Friday, January 19, 2007

Article 301

Anyone, foreign or domestic, who writes or teaches in Turkey has probably been made at one time or another uncomfortably aware of the strictures laid down in the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish penal code. According to this statute:

"A person who insults Turkishness, the Republic, or the Turkish Parliament will be punished with imprisonment ranging from six months to three years."

Well, I can't imagine that the European Union Accession Committee is too thrilled about that! Now, as a non-Turk (and I hope everyone reading this is a non-Turk) you may be thinking, "Well, people living in Turkey probably have a clearer sense of just where the boundaries lie as regards this 'insulting Turkishness' business."

Uh huh.

The list of writers charged just last year with violations related to Article 301 is rather long and surprisingly varied. Article 301 was made use of last July to bring charges against Elif Şafak, a Turkish novelist living in Arizona. It wasn't so much that she "insulted Turkishness." Rather, one of her characters in the novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, uttered the words "Turkish Butchers," in fictional anger, no doubt, over the vexing "Armenian Question." (For anybody out there scrutinizing these lines through the lens of their own, less-than-fluent English, please note my use of the word "Question" in the prior sentence.) So apparently, even a fictional character may be guilty of this "crime" against Turkish identity.

You see how confusing it can be to live abroad. If only the poor girl had stayed in Turkey, rather than running off to America, where she somehow lost track of her "Turkish identity."

"Turkishness" (it's like a kind of essence) evidently doesn't travel well.

Article 301 was also used to bring charges against Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk gave a little interview to a Swiss newspaper in which he said some things about Turkish history that evidently are not standard fare in the Turkish high school curriculum.

Pamuk soon found himself facing the possibility of three-and-a-half years in prison. Get this, the penalties under Article 301 become more severe if you comment critically upon, sorry, "insult," Turkish identity or history outside of Turkey. "Airing dirty linen in public," I believe is the expression.

But things turned out OK for Pamuk, who was last year's Nobel Prize winner for literature. The charges were dropped on a technicality. Funny how that worked out, huh?

Except for the fact that he kept getting death threats and thus decamped to teach at Columbia University. You know you're in trouble when the northern reaches of Manhattan become your idea of a place to flee to in case of danger.

A lesser-known public figure, Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist and editor of Agos, a Turkish-Armenian newspaper, has had his own little brushes with Article 301.

According to an article by Cem Özdemir in the English-language edition of Der Spiegel, Dink has made several statements that were OK with the Turkish government. For example, he has supported a position of Turkish and Armenian reconciliation. In Özdemir's words, Dink has argued that, "The Armenian diaspora should surrender their hostility to the Turks, hitherto a defining element of Armenian identity."

Dink has also made some points that weren't so OK with the Turkish authorities, again, in Özdemir's words, by "confront[ing] the Turkish people with a history of which they either were ignorant, or had only learned about through distorted channels of propaganda. His arguments are persuasive, bringing to light what Turkey has irrevocably lost in their destruction and denial of Armenian life."

Let me reiterate, should anybody be scrutinizing these words through the lens of their own, less-than-fluent English, the quotation above was written by Cem Özdemir, not by me.

Cem Özdemir also comments in his Der Speigel article that Hrant Dink "is not short of adversaries. At the forefront are the Turkish Ultra-Nationalists, who would like to see him silenced sooner rather than later."

Well, apparently that is all too true, because Hrant Dink was shot to death this afternoon on the streets of Istanbul, as he exited the office of Agos, the newspaper which he edited.

Dink had repeatedly informed authorities of various threats against his life, but complained that they offered him no police protection. According to the Associated Press, "A colleague at Dink's newspaper, Aydin Engin, said Dink had attributed the threats to elements in the 'deep state,' a Turkish term that implies shadowy, deeply nationalist and powerful elements in the government."

For those who might be scrutinizing the lines above in their own, less-than-fluent English, the quotation is (let me remind you) taken from the Associated Press.

Well, at least Hrant Dink doesn't have to worry about Article 301 anymore.

Update One: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, under whose regime Article 301 was adopted, has condemned the killing. According to the Prime Minister, "Once again, dark hands have chosen our country and spilled blood in Istanbul to achieve their dark goals.” He further vowed to track down the culprits, "no matter if they are Turkish or foreign."

A great many Turks will take comfort in the Prime Minister's words.

Source articles for the Update: The New York Times and The Telegraph UK

Update Two: A 17 year old suspect, Ogun Samast, has been arrested in this case. His image, captured on closed-circuit TV outside the Agos headquarters, had been broadcast throughout Turkey. Samast's father recognized his son from the videotape and notified the police. When captured, he is reported to have been riding on a bus back to his native Trabzon, on the Black Sea, and carrying the gun used in the murder. Authorities say he has confessed to the killing.

Samast is reported to have been involved in Turkish nationalist groups, and police say they will investigate any connections between this murder and the killing of an Italian priest in Trabzon last February. In both cases, the suspected shooters were under the age of 18, and some Turkish legal experts believe that minors are being recruited to commit such killings because, as juvenile defendants, they face less severe penalties.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Thin Blue Line . . . in Atlanta

"I like to think of myself as the ultimate anti-postmodernist post-modernist. Notwithstanding the unusual narrative or visual devices that appear in many of the films, what has kept me going for the three years of investigating for The Thin Blue Line, was the belief that there are answers to questions such as, Adams did it, didn't he? Or Harris did it, didn't he? That it's not just up for grabs. Today, I believe there's a kind of frisson of ambiguity. People think that ambiguity is somehow wonderful in its own right, an excuse for failing to investigate. What can I say? I think this view is wrong. At best, misguided. Maybe even reprehensible."
-Filmaker Errol Morris

In 1976, Dallas police officer Robert Wood was killed during a routine traffic stop. With no immediate suspect in sight, the Dallas police department soon found itself under intense and growing pressure to solve the murder. Several weeks later, Randall Dale Adams was arrested for the killing.

Adams, a construction laborer recently arrived in Dallas, had run out of gas one morning on the way to a job site. While searching on foot for a gas station, he was offered a ride by David Harris, a 16 year old runaway from Vidor Texas, with whom he ultimately spent the remainder of the day drinking beer, smoking marijuana, taking in a double feature at a drive-in theater, and aimlessly driving around. Later that night, Officer Wood pulled over a blue Mercury Comet in order to inform the driver that his rear taillight was out. Not realizing that the car was stolen, Officer Wood casually approached the car, while his partner failed to position herself correctly outside the police cruiser. When officer Wood reached the driver's window, he was shot several times by a small caliber handgun, and the car sped away.

These events were chronicled in Errol Morris' award winning 1998 documentary, The Thin Blue Line, which has been described as "the first movie mystery to actually solve a murder." This film examines, from multiple perspectives, the sequence of events leading up to the conviction and sentencing of Randall Dale Adams. On one level, The Thin Blue Line is a documentary examining the dubious procedures of the criminal justice system. More fundamentally, the film explores the construction of narratives by which we create a sense of truth.

Now, anyone unfortunate enough to have been subjected to the doctrines of post-modernism will recognize my failure in the previous sentence to put the requisite quotation marks around the word "truth." But Errol Morris is, as he puts it, no post-modernist, and maintains an admirably steadfast respect both for the difficulties inherent in unearthing the truth, and the essential human obligation to try. In short, the truth my be difficult to come by. Which is not to say that it doesn't exist.

Morris' film has inextricably woven itself into my understanding of events unfolding over the past week in my hometown of Atlanta, for it highlights the subtle shift from allegation to "fact."

On January 4, Professor Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, a distinguished British historian currently teaching at Tufts University, was attending an academic convention in Atlanta. During his attempt to cross Peachtree Street, the main thoroughfare in downtown Atlanta, he was repeatedly and vocally urged by Officer Kevin Leonpacher to use the nearest crosswalk. Dr. Fernandez-Armesto maintains that he did not realize that Leonpacher was a police officer, thought Leonpacher was simply making a suggestion, and continued across the street. There, the stories begin to diverge.

According to Fernandez-Armesto, he was "subjected to very humiliating procedure." What interests me in this apparently trivial case is the changing shape and tone of its coverage over location and time. According to the first account in Britain's The Daily Mail:

Because Officer Leonpacher was wearing a “rather louche” bomber jacket that covered his uniform, the professor said he did not realise he was from the police department. He said: “All I was aware of was a rather intrusive young man shouting at me telling me that I shouldn’t have crossed the road there.“I thanked him for his advice and went on.” When Officer Leonpacher then tried to stop him and demanded to see identification, Professor Fernandez-Armesto asked to see the policeman’s own ID, which he “didn’t take kindly to”. At this point, still not realising he had done anything wrong and wondering whether any of the identification on him would be suitable, he said the officer lost patience.“He said ‘I am going to arrest you’,” Professor Fernandez-Armesto said. “In the culture I come from this wouldn’t mean that the conversation was over.“ Nor would it mean that you were about to be subjected to terrible, terrible violence.“This young man kicked my legs from under me, wrenched me round in what I think is a sort of a judo move, pinned me to the ground, wrenched my arms behind my back, handcuffed me. I had five burly policemen pinioning me to the ground, pressing my neck with really very severe pain.”

As you might expect, Officer Leonpacher's account, published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was somewhat different:

Leonpacher said the professor repeatedly refused to cooperate when asked why he did not heed the officer's instructions."I told him, it's gonna be awful silly if I have to take you to jail for jaywalking . . . I used an excessive amount of discretion."

Leonpacher - who said he was wearing his Atlanta Police Department uniform - said when he asked Fernandez-Armesto why he didn't follow his instructions, the author shrugged him off and walked away."Five times I asked him to stop," the officer said. He then asked him if he was hearing impaired. Once Fernandez-Armesto confirmed he wasn't, Leonpacher said he grabbed the professor's arm. "I let him go when he turned around to face me," he said. Leonpacher then says he repeatedly asked Fernandez-Armesto for his identification, but the professor responded by asking for the officer's I.D.When the historian allegedly repeatedly refused to produce ID (Fernandez-Armesto said he left his passport in his hotel room and was flummoxed when he realized he did not have it), Leonpacher said he told him he was under arrest. As he put his hands behind his back, "he pulled away and grabbed me. He said 'leave me alone, let me go.' I told him 'you're under arrest, stop resisting.' "Leonpacher, half Fernandez-Armesto's 56 years, contends he could not handcuff the professor by himself. "He was swinging, kicking wildly," Leonpacher said. Backup was called to assist in his detainment. They arrived almost immediately, Leonpacher said. According to the incident report, the cop quoted the professor as saying, "Well now I believe that you are the police."Leonpacher insists he was a good representative for the city. He was working a part-time job that day — with police consent, his superiors confirmed— for the Hilton Hotel, trying to direct pedestrians to use crosswalks. Police describe the street as one of downtown's most dangerous for pedestrians.Fernandez-Armesto, who suffered minor cuts during the scrum, was taken into custody via a prisoner transport van. The historian said he spent the next eight hours alongside "extremely unfortunate members of the underclass."As the investigation unfolds, Leonpacher's superiors said they stand behind their charge."He is an outstanding officer," said Maj. James Sellers. "We've never had a complaint about him before."

A follow-up article in The Daily Mail later reported:

The 56-year-old academic failed to realise that a man telling him to stop crossing was a police officer and he argued with him.Kevin Leonpacher kicked the professor's legs from under him when he hesitated in showing his ID. The officer called for back-up and Professor Fernandez-Armesto was handcuffed to another suspect in a "filthy, foetid paddy wagon".

Note the change in reporting. The first Daily Mail article writes:

". . . the professor said he did not realize that he [Leonpacher] was from the police department"

which has been transformed to a statement of fact in the second article. It is now taken for granted that Fernandez-Armesto's claim not to have recognized Leonpacher as a police officer is genuine and sincere.

Further, the account in the first article of Leonpacher's violent arrest of Fernandez-Armesto is clearly a quotation of the professor's account: "This young man kicked my legs from under me . . . "

In the second article, this event is reported as, "Kevin Leonpacher kicked the professor's legs from under him when he hesitated in showing his ID."

Noting that the second article's headline claimed that Fernandez-Armesto had been jailed for "jaywalking" and that the coverage had transmogrified into something disturbingly close to the "victim's" version of his own arrest, I wrote a comment to The Daily Mail, arguing that while this incident merited a full investigation, it was not immediately apparent that the officer was at fault.

Curiously, though I was the first person to comment on this article, my perspective was never included in the Comments section.

Last Friday afternoon at work, I turned to the Internet for some relief from work-related boredom (you may know the feeling). After visiting a site or two, my boredom still unrelieved, I started looking in the links column for some new and unexplored territory. My eye landed on the name, Colby Cosh, which it seemed to me I had seen before. It has a nice, alliterative quality, and I thought to give it a try. After scrolling down to the third or fourth post, I discovered the following:

The thin blue line

Can anybody supply a remotely acceptable explanation for the way Felipe Fernandez-Armesto was treated by the Atlanta police on January 6? One hopes it will be of some general interest to newspaper editors that a best-selling historian who is 56 years old (and about as physically imposing as the Taco Bell chihuahua) was challenged on an American street by an out-of-uniform cop, knocked down when he asked to see a badge, and imprisoned with felony suspects for eight hours because he jaywalked unwittingly between two adjacent hotels.- 12:42

As we see, Leonpacher is now not only unrecognized by Fernandez-Armesto as an officer, he is "out-of-uniform" something which neither account of events in The Daily Mail, nor an article in The Telegraph, nor in the Times UK, even claims. Failure to recognize that an officer is in uniform is not the same thing as demonstrating that the officer is out of uniform. The so-called "louche" bomber jacket worn by officer Leonpacher was, according to Leonpacher, a standard, Navy blue officer's winter jacket, which, I can attest from personal familiarity, bears the City of Atlanta police department patch on the shoulder.

According to Cosh, Fernandez-Armesto was knocked down when he asked to see the officer's badge. Again, not even Fernandez-Armesto's quoted account alleges this. Fernandez-Armesto says that his legs were kicked out from under him when he (FA) failed to show his ID.

If we return to Officer Leonpacher's account, Fernandez-Armesto was thrown to the ground after struggling to resist arrest. Fernandez-Armesto was not, as several accounts suggest, arrested for "jaywalking." The Incident Report filed by Leonpacher makes clear that the arrest is for "Pedestrian Failure to Obey a Police Officer and Physical Obstruction of Police."

The Incident Report contains one more piece of pertinent information that has been reported in none of the articles I've seen covering this encounter. Two witnesses are cited as corroborating officer Leonpacher's version of events. Mr. Edward Allen, a bellman for the Hilton Hotel, is reported to have said that Fernandez-Armesto walked away from Leonpacher after the officer several times asked him to stop.

The second witness, Martin Catino, is quoted in the report as saying, " . . . the officer kept his cool. He was polite and asked him several times for his ID. The man was belligerent and refused to cooperate with him."

Those, like Colby Cosh, wishing to genuinely understand how this event unfolded might do well to take a look at the Incident Report, which is available to the public courtesy of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

As I reflected on this information, I became curious about Martin Catino's version of events and sought to contact him. It took me all of about 10 minutes to locate his email address. I explained to him my interest in this case, and that, having read the Incident Report, I was aware that he had been quoted in the manner cited above. Would, I wondered, he give me his version of events?

His response was prompt, polite, and thoroughly understandable, though slightly disappointing. Mr. Catino answered that, as this was a legal matter and still pending in the courts, he was unable to comment at this time.

So I didn't get my answer. But how, you may wonder, was I able to contact this witness so quickly? There was very little detective work involved. Like Fernandez-Armesto, Martin Catino is a a professor of history, and was on that day attending the same convention of the American Historical Association.

To reiterate, despite the public availability of this information, I've seen no mention of either Dr. Catino or Mr. Edward Allen, the other witness, in the by now seven or eight articles I've read on this incident.

In the meantime, Dr, Fernandez-Armesto has written an account of this ordeal, entitled "Atlanta Police are Barbaric," which begins with a quotation from fellow political prisoner Nelson Mandela, and concludes with a passing reference to "the era of George W. Bush." In his defense, the professor speaks quite highly of the Detention Center staff, contrasting their civility with the "barbaric, brutal, and out of control" behavior of the police.

Perhaps, between Dr. Fernandez-Armesto's account of the "insights you can only get from being assaulted by the police" and Officer Leonpacher's somewhat less lurid Incident Report, Colby Cosh may find the beginnings of an answer to his question.

Addendum: Here is a follow-up story in the AJC, touching upon British coverage of this arrest, if you find that you just can't get enough of all this. The article did provide the new photo above of Officer Leonpacher displaying his notorious, "louche bomber jacket," which seems somehow central to the ensuing confusion.

I should also add that my purpose here is neither to exonerate Kevin Leonpacher nor to condemn the arrest of Dr. Fernandez-Armesto. It may well be that Leonpacher over-reacted to the situation. It may be that Fernandez-Armesto knowingly ignored police instructions, and became belligerent and confrontational when told to stop. A third possibility is that this is a legitimate case of confusion and miscommunication, without a clear culprit. These are questions for a formal inquiry to decide.

My concern here was, and remains, the manner in which one party's version of a contested event has come to be reported as fact, often without any indication that these are the allegations of an individual protesting his arrest, not the recollections of an impartial observer. Perhaps there were no impartial observers, but a respect for the gravity of Fernandez-Armesto's allegations, and the seriousness of Kevin Leonpacher actions, demands something closer to impartiality than much of the media have thus far been willing to provide.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Six Degrees of Separation

You may be familiar with the "Six Degree . . . " concept, popularized by the play of John Guare and later made into a movie of the same name. It supposes that you are separated from anyone else in the world by a chain of no more than six people. In other words, "I know someone who knows someone who . . . " Do this six times and you will find yourself distantly acquainted with an Inuit seal hunter, a Bengali cab driver, or a Mongolian veterinarian. Is it true? I doubt very seriously that I am separated by a chain of only six acquaintances from all 6.5 billion of you. But I guess it hardly matters. It doesn't take long to realize that the plausibility of the hypothesis depends, to a large extent, on what is meant by "knowing" someone. If you work in an office with 20 other people, you probably know them all.

But what about an office of 200 people? At one time or another, you've probably at least bumped into them all in the break room, or nodded while passing in the corridor. You certainly know most of their names. Is it enough to establish that first degree? How about an office of 500 people? If you've been there for a year, you've probably at least seen them all. Is that close enough? If you met someone only once, at a baby shower, for example, would that then count as a degree of separation? Let's say that it would, so that I can get on with this story.

In the summer of 2003, I attended a baby shower. Most of the guests were former Coca-Cola employees, whose conversation - while waiting for the guests of honor to arrive - revolved around enthusiastic denouncements of the company's inept management. The host of the shower, who had obviously done quite well with Coke International (lap pool on the back patio, five car garage, fully restored 60s Morris convertible in the five car garage) then said, "You want to hear a story about bad management. I'll tell you about the worst case of bad management I've ever seen."

After graduating with an MBA from the University of Chicago, our host had joined a pharmaceutical manufacturer. The company was having difficulty meeting its monthly sales targets, and the CEO repeatedly instituted price cuts at the end of each month, in order to try to meet the quotas. Our storyteller said that he and his colleagues, most of them young execs, had tried over and over again to explain to the CEO why this was a self-destructive strategy, because the drugs they sold at the end of each month only ate into the orders from the following month, which wrought havoc with their production and shipping schedules. Orders were negligible during the first three and a half weeks of the month, then skyrocketed in the final few days, particularly as customers realized that prices would be cut at the end of each month. Though the flaws in this strategy would have been readily apparent to any first year management student, the CEO was a stubborn type who didn't take well to dissent or disagreement. The pricing strategy continued, as the company hemorrhaged more and more money.

Fortunately, the company had a potential ace up its sleeve, an artificial sweetener called Aspartame, better known as NutraSweet, whose approval had thus far been denied by the Food and Drug Administration due to several health concerns related to this chemical compound. Though such a product had enormous profit-potential, the failure to win FDA approval was clearly a stumbling block.

Not to be deterred, however, the CEO made use of his political connections in Washington, and the product soon won FDA approval. This, and this alone, according to our host, saved the company from bankruptcy. The company's then CEO was - up until recently - widely regarded in the popular media as an iconoclastic, hard nosed executive who reorganized the firm and restored it to profitability. He was at the time lauded in the press as one of the
"toughest" executives in America. "But you know," our host concluded, "he was really just an idiot with political connections, and I'm surprised none of this has ever come out, because the guy's name is Donald Rumsfeld."*

He went on to say that Rumsfeld had only been made CEO of the family-held company as a result of his friendship with the Searle family, who had also financed his early political career, and that it was understood from the beginning of his tenure as CEO (Rumsfeld had no experience in the pharma industry) that he would use his political connections to push though the approval of NutraSweet. Furthermore, Rumsfeld was without doubt the most inept manager he had ever worked for or been associated with. He concluded by saying that it "terrified" him to think that America's defenses were in such hands, and that this was not a partisan matter, as he himself had voted for Bush.

This was the most interesting baby shower I've ever been to, not that I've been to many.

Is Rumsfeld really a business maverick, or the egomaniacal incompetent masquerading as an executive genius described by his former employee - and my passing acquaintance - back in 2003? How would I know? I'm simply relaying an anecdote that made a memorable summer afternoon out of what otherwise would have been one of those tedious social write-offs your wife drags you to. Was Rumsfeld really the disaster he appeared to be as Secretary of Defense? General Paul Eaton, in charge of training the Iraqi Army from 2003 to 2004, certainly thought so. In this opinion, he was hardly alone.

Another story:

Someone I know, still in the Navy, was once assigned as a junior officer to serve directly under the admiral of US fleet in the Persian Gulf. I don't remember the admiral's name, and I don't know what, specifically, the younger officer did for him. Anyway, a few years after Gulf War I (Desert Storm, you may remember) but well before our current conflict in Iraq, the subject of the first Gulf War came up with my old acquaintance. He maintained that our differences with Saddam emerged not because he invaded Kuwait, but because he invaded Kuwait and then proceeded to raise the price of oil above that agreed to by various parties in the Middle East, including the US, who had approved of or at least accepted the invasion to begin with.

Simple rumor-mongering on my friend's part, and now on my part? Sure. So what? Let me make it clear that neither of these stories "proves" anything in my book. People lie, people exaggerate, people seek to impress in cocktail-party conversation, people simply fail to remember accurately what somebody else said, or accurately remember what somebody else lied about.

But both these stories do at least give us something to consider. And only in part because they seem to fit pretty closely with a good bit of what we do know from the world of mainstream reportage. For example, the words of US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie, when called to a meeting with Saddam in 1990 to discuss the deteriorating relationship between Iraq and Kuwait. (By the way, Saddam's main grievance against Kuwait at the time was that it was selling oil at a price that Saddam felt was starving him of the international currency that he needed to meet his debt payments emerging from the Iran-Iraq war.) The US Ambassador's reply to Saddam's intent to move into Kuwait was as follows:

"We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late ’60s. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction. We hope you can solve this problem using any suitable methods via [Chadli] Klibi [then Arab League General Secretary] or via President Mubarak. All that we hope is that these issues are solved quickly."

Granted, diplomatic language is often neutral and muted, but if Saddam was looking for a signal as to what the US response to a Kuwait invasion might be, the wording certainly could have been a bit more dissuasive than this. Furthermore, the subsequent justification for Operation Desert Shield (which soon mutated into Desert Storm), that Iraq was now poised to invade Saudi Arabia, seems to have been, at the very least, inflated. Apparently, our leaders have little faith in the capacity of the American public to seize upon an unvarnished opportunity for a pleasant little war. Hence, the need for "actionable" intelligence.

One more story:

My wife's uncle, now retired, was once stationed in Baghdad as a Turkish diplomat. One fall afternoon, we visited his Ankara apartment, where, in dim, receding light, we were served cake and a thimbleful of sherry. The former ambassador asked about my family's background in America, and when I answered that it extended back many generations, he smiled approvingly and said, "You are very noble, Mr. John.** "

Our conversation eventually turned to the war in Iraq, and his memories of Baghdad. I suppose it goes without saying that during his posting there he was acquainted with Saddam, and I may now claim my one degree of separation from the "Butcher of Baghdad" himself. Anyway the ambassador's tenure there - as he recalled it - had been for the most part pleasant, but he did add a final, cautionary note. "Remember, Mr. John, you must never, ever trust the Arabs."

I take his point. But who do I trust?

* This is, of course, my recollection of the gist of what he said, not a verbatim transcription.

** "John" is not my actual first name, but will serve here as a substitute.