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The Distraction of Bin Laden's Beard

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Osama bin Laden has released a new video message, and he has a new look: a dark beard. Did he dye it or is it a fake? Is he having a midlife crisis?

SCOTT SIMON, host:

What has Osama bin Laden done to his beard? There were few glints of hard news in the latest video released this week by the man who ordered the hit on New York and Washington, D.C., six years ago. He tells America to convert to Islam. He chastises France over its last election, but there were no glints of gray.

What happened to that full, curly, flinty, gray beard Osama bin Laden used to have? He's gone from looking like some New York actor, who has shown up for a casting call for "Amahl and the Night Visitors," to looking like one of the bandmates in Black Crowes.

Now, did he shave his gray beard and get a chin wig to replace it? Did he trim and dye it? If so, does Osama bin Laden use Lady Clairol and does Carlos the Jackal know? Or does Osama bin Laden comb Grecian Formula for men through his beard? If so, why is Greece, a European Union member state, supporting such tonsorial terrorism?

Am I talking like the headlines on a cable news channel? And why would a man who sends airplanes into skyscrapers be so timorous about going gray? Is Osama bin Laden having a midlife crisis? Will he record his next video, if there is one, sitting in some sleek red Beamer convertible or even a Prius with an arm around a young woman who isn't much older than some of his socks, and say, before I denounce scheming capitalists, Zionist lackeys and Jews, Jews, Jews, I want you to meet my friend Tiffany?

Or is Osama bin Laden, like everyone else in broadcasting, just trying to appeal to a younger demographic? Suicide bombers may seem to get younger and younger. But for all the obvious reasons, well, one overriding reason actually, you can't build an audience base on them.

Six years is not so long a time, but I learned in covering wars that people can't always live at a sustained state of alertness. It's too exhausting. So we see video of Osama bin Laden, and look for ways to make jokes. Maybe the jokes, as they so often are, are small darts with which we hope to take some of sting out of some menace or sadness.

But the news this week from Germany shouldn't be overlooked. Three men there, who had reportedly trained in an al-Qaida camp, were arrested and charged with plotting to blow up Frankfurt Airport and other targets. They had 1,500 pounds of explosive chemicals in their possession.

Police and spies often complain that when they break up some plot, the news quickly evaporates. Skeptics wonder if it was serious anyway. But when a bomb goes off, a building goes down, a subway is blown up, people demand, why didn't they do something.

The fears of our times just can't be put away, so we try to get on with our lives and put a pin into our fears by making jokes about Osama bin Laden's beard.

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Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small