The TV news trucks left the curbside at 5 Willowrun as fast as they came, leaving the apartment complex pretty much undefiled. No police tape bars approach to the little residence, the FBI having carted off all the computer equipment and other potential evidence. Someone affixed an envelope to the front door, though nobody's morbidly curious enough to step up to read what might be written on it. Was someone furious that the limo driver who lived there didn't show up for a regular run to the airport?
Indeed, no lookyloos congregate near the place, not one, Irvine being a blasé, cosmopolitan sort of neighborhood (nobody calls it a community except politicians and UCI eggheads who fret that it's not one). There's just a small pickup truck parked, as if driven on the left side of the cul-de-sac, in front of the place. And of course: the now newsworthy American and Marine flags draped over the balcony just above Hesham Mohamed Hadayet's front door.
Those banners, which an upstairs neighbor put on display after Sept. 11, are said to have inflamed Hadayet for the past ten months, sufficient anger for him to grab two handguns and a knife, stuff extra ammunition into his coat pockets, drive 45 miles up the 405, park in front of the Tom Bradley terminal, waltz up to the El Al ticket counter at LAX, and start shooting.
Excuse me, but people in Irvine get enraged by second-hand smoke, more housing developments, and the prospect of another international airport being built close enough to put limo drivers out of business. Some might even hate conspicuous displays of patriotism. But they fume and write letters to the editor. They don't commit acts of murderous mayhem and, yes, terror.
Sometimes they're victims of dark terror -- like one of my neighbors, nice guy, an Egyptian-American whose fate placed him on board an Egypt Air flight awhile back, the one that nose-dived into the Atlantic just outside of New York when a copilot developed a similar case of rage. And sometimes they're preposterously tolerant of the world's bad guys.
A dozen years or so ago, Irvine's hubristic socialist mayor, Larry Agran, started promoting what he called "municipal foreign policy" -- the idea that the Constitution should be ignored while the nation's mayors paved the way to world peace. At the height of the Nicaragua unpleasantness, on a Memorial Day if memory serves, Larry squired a Sandinista athletic team around City Hall.
For such stunts he was defeated in the 1990 election, the same splendid June day that Czechs voted out a half-century of Communist rule. (I remember because I witnessed it all in Prague.) A great day for global democracy. All but two years later, burying the ignominy, Larry ran for president, getting himself arrested for trying to crash a Democrat debate in New York City. Forgetfulness being one of Irvinites' charms, Larry has managed to get himself back into the mayor's chair where, this Fourth of July, the very day one of his non-voting constituents motored up to LAX to make a mess of thousands of travelers' plans, he was hosting a delegation of Chinese Communists.
We do love our diversity here in Irvine. Come, sit around one of our many neighborhood swimming pools, partake of the delicacies of any number of ethnic fast food places -- and you'll marvel at the foreign accents. Stroll across the university campus -- and you'll imagine yourself warped to someplace across the Pacific. Go to church. If it's not a megachurch like the renowned, non-denominational "Mariners," it'll likely be Korean or Taiwanese. Our polyglot cast might just drive a Pat Buchanan over the top, but most of us -- including those who vote for the noble Congressman Chris Cox -- rather like the cosmopolitanism.
Alas, Hadayet naturally gravitated to it as well. We all now know how he felt at dusk every Friday, when presumably he had to brake his limo to allow wide-brimmed pedestrians their ritual walk to Temple. An associate did say he hated Israel and paid preternatural attention to violent events in the Middle East. Could he not find proper Muslim apparel for his wife when he shopped at the Mervyn's kitty-corner from his not-so-upscale and atypical dwelling?
His wife. It develops that her presence here kept him in the country -- he was here on a six-month work permit -- just as the INS was about to deport him in 1992. How? By winning an INS "diversity lottery," surely the first most Americans have heard of that cute iteration of diversity perversity. Someone ought to tell the benighted migras that Irvine doesn't need fiat diversity, thank you.
Anyway, the ingrate did send her and the kids back to Egypt just a fortnight before he slew two El Al employees and El Al security ended his sick spree. That would suggest premeditation. The homicide/suicide act blatantly apes the Palestinians' favorite provocation, the one that takes place with such depressing regularity inside Israel.
And hadn't the Arafat-linked Al Aqsa brigade, just days before, sent out a directive to attack U.S. and Israeli "installations" across the globe? Isn't an El Al ticket counter just about the most obvious synecdoche for Israel one can find in this country?
Certainly all this caught the FBI flatfooted. Impulsively, though he did wait long enough for a perplexed L.A. Mayor Jim Hahn to show up as his armpiece at an airport press conference, the Bureau's local spokesman downplayed any thought that Hadayet acted in concert with the Evildoers. Investigators, he lectured impatient newshounds, hadn't been able as yet to categorize this holiday headache as a "hate crime," an "act of terror," or anything other than "coincidence" -- the coincidence presumably being Hadayet's proximity to the El Al counter.
Isn't it lovely to have such recently minted categories to sift through? Nor had Hadayet, the helpful G-man assured us, shown up on any watch list. So how do you get on a watch list anyway? By committing terror? And aren't those sleeper cells we heard so much about post-9/11 -- aren't they by definition so stealthy as to be off a watch list?
As for Hahn, the antithesis of Rudy, clearly he wanted to smooth nerves in and around the City of Angels, first declaring this was not terrorism, then retreating to the position that the very nature of violence is terror, or some such obfuscation. He called for pushing LAX's security zone back to the curb ... no, back beyond the parking structures ... no, probably all the way back to the landmark "TOTALLY NUDE" theater that greets air passengers on Century Boulevard.
All the while, Gov. Gray Davis, fresh from picking up beach litter at nearby Playa Vista, commandeered a local police station and made it his "command post," whereupon he would hold his own, more crisis-themed news conference. On Friday, carefully planned for the cameras, Davis took a telephone call from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who thanked the embattled governor for supporting Israel. Of course they were now able to talk, briefly and unsubstantially, about the day before at LAX, and Davis naturally kept the crisis-management image primed.
Memo to Ariel Sharon: You may be forgiven Ramallah and even Sabra and Shatilla. But stay the hell out of the California governor's race. If Gray Davis is re-elected, anything that leads up to it is, truly, an act of terrorism. You would be complicit with Hesham Mohamed Hadayet. You want to meddle? Do something with Irvine Mayor Larry Agran. Hire him away to run your waterworks or something. He's never been out of the country. He might love it.
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