died on September 11, 2001. There would be simply too many vulnerabilities for him to exploit.
And yet what makes Abu Nazir stand out the most is not his power but his sanity and his purity. Carrie, Brody, and the rest of the protagonists in Homeland are all flawed, frantic, messy people. In contrast, Abu Nazir is well groomed, devout, articulate, calmly focused, and purposeful. The juxtaposition is not subtle.
Late in the second season, Abu Nazir offers a gripping description of his motives, forcefully making a case for the moral superiority of his cause and the moral equivalence of his tactics. The best response that a captive, wild-eyed Carrie can come up with is, “We have nothing in common. You’re a terrorist.” As if the word alone carries the day.
Fortunately, in the real world, the bad guys are less powerful and more reprobate than Abu Nazir — and the good guys have better arguments than Carrie.
Death of a robber by Bagehot (the Economist)
Fittingly, he managed to postpone that fate a bit, but he was in pitiful condition. When he appeared at the funeral of Bruce Reynolds, the organiser of the train heist, he was doddery and unable to speak. He still managed to flick a “V-sign” at the watching press photographers.
He was to the end unrepentant. Communicating by alphabet board, in July, shortly before the 50th anniversary of the Great Train Robbery, he said: “If you want to ask me if I have any regrets about being one of the Great Train Robbers, the answer is no.”
“I will go further. I am proud to have been one of them. I was there that August night and that is what counts. I am one of the few witnesses—living or dead—to what was the crime of the century.”
He will not be greatly missed.