More Tracks than Necessary
by Christopher Orlet (Dec. 2006)
Creepy doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Ordinarily when I open an email from a reader I expect either vigorous accord, or the nitpickings of some know-it-all who basically agrees with me, but for veracity’s sake was moved to point out that military expenditures accounted for 4.9 percent of the GNP of Upper Volta in 1978, not 1979. This conformity of opinion between my readers and myself is certainly not owed to the fact that my views are indisputable or beyond debate; rather it is because I often preach to the choir, and by that I mean that I write chiefly for partisan political magazines.
That explains my surprise when I opened an email Thursday, October 12, and read the following:
Chris, one day I will
find you. And slaughter you....
The message had been posted to the comments section of my Blog, and was signed “Anonymous.”
I suspect my initial reaction was typical -- a mixture of excitement and alarm and, quite frankly, bewilderment. Was this a joke? Was my anonymous correspondent in fact a drinking buddy playing a prank? I straight away telephoned the likely suspects; each declined to acknowledge authorship. So it was—in all likelihood—a genuine threat.
My first response was to write back, “Bring it on, punk,” or words to that effect. But I soon thought better of it. If this were indeed a legitimate threat I didn’t want to trivialize the moment with a clichéd pop culture reference. Crazy as it sounds, there is something distinguishing in receiving a death threat. After all, not just everybody gets one. As a female friend squealed, “That means you’ve made it!” Yes, at long last homicidal maniacs were taking notice of my writing. I gave my friend a dark look. “So how excited do you get when the death threat is actually carried out?”
There could be no doubt what set “Anonymous” off. I had just penned an opinion piece about a French philosophy teacher who’d gone into hiding after receiving various email death threats. It’s the kind story I cannot resist commenting on. It has everything: the clash of civilizations, the stench of evil, the headiness of standing up for free expression no matter how offensive, and somewhere hidden in the subtext the ghostly presence of all those recent martyrs to the cause of free speech and truth: Daniel Pearl, Theo van Gogh, Salman Rushdie’s Japanese translator Hitoshi Igarashi, and all of those like Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Danish editorial cartoonists in hiding and incognito, and those like the apostate and author of Why I Am Not a Muslim Ibn Warraq, forced to conceal their identities behind pseudonyms.
Apparently Anonymous didn't share my enthusiasm for the subject matter.
My next step was to track down the source of the threat. My feeling was that my site host should be of some assistance. In order to post comments you have to have a registered account, so there must be a record of some sort. I forwarded the email and waited. When at long last some geek responded his reply was, not surprisingly, beside the point. Something about turning off the comments section by going to such and such page and clicking this or that button. Not particularly helpful under the circumstances. I deleted the email in disgust and shot back another email. This time I received no response at all.
My attorney brother suggested I telephone the FBI. That seemed a bit dramatic, but I dutifully forwarded the email to the local office and waited. Again, no response. I sent the threat along to my editor. Nothing. Not even a comforting, “Yeah, we get these all the time. Forget about it."
* * *
I'll admit that—for a day or two—I was a bit uneasy when I went out at night, whether walking to my car or taking out the trash. But that soon got old. It wasn't like I was a famous novelist dodging a fatwa, in which case it would have been the duty of every good Muslim to slaughter me, to say nothing of the large bounty that would have been on my head. Evidently I wasn't a big enough fish for a fatwa. And it wasn't like there was a professional hit man on the job. Just some knucklehead who probably had never fired a gun before. Such a person could still be dangerous, I knew from reading Ian Buruma's Murder in
Death threats are almost always meant only to intimidate their victim. Ninety-nine percent of the time the writer has no intention of following through. Perhaps Anonymous hoped I’d be so shaken up that I'd stop writing about Islamofascism, jihadism, radical Islam, call it what you will, or that I would at least think twice about it. Maybe he just wanted to terrorize me with a small T. If so, he failed.
When I say I wasn’t prepared for a death threat, that’s not to say that I haven’t considered the possibility. I suspect every journalist who writes seriously and truthfully about jihad thinks about it. Christopher Hitchens says he "receives lots of threats in one form or another." Today, it is just part of the serious journalist’s job description, like having a reliable form of transportation and an Internet connection.
In a way, not only did I expect it, I seemed to be asking for it. This realization was perhaps as disturbing as the actual threat itself, the idea that I might be wittingly seeking a death threat. What kind of masochist was I? The truth was I didn’t have to write so often about jihadists and radical Muslims. Granted, I don’t write as often as the folks at MEMRI or Jihad Watch, but I did seem at times to be obsessed. Or maybe, writing for a political magazine, I just found the subject more interesting than writing about tax policy, which is not only dull as dishwater, but it won’t get you much in the way of death threats.
Earlier I made the remark that not everyone gets a death threat. Yet they seem more common than one might imagine. A Google search of “Muslim death threats” came up with 8.5 million hits. Everyone from Pope Benedict XVI to Christian comic book writer Jack Chick has gotten them, which may explain why few people seem to take them seriously.
Now it was my turn. Since the death threat arrived in my inbox I have taken a few additional precautions. I had my phone number and address unlisted (for some reason the phone company charges you for that). I used to scoff at the paranoid freaks who fretted about identity theft, but I am now more careful to whom I give my personal information. I fancy myself like the Mad Farmer’s fox “who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction.” I could be living in
I certainly don’t want to make my experience sound worse than it is, or pretend that I am some kind of minor hero huddled in the cold, muddy trenches of religio-political warfare. Not while journalists in
This much I am sure of. I am not a civilian. And I am not innocent. In the battle for civilization, there are no noncombatants. What Voltaire wrote at the beginning of the Enlightenment goes double here at what very well may be the end. "Qui plume a, guerre a." "Whoever has a pen, has a war."
My clichéd English may not be as eloquent as Voltaire’s French, but then this is no time for Frenchmen.
So bring it on.
# # #
Christopher Orlet is a columnist for American Spectator Online and hosts the Web site Existential Journalist.
To comment on this article, please click here.