The spy who came in with the pepperoni

July 28, 2002|By Arthur J. Magida

OK, MR. PIZZA Delivery Man, I'm coming out. With my hands up. I saw you cruising by yesterday - real slow - and I knew it wouldn't be long before you came back. Not with a pizza. With a warrant.

My mother told me I'd end up no good, but I didn't believe her. All this thinking about religion and faith and what other people do inside their mosques and temples and churches. That God stuff is bad stuff. I can't say I really have any excuses for myself. I'm just a curious guy.

But what about you? You've knocked on my door lots of times. We chatted a bit. Not too much. You ring. I open the door and pay. You leave. I open the box and have my supper. That's the drill. Why'd you bust me? We've been friendly. And why'd you join TIPS? That's all I want to know before I come out.

Our world used to be simple - spy vs. spy. Now its citizen vs. citizen. Everything's upside-down since Sept. 11. Nothing makes sense anymore. Everyone's scared. You. Me. Those people on the plane who mistakenly fingered an Indian movie star and her family as terrorists. That Texas Ranger in the White House who said he'd get bin Laden "dead or alive." That guy in the Justice Department who put out the call a few months ago for "millions of American workers" - "truck drivers, bus drivers, train conductors, mail carriers, utility readers, ship captains and port personnel" - to be part of a "national system for reporting suspicious, and potentially terrorist-related activity." If the Justice Department has its way, the program - the Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS for short; clever, eh?) - will begin next month, but you're getting the jump on everyone else. You're one eager Junior G-man.

Nothing's safe anymore. I can't sit here and read the Koran. What if you knew that I had a keffiyeh in a drawer I bought in Jerusalem a few years ago? What if you knew that some of my best friends are Muslims? Or that Muslim worry beads are sitting on top of my dresser? You wouldn't have waited until today to bust me. Now I really need those worry beads.

I remember how my parents froze when I said over supper that my teacher had referred to Karl Marx during social studies. They glanced warily at each other and left too much food on their plates. I didn't know until years later that they'd belonged to the Communist Party in the 1930s. Those looks, those glances, that lost appetite haunted an entire generation.

But we're not talking about ideology now, are we Mr. Pizza Delivery Man?

We're talking about theology, and there's only One Source who can bust me for that, and it's not John Ashcroft. Bring on your spies, your rats, your snitches, Mr. Ashcroft. There's only one confession I'll be making, and I'll recite it the next time I go to a Sikh or Jewish or Buddhist or Christian or Hindu or Native American or Unitarian or Bahai service. I'll admit it: I've been to all of these, and maybe that's where I went wrong.

Just tell me: Why'd you join TIPS? You always wanted to be a cop but couldn't make the grade? Or was it that nifty TIPS sticker with a toll-free number Mr. Ashcroft gave you to put on your car window? We all have our price.

Me? I would have been happy with a sheriff's badge from a Crackerjack box.

Arthur J. Magida, the writer-in-residence at the University of Baltimore, is writing a book on a New Jersey rabbi accused of hiring two hit men to kill his wife.

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