Usually, when reporters go after a story, we try to get it confirmed. In this case, I tried to get it denied.
Jack EngelhardJack Engelhard’s classic international bestselling novel Indecent Proposal, which later became a worldwide hit movie, has been republished to meet readers’ demands. His other major works include Compulsive: A Novel, his award-winning post-Holocaust Montreal memoir Escape from Mount Moriah, plus Slot Attendant: A Novel About A Novelist. His website: www.jackengelhard.com
This can't be Amy Gutmann in those photos. She is, after all, the president of the University of Pennsylvania. She is not Sacha Baron Cohen doing his Borat of Kazakhstan routine.
But here she is, all over the Internet (and now the front pages), posing happily with a student, Penn engineering senior Saad Saadi, who arrived at her Halloween costume party dressed up as a suicide bomber. The photo shows her smiling big and wide next to Saadi, as if to endorse that terrorist headband he came in with, and the toy Kalashnikov rifle, plus the fake explosives festooned all over his body.
Other photos show Saadi "mock" executing fellow students, exactly how it is done in the Middle East and elsewhere (but for real). People in these photos are laughing as Saadi simulates murder. I did say these are university professors and students, right? Just checking.
This Halloween party took place in Gutmann's home, where, incidentally, William Gipson, Penn's chaplain - yes, chaplain - also posed with "mock terrorist" Saadi. This student, Saadi, comes to us from Syria. He also serves as a photographer for Penn's student publication, the Daily Pennsylvanian. He posted these shots on his Web site - and has quickly taken them down. (Perhaps not quickly enough.)
I've heard the name Amy Gutmann, but never knew what she looked like, so I assumed that what we had here was another urban legend. First - she can't be that young. Second - she can't be that stupid. Even tenured far-gone-to-the-left academics can't be that stupid. So it must be a prank, somebody else pretending to be the Penn president. After all, it was Halloween.
(For comfort's sake, let us assume that we are dealing with stupidity and not university-wide endorsement of jihad. That would be too outrageous.)
As a favor to Gutmann, I decided to play investigative reporter in order get all this revealed as a hoax. First, I phoned Gutmann's office.
"Hello," I said. "I'm trying to help. Damage control. Please tell me that is not Ms. Gutmann in those photos. Tell me it's some adolescent impostor, please."
"Oh yes, it is Amy Gutmann."
"It is? Wow!"
"Is Ms. Gutmann Jewish?"
I asked because Israel comes immediately to mind when we see someone in that terrorist get-up. You'd think Jews would be extra sensitive to terrorism as sport.
Wait. Every American ought to be extra sensitive to all that, given any smarts at all.
"I believe," came the response, "that she does have Jewish heritage."
(Another dumb Jew? Don't we have enough in Israel, where only yesterday the Olmert government agreed to ship more Jewish guns and bullets to Arab terrorists?)
From Penn's PR department, I got this: "Sir, no one has ever arrived at Ms. Gutmann's Halloween parties dressed so inappropriately."
I'll bet. I'll also bet that none of this is all that funny to our troops over in Iraq. Nor is it hilarious over in Israel, or to the mourners of Daniel Pearl and 9/11.
Meanwhile, this student, Saadi, has issued an apology. No apology from Gutmann, but an explanation.* We must assume that upon graduating, Saadi will pursue his career - as an engineer and not as a terrorist. Gutmann says that she didn't know what was going on, and was more or less tricked into embracing this mock suicide bomber.
In other words, a man arrived in Gutmann's home sporting a keffiyeh, a bomb belt and a rifle - and Gutmann didn't know what it was all about.
That's dumb - and even dumber to imagine that we'll buy this interpretation.
* Here's Amy Gutmann's official explanation: "Each year, the president hosts a Halloween party for Penn students. More than 700 students attend. They all crowd around to have their picture taken with me in costume. This year, one student who had a toy gun in hand had his picture taken with me before it was obvious to me that he was dressed as a suicide bomber. He posted the photo on a website and it was picked up on several other websites.
"The costume is clearly offensive and I was offended by it. As soon as I realized what his costume was, I refused to take any more pictures with him, as he requested. The student had the right to wear the costume just as I, and others, have a right to criticize his wearing of it."
Go here to get the latest installment of The Bathsheba Deadline - Jack Engelhard's latest novel and Amazon.com's first serialized novel. Part 11 is now available for download. Haven't started reading it yet? Click the link and scroll down - all previous installments are there and ready to be downloaded.