Does anyone remember John Updike’s 2006 novel, Terrorist? It’s an odd Updike work and didn’t receive critical acclaim. It’s about a young Muslim man who plans to set off a truck bomb in the Lincoln Tunnel, an act, of course, that will—among many other dreadful things—paralyze traffic throughout Northeastern New Jersey.
I hate to be a spoiler and reveal how the book ends but I do have to make a point here. Turns out, the would-be terrorist is dissuaded by, of all persons, a public school guidance counselor. You know, one of “you people,” who bravely drives through the tunnel with the young man and talks him out of it.
After the would-be terrorist changes his mind, he and the public school teacher drive back to New Jersey–over a traffic-free George Washington Bridge.
I am reminded that one of the ways Chris Christie, the US Attorney, built his reputation was through a number of sting operations in which informants and FBI agents working for him egged on young Muslim men long enough for a plot to gel so they could be arrested and spend the rest of their lives behind bars. In Updike’s novel, the guidance counselor persuades the would-be terrorist that he has been sucked into such a government-sponsored plot.
No one was hurt in these faux plots. No interstate crossings were blocked. Nothing really happened. Yet they were viewed by Christie and his agents as real attacks on the United States and its people.
From that perspective, why isn’t what Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein and, possibly, Bill Baroni et al did—whoever all the et al turns out to be—considered a terrorist plot? Ok, no bomb, but closing down the busiest bridge in America certainly looks like a terrorist plot, doesn’t it? The ironic beauty of it all was that it wasn’t Muslim men who literally blocked the traffic but Port Authority police officers setting down cones and parking in the lanes. There is poetry in that, too, a kind of inadvertent terrorist suicide act in which the victims are the ones committing an act of , well, civic suicide, while the real plotters sit comfortably in their offices.
That there were no deaths is attributable to fate or God or whomever you would like to thank. There certainly could have been. I know, a woman died, but her family says it wasn’t due to the traffic jam. I won’t contradict family members.
I was led to this line of thought by a reader, Patrice Britz, who wrote an insightful note to me that appears in the comment page of my blog. But I wanted more people to read this. She is absolutely right—we have to stop thinking narrowly about the politics of this and the blame-game Christie leads us into.
This was an attack on the nation. Sabotage definitely. Terrorism, possibly. Here is Ms. Britz’s note:
“Why is there not a clear understanding and discussion by the Times, the Post, CNN and other news media pundits that this was an act of sabotage perpetrated directly against the American public, putting people in danger, and causing not only inconvenience but actual death due to negligence by blocking ambulances (despite whatever \”spiteful\” reason there might have been due to any perceived political disrespect by the Mayor toward Christie) and should be dealt with as a criminal action that is on the level of a terrorist act?
“ It must be seen as a terrorist act perpetrated by our own elected officials and their entourage against the American public. Who would accept this sort of behavior and not prosecute this as anything other than a criminal terrorist act against the public if it were carried out by any regular person?
“Where are our ethics as a society not to call these politicians out for their lack of regard for the American public??? Why are we not outraged and taking action when elected officials are clearly not working on behalf of the people, rather they are working against them. Were they not elected to protect and serve? Why not call them out, impeach and prosecute them?”
Thank you, Ms. Britz.