One of the most striking features of the mass of reporting and commentary that has appeared in the aftermath of September 11 is the sheer volume of misinformation and disinformation dispensed. Typical is a story by Barry Bearak from the September 19 The New York Times, "Taliban: From Vigilantes to Strict Rulers."

"Time and again," Bearak writes,

America and other nations have accused Mr. bin Laden of terrorism and demanded his surrender to stand trial. Mullah Omar [the Taliban's leader] has refused.

One can speculate about the reasons. They might include the Afghan consecration of hospitality, the need the Taliban have for the Saudi multi-millionaire's support and a sincere belief in his innocence. Most Afghans presume that Mr. bin Laden's notorious reputation is undeserved.

One can speculate, yes, and one wishes that one could attribute a wicked irony to Bearak's suggestion that the "Afghan consecration of hospitality" accounts for the Taliban's intransigence. But Bearak appears to be writing for an infantilized public presumed to be incapable of critical thought, let alone the detection of irony.

What does it mean, for instance, to speak of "a sincere belief" in bin Laden's "innocence," when he has said quite openly that it is the duty of good Muslims to kill Americans? Elsewhere the Times has reported that bin Laden is widely regarded as a hero in Afghanistan and in many other Islamic countries. What is he a hero for? His hospitality?

But then much that we've been told about the Taliban doesn't make sense. A widely circulated piece first posted on Salon, "An Afghan-American Speaks," describes the Taliban as "a cult of ignorant psychotics who took over Afghanistan in 1997." The author, Tamim Ansary, explains that "the people ...

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