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Dana Milbank discusses 'Tighty-Whitey Terrorist,' new opinion column

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Dana Milbank
Washington Post Columnist
Monday, January 11, 2010; 1:00 PM

Post columnist Dana Milbank took your questions about why it's okay to laugh at al-Qaeda and discusses his new Sunday op-ed column.

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Dana Milbank: Good afternoon, chatters.

It's a busy hour for this web chat, up against the Gibbs briefing at the White House and the Trumka speech at the press club. Am trying to listen to both and type this at the same time, which will probably result in gibberish. In other words, it should be just like my other chats.

What's doing?

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Detroit: Dana,

Thank you for the FIRST SANE COMMENTARY on the threat of terrorism since the Christmas Day bombing attempt. What a relief compared to the media hyperbole and political sniping that has consumed the public space for the past three weeks.

You provide the context that puts Al Queda's threat IN PERSPECTIVE. No, we will never give up hunting them down nor improving our defenses. Yes, we will resolve the intelligence gap. But, let's not elevate Al Queda any further than what they are; a pathetic bunch of cowards operating in disjointed cells.

You're right, they are laughable. I wish more of America would grasp your observation about "the existential threat." This is a global economy that connects 5+ billion people. How many hundreds of thousands of people travel internationally every day; how many billions domestically? In rank order of threats to humankind, death by terrorism falls pretty far below cancer, heart disease, lightning, and bee stings. Since 9/11, we've done a pretty good job of fighting terrorism. Unfortunately, hope does not command media audience attention, sell ever more expensive surveillance technology, drive ideological debate over privacy, or sharpen the edge of the partisan switchblade quite the way that fear does.

Dana Milbank:

Thank you. I'm going to look pretty bad if they fire off a dirty bomb this week (and I've already told my colleague Chuck Lane that he has "I told you so" rights). Fortunately, I think the hyperbole and sniping has calmed down -- we're now being hyperbolic and snippy about Harry Reid.

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Cambridge, Mass.: How often do you expect your Sunday column to deal with matters Dutch or Netherlandish?

Dana Milbank: As long as Dutch filmmakers continue to attack terrorists on airplanes, I will be devoted to the low countries. I think the air marshal program should be staffed entirely by Dutch filmmakers.

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Pittsburgh: Serious question: How do al Qaeda and its sympathizers react when one of their pawns attracts worldwide mockery (like Underwear Umar, and the Shoe-Bomber) for their ineptness and failure? With immense annoyance, I'm hoping. What sorts of repercussions occur within their organization afterwards? Do heads roll, either literally or figuratively?

Dana Milbank:

They launch a shoulder-fired missile at the TV screen.

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Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: 1. Why not "homocide bomber" an intentionaly derogatory term to replace "suicide bomber" al-Qaeda's murder glorifying term.

Dana Milbank:

This throwback to the early Bush years has me all nostalgic. I think even Fox dropped the "homicide bomber" label. Problem is all suicide bombers are homicidal but not all homicide bombers are suicidal. So it's not a matter of "glorifying" one or the other, just being accurate in the description.

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Washington, DC: Whatever happened to that shadow government Bush had secreted away to a hidden bunker years ago? Did they disband? Did Obama replace them with a liberal shadow government? Or are they all still being kept there, at this point, presumably against their will?

Dana Milbank:

Yes, they are still there, in that bunker that Cheney built underneath the naval observatory. They are being held there by John Yoo. My colleague Carrie Johnson informs me that Yoo will be appearing at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday, so I can ask Yoo about it then. Or you can ask Yoo yourself.

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Washington, DC: Wow, Dana. I hope you're right, but you should be prepared for the "heck" that will ensue if you're wrong, and I think your wrong. Where were you on 9/11?

Dana Milbank:

I was standing on Eye Street across Lafayette Park from the White House.

But I am confused about what you think I'm "wrong" about and about what I should be prepared for. I wasn't saying we should be less vigilant, only that we should give loose nukes the kind of attention we give underwear to underwear.

From the column:

"This isn't a reason to declare victory or to pull back from the fight, but it is cause to be thankful that things aren't as bad as we thought they'd be.. . Certainly, the Obama administration should patch the holes in aviation security and fix the newly uncovered gaps in intelligence. But it's more important to redirect some of this frenzy over the underwear bomb to where it really matters: keeping nuclear materials away from terrorists."

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Blue Rock, MT: With all due respect, Mr. Milbank, should anyone really be laughing about terrorism? Did people laugh about Pearl Harbor? Did people laugh about the battle of Stalingrad?

In Muslim cultures, laughter is a sign of weakness. By mocking the man who tried to set off the dirty bomb on that flight, we give comfort to our enemies. What will it take to make people like you understand this? A second Caliphate?

Dana Milbank:

Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?

I am intrigued by this notion of laughter-as-weakness. Admittedly, if you laugh in a "tee-hee" kind of way, that could be seen as a sign of weakness, but I think a solid guffaw is a show of strength. I believe in power laughter.

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Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thanks Dana,

I have a confession to make--on a flight back from Phoenix last week I was watching the in-flight movie and my headset started making a tick tock sound like a clock. I sat there and seriously considered telling a stewardess that I was hearing a tick tock sound and maybe it was connected to a bomb. Fortunately my right brain took over and continued to watch a truly horrible movie with tick tocks and all. I'm not the henny penny type but sometimes all the news makes you a little crazy.

Dana Milbank:

Very brave, Farmngton Hills. I am proud. By the way, do real bombs actually tick and tock? Or are those just the kinds that Wile E. Coyote gets from Acme? Hopefully we have an expert on explosives on this chat. Please identify yourself (so we can turn you over to the Department of Homeland Security).

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Palo Cedro, Calif.: If terrorists aim to cause terror, aren't Dick and Liz Cheney aiding them with their constant fear mongering? I think laughing at al Qaeda makes much more tactical sense.

Dana Milbank:

Well, I would have agreed with you before that previous questioner said that laughter is a sign of weakness in the Muslim world. So this puts the Cheneys' strategy in a new light: Perhaps they are issuing these statements in hopes of making the Qaeda leadership laugh. This, in turn, would cause the Qaeda leadership to be perceived as weak in the Muslim world, thus undermining their effectiveness. It is a brilliant strategy, really.

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Springfield, Ore: So Dana, do you agree with Rep. Pete King that using the word "terrorism" more would make us safer?

Dana Milbank: I definitely feel safer the more Peter King uses the word "terrorism." He had been saying nothing but "terrorism" for years and we were safe, then he started saying nothing but "Salahi" and we had an attempted terrorist attack.

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DC: Did Imus help your books sales? Will you get another invite? Why does your agent fail to book you on Stewart/Colbert?

Dana Milbank: I have an agent to book me? I am showing weakness by laughing.

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Blutars, KY: It isn't over till WE SAY IT'S OVER!

Dana Milbank:

Yes, I miss Belushi spreading weakness across this great land.

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Hollywood: If laughter is a sign of weakness, then show terrorists our TV comedy lineup. We must be the toughest nation there is.

Dana Milbank:

If laughter makes us look weak, then giving the Tonight Show to Conan would have improved our defenses.

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Re: laughter as weakness: It's easy to laugh about the idea of laughter as weakness, but have you forgotten how bin Laden referred to Bush as "the laughing pig"? That is perhaps the ultimate term of derision in Muslim culture. And by laughing as you do, you set yourself up for the same derision.

Dana Milbank:

This is compelling -- except that this "laughing pig" of whom you speak did not actually do much laughing. Smirking, perhaps, but I do not know what Muslim culture says about the smirk.

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Laughter makes us look weak: That would explain why that sissy Adm. Mullen showed up on the Daily Show last week.

Dana Milbank: Dagnabit! Another security breach.

And, come to think of it, I hear John Yoo is going on tonight. Yoo, too?

This is getting serious.

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Weed, Calif.: I am seeing breaking news that Saint Sarah Palin signs on as a paid contributor with Fox News. Is it OK to laugh at this or does it help the terrorists? And is anyone really surprised? I thought this was the main reason she quit as Governor.

washingtonpost.com: Sarah Palin to Contribute to Fox News

Dana Milbank: You can laugh at this but please do it discreetly, the way you sneeze into your elbow so you don't spread the flu. This way the Muslims will not see you laugh and we will remain safe.

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Weak Laughter: So Blue Rock, MT is an expert on Muslim cultures? What are your creds Blue Rock?

Dana Milbank:

Probably works in the shadow government.

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: Has the esteemed Senator from California expressed any anxiety about what is certain to be a copycat spinoff of the Tightey Whitey attack? Bombastic Boxers, maybe?

Dana Milbank: Very weak joke there, but it makes us look strong to the enemy, so I have included it in the chat. At least you didn't try to make a Tsongas joke.

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Still laughing: Let me make sure I got this right - We're not supposed to laugh at the ridiculous anymore because bin Laden will hold us in contempt?

Dana Milbank:

You laughing pig! Are you trying to get us all killed?

That's it. I am signing off of this chat before our security has been compromised any further.

Thank you for chatting. Seriously.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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