The Breakfast Table

A Ridiculous Reward

Dear Anne,

You are clearly very influential. I see from today’s New York Times that the people in Gardez are now being offered a $4,000 reward for the capture of any al-Qaida warrior. That’s roughly what you were advocating on Monday when you criticized the American offer of $25 million for Osama Bin Laden, dead or alive. This was “far too large a sum,” you said, “and therefore far too theoretical.” “Al-Qaida was offering $5,000 bribes in cash, on the spot, to anyone who would help them escape—a much more reasonable prospect.” So the Americans seem to have taken your advice, though it’s odd that they should be offering $1,000 less than the enemy. They’re richer, after all, with their $379 billion Defense budget. According to the Times, the Gardez intelligence unit is promoting its juicy offer with a flyer in the form of an enlarged 10,000-Afghani banknote, with the figure of 150 million Afghanis emblazoned on the front of it.

This must be rather confusing for Afghan bounty-hunters, for 10,000 Afghanis at today’s exchange rate is worth just over two U.S. dollars, which is not a very exciting reward even for an Afghan, while 150 million Afghanis is worth about $31,600 dollars, which is a great deal more than $4,000 and enough to keep an Afghan family in luxury for years. I wonder where the figure of $4,000 comes in? Perhaps the Times is in a muddle. When you say the reward for Bin Laden stands at $25 million, I remember reading after 9/11 (it must have been in the Times, because that is the only American paper I look at regularly) that it had been increased from $5 million to $30 million. I thought then that it was so large because the only person likely to be in a position to collect it would be a traitor in the Bin Laden camp, and that the price of treachery would have to be enormous. The figure 30 million seemed a good sum because it felt like the modern equivalent of 30 pieces of silver, the bounty collected by Judas Iscariot for shopping Jesus Christ. But you are quite right: $25 million or $30 million, whichever it is, is a ridiculous sum of money in Afghanistan and not likely to be taken seriously by anybody. And how could the traitor feel confident of collecting it without ending up in Guantanamo Bay?

I expect you’re right about the Middle East, too. But that subject is so depressing that I don’t think I can bear to think about it today. I have decided to be angry instead about something trivial, which is the decision by the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, to spend £100,000 ($142,000) of taxpayers’ money on celebrations to mark St. Patrick’s Day in London on March 17. When I lived in New York I hated St. Patrick’s Day, not only because the parade brought the city to a halt by filling the streets with a sea of faux Irishmen wearing green, but because its orgy of Irish kitsch included a strong element of anti-Britishness. I once ran on Fifth Avenue into a group of people chanting, “Brits out, Brits out” and I asked them where they wanted me to get out of: New York? Mr. Livingstone has been criticized for failing to produce any money to celebrate the feast day of St. George, the patron saint of England (where London happens to be situated). His reply is that nobody has asked him to. Of course, not. Unlike the patron saint of Ireland, St. George is an elusive figure of uncertain history and most English people don’t even know when his feast day is (April 23). It is typical of our useless mayor that he can’t do anything about the transport crisis, nor even reduce the number of pigeons in Trafalgar Square (one of his declared aims), because he’s too busy with histrionic gestures on behalf of minorities he regards as oppressed. Why can’t we have Rudolph Giuliani over here?