SANA’A, YEMEN – Dear Osama:
We’ve been back several weeks now and Jean and I are settling nicely in this ancient land of your ancestry. But we’re still not sure where the old bin Laden family homestead is.
And where, Osama, are you?
Al-Jazeera just broadcast your photo again. And they played an audio tape of someone supposed to be you, calling young Muslim men to fight for God.
So, was it you?
It was on the American news we catch by satellite TV. The news anchor was concerned about the French oil tanker that exploded off Yemen’s coast. When they showed the burning tanker, she said, in fact, you “haunt” this region.
We don’t feel haunted. But I know some folks fear poor Yemen.
Too bad. It has amazing tourist sites. Worse yet, such fear also keeps at bay badly needed humanitarian workers.
Did you hear about the recent fatal shootout near the British Embassy here? Some media said friends of yours attacked the embassy.
It was actually a case of Yemeni road-rage. It did hit close to home, though. Jean was nearby 30 minutes earlier, and an American doctor friend was right at the scene. He took cover in the Funny Bunny restaurant.
What kind of restaurant name is that, anyway? And I don’t care what its owners say. Those are not Burger King Whoppers. I can’t believe that in this city of one million, there’s just a Funny Bunny and a Pizza Hut for fast-food.
By the way, we live on a street with no name. No directory assistance; no phone books. What’s with that? How’s anyone supposed to find anyone?
You could be around the corner, on another street with no name, for all I know. And the stuff they call music here. It sounds like George Harrison strung out with Hindu swamis in the ’60s, but with no harmony.
Did that drive your family out?
By the way, did you know John Walker Lindh is named after John Lennon? I’m sorry to tell you man, but Johnny just got 20 years. He cried in front of the American judge.
I get Time Magazine on street corners here. It showed photos from Johnny’s family album. One shot is of the school where he studied the Koran, here in Sana’a. Bright guy. Now he’s like you. Infamous. Did you know Time almost named you 2001 Person of Year? Imagine.
It’s strange for Jean and I to see our adopted hometown in such magazines. Time calls this place a “backwater.” Oh well, Nazareth, Jesus’s hometown, was a backwater. And Time named Jesus its Person of All-Time.
Actually, I’m writing, Osama, because I’m wondering if you’d seriously consider turning yourself in.
I’m Canadian. You can trust me.
Things might get ugly soon. The Americans could easily blow Iraq off the map.
President Bush thinks Saddam is like ancient Babylon’s crazy old King Nebuchadnezzar. Innocent people will die.
Maybe I can help put you at ease. Canadians are not American, eh. You know, the president’s press secretary has said Iraqis should prevent war by putting a bullet in Saddam’s head. To think, that’s just a secretary.
Canadians are more tolerant. For Thanksgiving, Jean and I broke bread with other Canadians here.
We plan to show our DVD of CBC’s Canada: A People’s History. The battle at the Plains of Abraham wasn’t very tolerant.
But that was then. We’d never put a bullet in anyone’s head now. We even have a stadium, the Big O. You can relate to that name, eh?
Oh, Osama, where are you? Where am I supposed to mail this? How will you find me? Should we meet at the Funny Bunny? Do you still have the beard? Honestly, hiding in the dark is no way to live.
If nothing else, do stop haunting the Americans. Most are pretty decent folk. Trust me.
I know you think God is on your side, and Muslim martyrs go to heaven. But what if you’re wrong?
Osama, do think about it.