A decade after 9/11, the mystery is not why so many Muslims turn to terror — but why so few have joined al Qaeda’s jihad.
BY CHARLES KURZMAN | SEPT/OCT 2011
The rental car turned onto the sidewalk behind the registrar’s office and rolled slowly down the brick path between a dining hall and the English department, a few steps from my office. “Beyond Time,” an upbeat German dance song, played on the car’s stereo. The driver, Mohammed Taheri-Azar, had just graduated from the University of North Carolina three months earlier, so he knew the campus well. Beyond the dining hall was a plaza known as the Pit, where students were hanging out at lunchtime on a warm winter day in early 2006. Taheri-Azar planned to kill as many of them as possible.
He brought no weapons except a knife, some pepper spray, and the four-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle he had rented in order to run people over without getting stuck on their bodies. When he reached the Pit, Taheri-Azar accelerated and swerved to hit people as they scattered out of his way. His fender clipped several students, and several more rolled over his hood and off the windshield. Taheri-Azar turned left at the end of the plaza, hit another couple of students in front of the library, and then sped off campus just beneath my office window.
Taheri-Azar drove down the hill that gave Chapel Hill its name, pulled over in a calm residential neighborhood, parked, and called 911 on his cell phone. “Sir, I just hit several people with a vehicle,” he told the operator. “I don’t have any weapons or anything on me; you can come arrest me now.”
Why did you do this? the operator asked. “Really, it’s to punish the government of the United States for their actions around the world.” So you did this to punish the government? “Yes, sir.” Following the operator’s instructions, he placed his phone on the hood of the car and put his hands on his head as police officers arrived.
Before leaving his apartment that morning, Taheri-Azar left a letter on his bed explaining his actions more fully:
Due to the killing of believing men and women under the direction of the United States government, I have decided to take advantage of my presence on United States soil on Friday, March 3, 2006 to take the lives of as many Americans and American sympathizers as I can in order to punish the United States for their immoral actions around the world.
In the Qur’an, Allah states that the believing men and women have permission to murder anyone responsible for the killing of other believing men and women. I know that the Qur’an is a legitimate and authoritative holy scripture since it is completely validated by modern science and also mathematically encoded with the number 19 beyond human ability. After extensive contemplation and reflection, I have made the decision to exercise the right of violent retaliation that Allah has given me to the fullest extent to which I am capable at present.
I have chosen the particular location on the University campus as my target since I know there is a high likelihood that I will kill several people before being killed myself or jailed and sent to prison if Allah wills. Allah’s commandments are never to be questioned and all of Allah’s commandments must be obeyed.
Nine people suffered broken bones and other injuries that day. Fortunately, Taheri-Azar didn’t kill anybody, though the toll could have been higher. Initially, Taheri-Azar had planned to join insurgents in Afghanistan or Iraq, but he was discouraged by visa restrictions on travel to those countries. Then he looked into joining the military and dropping a nuclear bomb on Washington, D.C., but he realized that his eyesight was too poor to qualify to be a military pilot. Turning closer to home, Taheri-Azar considered shooting people randomly at the university. His letters from prison indicate that he thought about targeting the dining hall where I often eat lunch.
In the weeks before his attack, Taheri-Azar test-fired a laser-sighted handgun at a nearby shooting range but was told that he couldn’t buy it without a permit. Taheri-Azar could have purchased a rifle on the spot if he had completed some federal paperwork, but he had his heart set on a Glock pistol. Later, at his apartment, he started to fill out the permit application, but gave up when he found that he would need three friends to attest to his good moral character. “[T]he process of receiving a permit for a handgun in this city is highly restricted and out of my reach at the present,” Taheri-Azar complained in the letter he left on his bed for the police. Months later, in prison, he rationalized his decision: “The gun may have malfunctioned and acquiring one would have attracted attention to me from the FBI in all likelihood, which could have foiled any attack plans.” Taheri-Azar may be the only terrorist in the world ever deterred by gun-control laws.
TAHERI-AZAR’S INCOMPETENCE as a terrorist is bewildering. Surely someone who was willing to kill and die for his cause, spending months contemplating an attack, could have found a more effective way to kill people. Why wasn’t he able to obtain a firearm or improvise an explosive device or try any of the hundreds of murderous schemes that we all know from movies, television shows, and the Internet, not to mention the news? And once Taheri-Azar decided to run people over with a car, why did he pick a site with so little room to accelerate?
Even more bewildering is that we don’t see more terrorism of this sort, a decade into the “global war on terror” launched by the United States in response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. If every car is a potential weapon, then why aren’t there more automotive attacks? Car bombs have been around since the 1920s, when the first one was detonated on Wall Street in New York City, but they require a fair bit of skill. Drive-through murder, on the other hand, takes very little skill at all. People have been killing people with cars ever since the automobile was invented, and the political use of automotive assault was immortalized in a famous 1966 film, The Battle of Algiers, in which two Algerian revolutionaries drive into a bus stand full of French settlers. Yet very few people resort to this accessible form of terrorism. Out of several million Muslims in the United States, it appears that Taheri-Azar was the first to attempt this sort of attack; so far he has been followed by two possible copycats, leading to one fatality. (The trial of Omeed Popal, who killed a pedestrian, has been delayed for several years while the court tries to determine whether he is mentally fit to stand trial.) In addition to cars, plenty of other terrorist weapons are readily accessible. One manual for Islamist terrorists, published online in 2006, listed 14 “simple tools” that “are easy to use and available for anyone who wants to fight the occupying enemy,” including “running over someone with a car” (No. 14) and “setting fire to homes or rooms at sleep time” (No. 10).
If terrorist methods are as widely available as automobiles, why are there so few Islamist terrorists? In light of the death and devastation that terrorists have wrought, the question may seem absurd. But if there are more than a billion Muslims in the world, many of whom supposedly hate the West and desire martyrdom, why don’t we see terrorist attacks everywhere, every day?
Islamist terrorists ask these questions, too. In their view, the West is engaged in a massive assault on Muslim societies and has been for generations, long preceding 9/11. This assault involves military invasions, political domination, economic dependence, and cultural decadence — and, they believe, it is reaching new heights of aggression each year. Islamists offer a solution: the establishment of Islamic government. Revolutionary Islamists offer a strategy to achieve Islamic government: armed insurrection. Terrorist revolutionaries offer a tactic to trigger insurrection: attacks on civilians. These attacks are intended to demoralize the enemy, build Muslims’ self-confidence, and escalate conflict, leading Muslims to realize that armed insurrection is the sole path to defend Islam.
But Islamist terrorists worry that things haven’t worked out as planned. Acts of terrorism have not led Muslims to revolt. Leading terrorists regularly complain: Why aren’t more Muslims resisting the onslaught of the West? What more provocations do they need before they heed the call to arms?
The late Osama bin Laden frequently sounded this theme. “Each day, the sheep in the flock hope that the wolves will stop killing them, but their prayers go unanswered,” he declared in May 2008. “Can any rational person fail to see how they are misguided in hoping for this? This is our own state of affairs.” Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, his successor as al Qaeda’s leader, have infused their statements with a triumphal, inspirational tone, but their disappointment shows through. “There is no excuse for anyone today to stay behind the battle,” Zawahiri lectured in a video released on the Internet in 2007. “We continue to be prisoners, restrained by the shackles of [mainstream Islamic] organizations and foundations from entering the fields of battle. We must destroy every shackle that stands between us and our performing this personal duty.”
A 2008 al Qaeda recruitment video laments, “My brother in Allah, tell me, when will you become angry? If our sacred things are violated, and our landmarks are demolished, and you didn’t become angry; if our chivalry is killed, and our dignity is trampled on, and our world ends, and you didn’t become angry; so tell me, when will you become angry?” It concludes with a taunt aimed at those not man enough to join the jihad: “So live as a rabbit, and die as a rabbit.”
Other terrorists have issued similar insults in their attempt to goad Muslims into revolutionary activity. “What is wrong with the Muslim Ummah today?” the Pakistani militant group Harkat ul-Mujahideen complained on its website. “When the Kuffar [non-Muslims] lay their hands on their daughters, the Muslims do not raise even a finger to help them!” Abu Musab al-Suri, a widely read strategist of Islamist revolution, called it “regrettable” that so few Muslims — only one in a million by his reckoning — have committed themselves to jihad in Afghanistan.
These are not necessarily new laments: Proponents of violent jihad have insulted and guilt-tripped their fellow Muslims for decades. Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian revivalist who inspired a generation of Islamic movements, went so far as to declare in the 1960s that “the Muslim community has been extinct for centuries.” Only a revolution that establishes Islamic government will entitle Muslims to call themselves “believers.”
Qutb’s exhortations treated revolutionary jihad as a collective duty. By the 1980s, however, Islamist militants had honed their religious judgments to a finer point. “Today, jihad is an individual duty of every Muslim,” wrote Muhammad abd al-Salam Faraj, chief ideologue of the group that assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. This obligation can only be fulfilled through “confrontation and blood.” Abdullah Azzam, one of the chief organizers of the 1980s pan-Islamic jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan, called participation in this battle — actually going to fight, he specified, not just sending money — an individual duty that is “incumbent upon every Muslim on Earth until the duty is complete and the Russians and communists are expelled from Afghanistan. This sin weighs on the necks of everybody.” In 1998, bin Laden and colleagues used similar language in declaring war on the United States: “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies —
civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.”
For several decades now, Islamist terrorists have called it a duty for Muslims to engage in armed jihad — against their own rulers, against the Soviets, and later against the Americans. Tens of thousands have obeyed, perhaps as many as 100,000 over the past quarter-century, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This is a significant number of potentially violent militants, even if most received little serious training and subsequently dropped out of the militant movement. At the same time, more than a billion Muslims — well over 99 percent — ignored the call to action. This is typical for revolutionary movements of all sorts, of course: Few ever manage to recruit more than a small portion of their target populations. Leftist terrorists such as the Weathermen in the United States, the Red Army Faction in West Germany, and the Red Brigades in Italy were even less successful at recruiting, numbering no more than a few thousand militants at their height in the 1970s and 1980s. The most effective recruiters tend to be territorially based movements such as the Irish Republican Army, the Basque Homeland and Freedom group ETA, and the Palestinian group Hamas, whose military wing is said to have grown since its 2007 takeover of Gaza to approximately 1 in 100 residents. But by my calculations, global Islamist terrorists have managed to recruit fewer than 1 in 15,000 Muslims over the past quarter-century and fewer than 1 in 100,000 Muslims since 9/11.
Recruitment difficulties have created a bottleneck for Islamist terrorists’ signature tactic, suicide bombing. These organizations often claim to have waiting lists of volunteers eager to serve as martyrs, but if so they’re not very long. Al Qaeda organizer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed made this point unintentionally during a 2002 interview, several months before his capture. Mohammed bragged about al Qaeda’s ability to recruit volunteers for “martyrdom missions,” as Islamist terrorists call suicide attacks. “We were never short of potential martyrs. Indeed, we have a department called the Department of Martyrs.”
“Is it still active?” asked Yosri Fouda, an Al Jazeera reporter who had been led, blindfolded, to Mohammed’s apartment in Karachi, Pakistan. “Yes, it is, and it always will be as long as we are in jihad against the infidels and the Zionists. We have scores of volunteers. Our problem at the time was to select suitable people who were familiar with the West.” Notice the scale here: “scores,” not hundreds — and most deemed not suitable for terrorist missions in the West. After Mohammed’s capture and “enhanced interrogation” by the CIA, using methods that the U.S. government had denounced for decades as torture, federal officials testified that Mohammed had trained as many as 39 operatives for suicide missions and that the 9/11 attacks involved 19 hijackers “because that was the maximum number of operatives that Sheikh Mohammed was able to find and send to the U.S. before 9/11.” According to a top White House counterterrorism official, the initial plans for 9/11 called for a simultaneous attack on the U.S. West Coast, but al Qaeda could not find enough qualified people to carry it out. Mohammed’s claim that al Qaeda was “never short of potential martyrs” seems to have been false bravado.
Since 9/11, the scale of terrorist recruitment has been further reduced. During the preceding five years of Taliban rule, tens of thousands of recruits had passed through terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials. But after 9/11, terrorist training there dropped considerably. In recent statements, U.S. intelligence officials estimate that fewer than 2,000 militants have been trained in the frontier regions of northwestern Pakistan, the world’s largest concentration of terrorist camps. Militants interviewed by Pakistani journalists say that most camps in the region consist of only one to three dozen men. (If the camps were any larger, they would be easy targets for American satellite surveillance and missile attacks.) Hundreds of foreign fighters received training in Iraq, but that route was largely shut down by the tribes of Anbar province when they abandoned the insurgency in 2006. Another several hundred militants are said to be training at terrorist camps in Yemen and Somalia, according to public comments by intelligence officials. All told, there appear to be several thousand Muslim terrorists in the world — a not-insignificant total, but far fewer than a decade ago.
Islamist terrorists have found it especially hard to recruit in the United States. Al Qaeda’s leaders have encouraged American Muslims to attack the United States from within, and the U.S. government has identified the possibility of domestic Islamist terrorism as a serious threat. In early 2003, for example, Robert Mueller, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, told Congress that “FBI investigations have revealed militant Islamics [sic] in the U.S. We strongly suspect that several hundred of these extremists are linked to al Qaeda.” Alarmists outside government have implied that the number of Muslim terrorists in the United States is even larger, perhaps in the thousands. However, all these estimates must be regarded as exaggerations. By the U.S. Justice Department’s count, approximately a dozen people in the country were convicted in the five years after 9/11 for having links with al Qaeda. During this period, fewer than 40 Muslim Americans planned or carried out acts of domestic terrorism, according to an extensive search of news reports and legal proceedings that I conducted with David Schanzer and Ebrahim Moosa of Duke University. None of these attacks was found to be associated with al Qaeda. A month after Taheri-Azar’s attack in Chapel Hill, Mueller visited North Carolina and warned of Islamist violence “all over the country.” Fortunately, that prediction was also wrong.
To put this in context: Out of more than 150,000 murders in the United States since 9/11 — currently more than 14,000 each year — Islamist terrorists accounted for fewer than three dozen deaths by the end of 2010. Part of the credit for this is surely due to the law-enforcement officers and community members who have worked to uncover plots before they could be carried out. But fewer than 200 Muslim Americans have been involved in violent plots since 9/11, most of them overseas, so credit for the low level of violence must be due primarily to the millions of Muslims who have refrained from answering the call to terrorism.
Of course, more terrorists may still be in hiding or under surveillance, or have been deported or jailed for other offenses. There is no way to know how many — so there is no way to completely debunk paranoid fears about massive secret threats. In any case, even a single violent plot is too many, and I do not doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world, to paraphrase the adage that is often attributed to anthropologist Margaret Mead. Islamist terrorists are likely to continue to kill and maim thousands of people around the world each year for the foreseeable future.
However, terrorism accounts for only a tiny proportion of the world’s violence. Every day, according to the World Health Organization, approximately 150,000 people die around the world. The U.S. government’s National Counterterrorism Center calculates that Islamist terrorism claims fewer than 50 lives per day — fewer than 10 per day outside Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. By way of comparison, approximately 1,500 people die each day from civilian violence, plus an additional 500 from warfare, 2,000 from suicides, and 3,000 from traffic accidents. Another 1,300 die each day from malnutrition. Even in Iraq while it was suffering the world’s highest rate of terrorist attacks, they caused less than one-third of violent deaths. In other words, terrorism is not a leading cause of death in the world. If we want to save lives, far better to divert a small portion of the world’s counterterrorism budgets to mosquito netting.
TAHERI-AZAR WAS A VOLUNTEER to the cause of jihad. Nobody recruited him. No organization welcomed him. No comrades swore him to a bond of solidarity. Taheri-Azar encountered Islamist terrorism solely through the prism of the global media, but that was enough to convince him to sacrifice his life.
It didn’t matter that his knowledge of Islam was limited and extremely confused. Taheri-Azar apparently couldn’t tell the difference between Sunni and Shiite Islam and wasn’t aware that al Qaeda and other Sunni militants would consider him non-Muslim because he is Shiite. Taheri-Azar knew no Arabic, and in his handwritten letters from prison he misspelled al Qaeda as “al-Quaeda.” (The “e” is a legitimate English transliteration of Arabic script, but the “u” is simply wrong; he may have gotten the misspelling from Microsoft Word’s autocorrect function, which Taheri-Azar apparently trusted more than any Islamic source.) Taheri-Azar drew his Quranic justifications from an English edition translated by Rashad Khalifa, who was assassinated in Arizona in 1990 —
a murder that Khalifa’s followers blame on militants linked with al Qaeda. Taheri-Azar’s prison letters listed his favorite songs and albums; Islamist militants frown upon Western music as frivolous and sinful. In other words, Taheri-Azar knew next to nothing about the Islamist ideology that he was willing to kill and die for.
If terrorists like Taheri-Azar can be recruited through the Internet and books, then why aren’t there more attacks? What is stopping people?
I propose five answers.
The first and most obvious answer is that most Muslims oppose terrorist violence. According to surveys by Gallup and the Pew Global Attitudes Project, support for attacks on civilians is a minority position in almost every Muslim community. (By way of comparison, a 2006 survey found that 24 percent of Americans consider attacks on civilians to be justified.) But even if only 10 percent of the world’s billion Muslims supported terrorism, we would still expect to see far more terrorist activity than we do.
The second answer is that much of the support for Islamist radicalism is soft. Al Qaeda and bin Laden may be “sheik” in the way that Che Guevara and Malcolm X are chic: objects of aspirational pop culture more than inspirations for revolutionary militancy. Terrorism expert Jessica Stern likens this to the fad for gangster rap: “Most of the youth attracted to the jihadi idea would never become terrorists, just as few of the youths who listen to gangsta rap would commit the kinds of lurid crimes the lyrics would seem to promote.” This “radical sheik” was visible, for example, on Arabic-language bulletin boards telling the story of a vision that bin Laden was said to have had when he was 9 years old. In this dream, an angel supposedly told bin Laden that he would play a major role in a titanic clash with the West. Islamist revolutionaries were not the only ones to offer warm notes of appreciation for the story. One enthusiastic online response, for example, featured pictures of a woman with flowing black hair and a male model with blond highlights. “Hallelujah,” wrote someone whose signature icon was a blond female with a bare midriff. This is radical sheik in action — people who are impressed by bin Laden but do not share his conservative Islamic mores and are unlikely to translate their symbolic support into strategic action.
Even among militants who share the terrorists’ goals of establishing a strict Islamic state, al Qaeda faces competition. Islamist revolutionaries are divided, and that is a third reason for their relatively small numbers. Al Qaeda’s most effective rivals are local Islamist revolutionaries such as the Afghan Taliban and the Palestinian group Hamas, which shy away from al Qaeda’s global agenda and siphon off its support and recruitment base. The Afghan Taliban and Hamas have specific territorial goals and do not wish to widen the conflict to include Western targets outside their territories.
In addition to revolutionary rivals, al Qaeda faces competition from more liberal Islamic movements. The fourth reason jihadi numbers are low is that the combination of democratic politics and cultural conservatism is far more popular among Muslims than the revolutionaries’ anti-democratic violence. Pro-democracy Islamic organizations strike some observers as stalking horses for revolutionary violence, and in some cases they have been, but they are far more frequently the targets of revolutionary violence. In June 2009, for example, a young man armed with explosives walked into the Jamia Naeemia seminary complex in Lahore, Pakistan, just after midday prayers. He made his way to the office of the director, an Islamic scholar named Sarfraz Naeemi, and then detonated his bomb, killing Naeemi and several others, including himself. Naeemi was targeted for his outspoken opposition to Islamist revolutionaries. Several weeks earlier, he had participated in two large conventions of Pakistani Islamic scholars that condemned the “killing of those having dissenting opinion” as “manifestly against Islam” and complained about the assassination of Islamic scholars. And yet Naeemi was active in an Islamic political party that sought to implement sharia as the law of the land — but through electoral politics, not through revolutionary means. That made him a threat to the revolutionaries.
Anxiety over their unpopularity has divided the revolutionaries. Some have responded by converting to liberalism, while others have turned to ever-more-heinous attempts to purify their societies through violence. They have targeted cafes that the revolutionaries consider decadent, weddings that do not observe the revolutionaries’ rituals, and mosques that do not follow their creed. This escalation is an intentional attempt to “drag the masses into battle,” according to al Qaeda strategist Abu Bakr Naji. “We must make this battle very violent, such that death is a heartbeat away, so that the two groups will realize that entering this battle will frequently lead to death. That will be a powerful motive for the individual to choose to fight in the ranks of the people of truth in order to die well, which is better than dying for falsehood and losing both this world and the next.”
But this strategy has backfired. The more that terrorists target Muslims, the less popular the terrorists become — the fifth reason that their numbers are so low. After terrorists bombed a wedding reception in Amman, Jordanians’ positive attitudes toward al Qaeda plummeted by two-thirds. When terrorists bombed a cafe in Casablanca, Moroccans’ confidence in bin Laden dropped by half. As terrorist campaigns have mounted in Pakistan, public opposition to violence against civilians has more than doubled. It is no surprise that the most popular revolutionary movements in the Middle East today are not Islamist terrorists but the pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring, which offer the stirring narrative of ousting corrupt and oppressive rulers through peaceful protest. Why strap on a suicide vest when demonstrations and sit-ins are proving to be more effective?
THE BAD NEWS, especially for Americans, is this: Islamist terrorists really are out to get you. They cannot be deterred by prison sentences, “enhanced” interrogations, or the prospect of death. They consider the United States to be their mortal enemy, and they would like to kill as many Americans as possible, in as dramatic a way as possible. The more I look at their websites, watch their videos, and read their manifestos and discussion boards, the more I realize just what a brutal and inhumane bunch these people are. It is worth taking them seriously.
But there’s good news, too, that is often overlooked: There aren’t very many Islamist terrorists, and most are incompetent. They fight each other as much as they fight anybody else, and they fight their potential state sponsors most of all. They are outlaws on the run in almost every country in the world, and their bases have been reduced to ever-wilder patches of remote territory, where they have to limit their training activities to avoid satellite surveillance. Every year or two they pull off a sophisticated attack somewhere in the world, on top of the usual daily crop of violence, but the odds of their getting lucky and repeating an operation on the scale of 9/11 are long, given that no other attack in the history of Islamist terrorism has killed more than 400 people and only a dozen attacks have killed more than 200. A terrorist attack with weapons of mass destruction would be devastating — but devilishly difficult to pull off, which probably explains why it hasn’t happened.
There will be more terrorist attacks, and some could be successful in killing hundreds of people, perhaps even thousands. Last year, Faisal Shahzad almost succeeded in an attack of this scale, filling a vehicle with explosives and parking it just off Times Square in New York City. As with the terrorist who drove through campus in Chapel Hill, incompetence saved the day — Shahzad used faulty firecrackers as his detonator. We may not be so lucky in the future. But even if they succeed in killing thousands of us, attacks like these do not threaten our way of life, unless we let them.
Charles Kurzman, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is author of The Missing Martyrs, from which this essay is adapted.
Posted By Stephen M. Walt
Tuesday, September 6, 2011 –
Back in 2009, right after Barack Obama took office, I published the following prediction in the Australian journal American Age:
To be blunt, anyone who expects Obama to produce a dramatic transformation in America’s global position is going to be disappointed. There are three reasons why major foreign policy achievements are unlikely. First, the big issue is still the economy, and Obama is going to focus most of his time and political capital there. Success in this area is critical to the rest of his agenda and to his prospects for re-election in 2012. Second, Obama is a pragmatic centrist and his foreign policy team is made up of mainstream liberal internationalists who believe active US leadership is essential to solving most international problems. Although they will undoubtedly try to reverse the excesses of the Bush administration, this group is unlikely to undertake a fundamental rethinking of the US’s global role. Third, and most important, there are no easy problems on Obama’s foreign policy “to-do” list. Even if he was able to devote his full attention to these issues, it would be difficult to resolve any of them quickly.
I thought of that article and those predictions after two conversations with friends who are both experts in American politics. One is a political scientist and entrepreneur who leans toward the GOP these days, and the other is a political scientist with considerable experience in the Democratic Party establishment. My businessman friend told me bluntly: “Obama is toast. The Republicans could run a scarecrow against him and win.” Interestingly, my Democratic party friend was even more outspoken in condemning the president and his advisors, and bluntly called them “a disaster.” (As for my own forecasts, I think I was basically right, although Obama did not focus as much on economic matters as I expected and put too much time and capital into the health-care fight. And that is why he’s in big trouble now.)
It’s still early in the election season, of course, and the GOP field looks none too strong. But there’s a lot of solid political science research showing that incumbent presidents have a very tough time when the economy is in the doldrums, and it’s hard for me to see how Obama can get things moving again, especially when the GOP leadership has every incentive to thwart his efforts, even if it means keeping Americans out of work for another year or so.
The prospect of a one-term Obama presidency is bound to have important effects on foreign policy too. I’ll bet other countries are already starting to think about the possibility, and starting to factor that into their calculations. The obvious implication is that any governments who have serious differences with the Obama administration are going to dig in their heels even more and hope for better after 2012. It’s possible that some governments who fear a more hard-line U.S. response under the GOP might be tempted to cut deals while they can, but I don’t think that’s very likely because they would also have to wonder if a lame-duck administration could deliver on any deal it made. The absurd length of the U.S. presidential campaign season will compound all these problems, by burning up even more of the president’s time and attention over the next year or so.
This is obviously speculative and should not be overstated. But now, as in 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid.” And the bottom line: Expect even less from U.S. foreign policy in the year ahead. Like I said back in 2009: If you thought this administration would produce a major change in our overall global position, get used to disappointment.
Lilik H.S., Aktivis-cum anggota Klub Feminis-Queer Menulis, Jakarta
Loke matan loro foun to’o iha o knuak
Loke matan loro foun iha ita raim
Hader kaer rasik kuda talin eh
Hader ukun rasik ita rain eh!
PENGGALAN LAGU Timor Leste itu dinyanyikan Hilmar Farid atau kerap disapa Fay, tepat di samping jenazah Ade Rostina Sitompul. Dua kali Fay memberi sambutan, di rumah duka Carolus dan di pemakaman. Sebagai kawan dekat, sekaligus kerap disebut anak, Fay paham benar jejak perjuangan Ade.
Pukul 09.30. Rumah Duka Carolus sudah mulai ramai. Orang-orang tak putus berdatangan hingga siang hari. Tokoh masyarakat, aktivis, korban pelanggaran HAM, aktivis gereja.
‘Seperti reuni,’ ujar seorang kawan.
Ade meninggal pada Jumat, 8 Juli 2011, pada usia 73. Rencananya, Agustus nanti, ia akan meluncurkan buku memoarnya. Hasil wawancara yang disunting oleh Fay dan dan Erlijna dari ISSI.
Ade Rostina Sitompul (1938-2011)
‘Ade bilang, dalam peluncuran bukunya nanti, ia ingin kami menyanyikan lagu We Shall Overcome….’ tutur Tien Djalil, salah satu kawan dekatnya.
Maka siang itu, di depan peti jenasah, serombongan ibu-ibu menyanyikannya dengan syahdu. We Shall Overcome adalah lagu yang kerap dinyanyikan dalam aksi di Amerika Serikat. Didedikasikan untuk Martin Luther King, pejuang kulit hitam Amerika yang tewas dibunuh pada 1968. Lagu ini dipopulerkan oleh Joan Baez, seorang penyanyi balada berwajah tirus asal Mexico.
We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome someday
Oh deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome someday
Dalam peti yang dihias bunga lily berwarna putih, wajah Ade terlihat begitu cantik. Senyumnya terpancar anggun. Mengenakan kebaya putih dan kain tais, kain khas Timor Leste, yang bercorak indah. Kain itu khusus dibawa dari Timor Leste, oleh rombongan Presiden Parlemen Timor Leste, Fernando Lasama de Araujo, yang segera terbang ke Jakarta, begitu mendengar kabar Ade mengalami stroke.
‘Mama pernah berpesan, kalau meninggal ingin memakai kain tais,’ ujar Ezky Suyanto, putri Ade yang duduk menyender di samping jenazah. Sejak dua hari di RSCM, airmatanya terus meleleh. Satu per satu tamu mendekat, menatap lekat-lekat wajah Ade dan memanjatkan doa. Ada yang menyingkap tirainya, sambil berbisik, ‘Selamat jalan ya Bu..’
‘Cantik sekali ya…’ saya bergumam.
‘Iya. Seperti mau berangkat ke Timor Leste….’ ucap Ezky perlahan.
‘Ada sesuatu yang mama katakan di saat terakhir?’
‘Tidak. Cuma saat-saat terakhir itu, memang ibu sering bercerita tentang masa lalu. Bagaimana dulu ketika mengurus anak-anak PRD (Partai Rakyat Demokratik) di penjara, bagaimana diuber-uber tentara di Timor Leste….”
Menjelang siang, Fay mengucap salam perpisahan, mewakili kawan-kawan. ‘Kami semua anaknya, yang kalau dikumpulkan bisa berbaris dari Megaria sampai Gunung Sahari. Anak, itulah yang tepat untuk menggambarkan kami. Ia pada dasarnya seorang ibu, yang kemudian memberi warna bagi penegakan HAM.’
Fay menghampiri Ezky dan merangkul bahunya erat. Airmata keduanya pun tumpah.
Jejak perjuangan dan kebaikan hati Ade terentang dalam kenangan banyak orang. Petrus Haryanto, mantan sekretaris jendral PRD yang pernah mendekam di Cipinang paska peristiwa 27 Juli 1996, mengaku sangat terpukul. Sejak semalam, ia tak berani menyalakan handphone. Tak berani mendengar kabar buruk ini.
‘Waktu menjalani masa persidangan dan ditahan di kepolisian daerah (polda) Jakarta, bu Ade lah yang pertama-tama menengok kami. Membawakan logistik, selimut, baju dan obat-obatan. Waktu itu, tak banyak orang berani membantu kami. Represinya luar biasa. Menjelang sidang, aku sakit. Bu Ade yang pontang-panting carikan dokter. Makanya setelah bebas dia menyebutku tahanan politik (tapol) PRD yang paling manja,“ kenang Petrus, yang bersama-sama saya menunggu pemberangkatan jenazah di depan rumah duka.
Begitu dipindahkan ke penjara Cipinang, barulah Petrus tahu bahwa Ade merawat semua tapol di sana. Dari tapol 1965, Aceh, Papua hingga Timor Leste. Tak hanya supply logistik, bantuan politik pun kerap dilakukan. Ade kerap menjadi kurir untuk surat-surat Xanana Gusmao ke luar tahanan. Sebuah pekerjaan dengan risiko sangat berat. Rumahnya di Kayu Manis, Jakarta Timur pun kerap menjadi tempat persembunyian aktivis, mulai korban 1965, PRD hingga aktivis Timor Leste.
‘Beberapa kali juga Bu Ade membawa surat-surat PRD ke luar penjara. Tidak sering sih, karena sudah ada kurir yang resmi,’ ujar Petrus.
Saya masih ingat, dulu para pengurus PRD di luar penjara, yang ketika itu terpaksa bergerak di bawah tanah, kerap mendapatkan kiriman majalah dari penjara Cipinang. Ada Tempo Interaktif, Forum Keadilan atau semacamnya. Majalah itu tampak biasa saja, tapi kalau diamati, di beberapa bagian tampak menggembung. Itulah surat – surat instruksi yang ditulis dari penjara. Petrus mengetiknya dengan mesin ketik di atas kertas yang sangat tipis, lantas diselipkan dalam dua halaman majalah, kemudian ujungnya direkatkan. Jadilah surat-surat instruksi PRD mengalir ke kantor pusat, untuk kemudian didistribusikan ke masing–masing cabang. Semua dilakukan secara klandestin.
Membawa surat-surat ke luar penjara, terlebih dari tokoh pro kemerdekaan Timor Leste seperti Xanana, tentu bukan aksi remeh. Terlebih rezim militer Soeharto saat itu begitu perkasa. Ade menghadang risiko itu. Tak hanya ketika di Cipinang, namun juga ketika di daerah perbatasan Indonesia-Timor Leste.
Kerja kerasnya tanpa lelah mengurus para tapol, membuat Lembaga Yayasan Pusat Studi HAM (Yapusham) mengganjarnya Yap Thiam Hien Award pada 1995.
Mantan aktivis PRD Dhyta Caturani punya cerita lain. ‘Waktu aku dirawat di RS Carolus, bu Ade lah yang pertama-tama datang, bersama Ezky waktu itu. Ia bawakan celana dalam, sebuah benda yang sangat urgent, tapi gak banyak orang mikir sampai kesana!’
1 Juli 1999, aksi PRD menolak hasil pemilu 1999 di depan kantor Komisi Pemilihan Umum (KPU) berakhir rusuh. Massa dipukul mundur dan ditembaki. Puluhan orang terluka parah. Dhyta, yang saat itu adalah ketua Departemen Hubungan Internasional KPP-PRD yang berada di baris depan terluka parah. Tubuhnya digebuk dan diinjak-injak. Sebutir peluru tajam pun menembus pinggangnya. Lebih sebulan ia dirawat di RS Carolus.
‘Dulu aku ditemani Bu Ade di masa-masa awal dirawat. Sekarang biarlah aku temani dia saat-saat terakhirnya,’ tutur Dhyta. Ia datang ke RSCM Jumat malam begitu mendengar kabar bahwa Ade mengalami koma. Usai menghadiri acara ulang tahun Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI) yang malam itu digelar di Galeri Nasional, mereka beramai-ramai datang ke RSCM.
Malam itu, Dhyta dan kawan-kawan menjadi saksi keteguhan seorang Ade. Dhyta menyaksikan detik-detik ketika alat monitor di High Care Unit tak lagi naik turun, pertanda usainya kehidupan. Dokter telah mencopoti alat bantu yang melekat di tubuh Ade. Seratusan orang, berbagai usia dan kalangan berjubel-jubel memadati ruang depan perawatan. Airmata berhamburan. Kabar meninggalnya Ade dengan cepat tersebar melalui lewat Facebook dan twitter.
‘Dokter sedang bersiap menulis surat kematian, tiba-tiba monitor itu bergerak lagi. Dokter menyatakan, detak jantung bu Ade muncul lagi!’ ujar Dhyta. Ia juga sibuk berkabar kepada kawan-kawan di Timor Leste.
Ade memang petarung sejati. Ia pantang menyerah. Tepat pukul 23.32, tim dokter menyatakan ibunda dua bangsa itu benar-benar telah tiada.
Ade Rostina Sitompul, namanya lekat dalam sejarah demokrasi di Indonesia dan Timor Leste. Perempuan berusia 72 tahun, dengan rambut keperakan yang digelung rapi, selalu berpenampilan cantik dan penuh senyum. Sosoknya mudah dikenali di setiap acara-acara HAM. Kursi roda yang dipakainya beberapa saat ketika ia sakit, tak menghalangi kegigihannya. Penuh senyum dan gesit. Kehadirannya selalu menyemangati. Sosoknya lebih menonjol sebagai ibu bagi semua orang. Ia juga galak, dan tak segan mengingatkan jika kawan-kawan mudanya keliru. Tentu dengan spirit cinta seorang ibu.
‘Gak ada lagi yang seperti beliau ya?’
‘Susah….’ jawab Fay singkat.
‘Apa yang tepat untuk menggambarkan Bu Ade bagi orang-orang Timur Leste?”’
‘Apa ya, Ibu Theresa, semacam itulah….’
Ade lahir di Cibadak, Sukabumi, Jawa Barat pada 12 Desember 1938. Ia bungsu dari tiga bersaudara pasangan Kasianus Sitompul dan Maartje Takapente. Ayahnya berdinas di sebuah perkebunan teh. Menikah dengan Yohanes Suyanto, seorang staf di Angkatan Laut, mereka dikaruniai lima anak. Titik terpenting hidupnya adalah ketika peristiwa 1965 meledak. Abangnya, Johny Sitompul, salah satu pimpinan Persatuan Wartawan Indonesia, ditangkap dan ditahan selama sembilan tahun dengan tuduhan terlibat G30S. Peristiwa G30S adalah sebuah titik paling gelap dalam sejarah Indonesia modern, dimana ratusan ribu bahkan jutaan orang menjadi korban (dibunuh, dipenjara, dan diasingkan ke kamp kerja paksa pulau Buru) kebiadaban tentara dan organisasi-organisasi sipil yang berada di bawah pengaruhnya. Sebagian dari mereka yang dipenjarakan adalah juga teman Ade, seperti Sulami yang mantan Sekretaris II Gerakan Wanita Indonesia (Gerwani) dan Sudjinah, anggota Gerwani dan juga wartawan koran Harian Rakyat. Situasi ini mendorong Ade untuk berkomitmen pada pembelaan dan pelayanan terhadap korban. Ia mengenali penderitaan mereka, yang terdiskriminasi dengan stigma komunis. Rasa kemanusiaannya tergugah. Tahun 1976, ia aktif di Yayasan Hidup Baru (YHB) yang didirikan oleh Jopie Lasut dan Jap Thiam Hien. Lembaga ini concern mengurus korban 1965, hingga meluas ke tapol Timor Leste.
Ketika masa reformasi 1998, Ade ambil bagian penting.
‘Waktu itu, bu Ade yang pontang-panting cari nasi bungkus….’ kata Ria Gembel. Ade yang mengajak Ria untuk bergabung dengan Suara Ibu Peduli, yang memobilisasi ibu-ibu untuk menyumbangkan nasi bungkus bagi mahasiswa dan rakyat yang berdemonstrasi di DPR RI.
‘Saban hari saya dan keluarga mengangkut 100 bungkus nasi untuk dibawa ke gedung DPR.’ Ria juga menyaksikan Ade dengan berani hilir mudik di antara kerumuman tentara. Situasi sangat chaos pada masa-masa menjelang jatuhnya Soeharto. Kemungkinan terburuk bisa saja terjadi setiap saat.
Pasca reformasi, Ade terus terlibat dalam advokasi dan kampanye penuntasan berbagai kasus pelanggaran HAM. Ia turut membidani sejumlah organisasi HAM, antara lain, Kontras, Imparsial, Pokastin, Setara dan lain-lain
Pukul 13.30, jenazah siap diberangkatkan ke TPU Pondok Kelapa. Ada tiga buah ambulans berjejer. Orang-orang yang tak membawa mobil pribadi berjalan menuju bis yang diparkir di pinggir jalan raya Salemba. Saya dan beberapa kawan memilih naik ambulans yang kebetulan masih kosong. Kami duduk berjubel-jubel sambil menggelar koran. Di bagian depan, duduk dokter Ribka Tjiptaning, ketua Komisi IX DPR-RI dan Suster Irene, suster yang sangat dekat dengan semua aktivis. Ambulans mulai bergerak. Kami tepat berada di belakang ambulans milik Yayasan Waluya Sejati, yang membawa peti jenazah Ade.
‘Gak menyangka, begini banyaknya orang antarkan kepergian Ade…’ tutur seorang ibu separuh baya, yang duduk di depan saya. Namanya Stien Djalil, ia mengaku dari Persatuan Gereja Indonesia (PGI). Stien bercerita, Ade pernah berpesan untuk memakai ambulans Yayasan Waluya Sejati jika meninggal nanti. Waktu itu mereka sedang dalam perjalanan ke Bekasi dengan ambulans. Ade nyeletuk, ‘Nanti aku waktu meninggal, pakai mobil ini saja ya….’
Stien mengenal Ade lebih dari 40 tahun. Ia baru saja pulang dari sekolah di Eropa ketika peristiwa 1965 meletus. Seorang adiknya, Alex, yang aktif di Ikatan Pelajar Indonesia (IPI) ditangkap tentara. Alex ditahan bareng Johny Sitompul, kakak Ade. Jadilah Stien dan Ade sering bertemu ketika bezoek di penjara. Mereka lantas akrab. Stien juga turut aktif dalam gerakan pembebasan Timor-Timor.
‘Saya dulu liason officer hubungan gereja dan PBB di Timor Leste, menjelang jajak pendapat. Bersama-sama dengan Ade berangkat ke sana,’ tuturnya.
Stien menjadi saksi keberanian Ade menembus perbatasan RI- Dili, menjadi kurir yang menyampaikan pesan-pesan penting dari penjara.
‘Saya masih ingat betul, saat kami dikejar-kejar milisi hingga ngumpet ke Katedral. Saya sampai sudah di batas ketakutan, sehingga sudah tak takut lagi. Ketegangan yang sungguh luar biasa….’
Stien menggeleng-gelengkan kepalanya. Matanya sedikit berkaca. Ia tak menyangka, telah kehilangan kawan yang dikenalnya selama 40 tahun itu.
Waktu itu kami janjian dengan Ade untuk menghadiri acara di Utan Kayu. Belum sampai sana, saya dengar Ade jatuh dan kakinya patah. Kami langsung ke rumahnya. Lihat dia pake kruk, kami ledek ‘De, habis main bola dimana?’ Stien mencoba tergelak. Mereka ibu-ibu yang terlihat optimis dan semangat.
Ade segera dilarikan ke rumah sakit Cipto Mangunkusumo (RSCM). Dokter merekomendasikan untuk operasi kaki yang rencananya akan dilakukan Jumat, 8 Juli 2011. Kamis malam, Ade tak sadarkan diri.
‘Kamis siang kami ke RSCM, masih bercanda-canda. Dia bilang, doakan saya ya, besok saya operasi. Malah sempat bilang juga, ayo kita jalan-jalan ke Timor Leste. Kalau dulu kita dikejar-kejar milisi, sekarang kita pasti kita disambut seperti tamu agung,’ ujar Stien tertawa menirukan tuturan Ade. Sore pukul 14.30, Stien dan rombongan kawannya pulang. Malamnya, ia kaget bukan kepalang ketika mendengar kabar bahwa Ade mengalami pendarahan di kepala dan tak sadarkan diri.
‘Kami sempat berencana mau buka taman bacaan, playgroup di Utan Kayu. Kami sudah rapat segala macam…’ tutur Stien termangu.
Saya melongok ke luar jendela. Bis, belasan mobil dan puluhan motor berderet mengular. Di kelokan jalan, tampak jelas barisan mobil yang tak putus-tutus saking panjangnya. Hati saya merinding.
Apa makna kehilangan ini bagi kawan-kawan Timor Leste?
‘Sebuah kehilangan besar untuk Timor Leste dan Indonesia. Turut berduka cita sedalam-dalamnya untuk keluarga. Such a great women. We will miss you bu Ade..’ tulis Titi Supardi dalam status Facebook-nya. Titi adalah anggota perkumpulan (Asosasun) HAK, organisasi yang telah berdiri sejak 1996 dan menjadi elemen penting proses perjuangan kemerdekaan Timor Leste.
‘Kawan-kawan di sana berkumpul ketika mendapat kabar bu Ade kritis. Presiden Parlemen Timor Leste, Fernando Lasama de Araujo, yang kebetulan sudah punya agenda kerja ke Indonesia, juga akan sekalian melayat,’ tutur Dhyta, yang rajin berkontak dengan beberapa kawan di Timor Leste.
Timor Leste, ibarat tanah air kedua Ade. Setelah terjadi peristiwa Santa Cruz, 12 November 1991 yang menewaskan hampir 200 orang, beberapa aktivis dari lembaga gereja dan LSM berkoalisi membentuk Joint Committee for East Timorese untuk melakukan penyelidikan dan advokasi peristiwa itu. Bersama Asmara Nababan dan Hendardi, Ade berangkat ke Timor Leste. Mereka menelusuri kesaksian korban di desa-desa. Mendengar cerita-cerita kekejaman luar biasa yang dilakukan milisi dan tentara Indonesia. Hati Ade meradang. Mereka temukan angka 200 orang terbunuh secara sadis, jauh lebih besar dari versi pemerintah Indonesia. Ade juga menyaksikan mereka yang masih hidup, dicekam ketakutan luar biasa. Demi menyelamatkan diri dari kejaran tentara, kalau siang mereka turun ke kota, dan malam kembali ke hutan. Banyak pula di antara mereka yang terserang malaria.
Pewristiwa Santa Cruz itu kian memperteguh keyakinan politik Ade, bahwa Timor Leste harus merdeka. Namun, keterlibatan Ade dalam persoalan Timor Leste sudah dilakukan sejak beberapa tahun sebelumnya. Ceritanya, pada Juni 1980, sejumlah aktivis Perlawanan Timor-Leste (termasuk David Dias Ximenes, sekarang anggota Parlemen Nasional), yang merencanakan dan melakukan penyerangan bersenjata terhadap TNI di Marabia (satu bukit di pinggiran selatan Dili) dan di Becora, ditangkap dan dihukum oleh pengadilan, dipindahkan ke penjara Cipinang, Jakarta pada 1984. Ade memberikan dukungan kepada para narapidana ini dan membantu mereka membangun jaringan bawah tanah antara mereka dengan orang-orang Timor-Leste yang berada di luar penjara di Jakarta (untuk belajar di perguruan tinggi) maupun yang berada di Timor-Leste. Sesungguhnya sejak saat itu Ade telah menjadi bagian integral dari jaringan bawah tanah (Clandestina) Perlawanan Timor-Leste. Ia tak hanya membantu logistik, menjadi penghubung antara para tahanan politik pendukung kemerdekaan Timor Leste dan keluarganya, tapi juga membantu aksi-aksi demonstrasi massa yang dilakukan oleh para aktivis pro-kemerdekaan. ‘Nasionalisme adalah (bagaimana) kita bisa menjaga imej, bukan diri kita saja, tapi bangsa kita, negara kita, rakyat kita. Bukan nasionalisme sempit, yang seolah-olah orang itu, atau bangsa itu adalah musuh kita,’ tandas Ade, dalam sebuah wawancara dengan media beberapa tahun lalu.
Atas komitmen, simpati, dan solidaritasnya pada pembebasan Timor Leste dari kolonialisme Jakarta, Ade diganjar penghargaan dari pemerintah Timor Leste pada September 2009. Perdana Menteri Xanana Gusmao sendiri yang menyematkan penghargaan padanya, bersama Presiden Ramos Horta. Ade menerima penghargaan dengan duduk di kursi roda.
Tepat pukul 14.00, rombongan tiba di Tempat Pemakaman Umum Pondok Kelapa, Jakarta Timur. Komplek makam itu tampak segar. Bunga plastik warna-warni bertengger di atas nisan.
Peti yang tertutup kain tais berwarna kehitaman itu diturunkan dari ambulans. Puluhan karangan bunga digotong. Orang-orang berjalan tertib, menuju tenda yang dipasang di sisi liang lahat. Beberapa lagu perjuangan dinyanyikan. Pendeta mengucapkan sebaris doa indah: ‘Kematian dalam Kritus adalah kebahagiaan. Karena tak ada lagi hal-hal yang menyulitkan…’
Vicky Aria Muda, mewakili keluarga mengucapkan terimakasih sekaligus permintaan maaf atas nama almarhumah. Beberapa kawan kembali memberikan kesan-kesannya. Hendardi dari Setara Institute, Adnan Buyung Nasution, Rusdi Marpaung, Budiman Sudjatmiko bergantian berkisah tentang pejuangan seorang Ade Rostina Sitompul.
‘Bu Ade adalah ibunda kami semua. Saya sedih atas kepergiannya, ini bukan semata kepergian, tapi alangkah susah mencari pengganti. Bagi saya, kehilangan bu Ade adalah hal yang memukul kami. Semua rekan di sini pernah ditolong bu Ade. Pernah dipayungi. Diuluri tangan, ditegur tapi juga pernah diberi semangat bahwa perjuangan masih jauh…’ tutur Budiman, mantan Ketua Umum PRD yang sempat mendekam di Cipinang, dan kini duduk di Komisi III DPR.
Fay, mengalunkan Foho Ramelau¸ sebuah lagu perjuangan Timor Leste yang liriknya ditulis oleh Frascisco Borja da Costa, seorang aktivis Fretilin dan digubah oleh Abilio de Araujo. Foho Ramelau artinya Gunung Ramelau, sebuah gunung tertinggi di Timor Leste, dengan hamparan sawah hijau di bawahnya. Dhyta membantu saya mencarikan informasi lagu itu. Terjemahan liriknya yang sangat indah dikerjakan oleh Nug Katjasungkana dengan bantuan Cmda. Fátima Calçona (seorang aktivis OPMT – sayap perempuan FRETILIN – sejak awal awal hingga sekarang).
Mula-mula suara Fay tampak bertenaga. Bait berikut, ia tak sanggup melanjutkan. Mukanya memerah. Dengan suara tersendat, Fay mencoba melanjutkan hingga usai. Keharuan menusuk-nusuk sore itu.
Pukul 14.30, jenazah dimasukkan ke liang lahat, diiringi nyanyian Di Timur Matahari, lagu perjuangan ciptaan W.R. Supratman, yang dinyanyikan lirih oleh beberapa perempuan. Tanah diuruk. Satu per satu, anggota keluarga silih berganti menaburkan bunga, diikuti kawan-kawan. Karangan bunga diatur berjejer di sekeliling pemakaman. Karangan bunga dari Xanana Gusmao tampak bertengger kukuh di sisi makam. Berderet di sampingnya karangan bunga dari berbagai lembaga HAM, kantor media, maupun pribadi.
Ade Rostina Sitompul, bukan tokoh yang kerap tampil di media dan layar kaca. Sosoknya jauh dari publikasi. Namun kematiannya, yang diantar beratus-ratus orang, hingga ke liang lahat, cukup jelas untuk menggambarkan siapa dirinya.
Kepergiannya adalah duka cita mendalam bagi dua bangsa, Indonesia dan Timor Leste. Ade tak butuh panggung megah untuk mengukir namanya. Setiap aktivis demokrasi, para korban pelanggaran HAM, punya potongan kisah sendiri tentangnya. Jika semua dikumpulkan, hampir dipastikan berhulu ke muara yang sama, tentang gambaran seorang ibu, yang dilimpahi rasa cinta mendalam pada keadilan dan kemanusiaan.
Ada cerita menarik sekaligus memberi teladan. Ketika sakit menderanya, Ade masuk ke RSCM dengan memakai fasilitas surat miskin. Padahal, dengan namanya besarnya, tak mustahil dia akan mudah mendapatkan segala akses.
‘Bu Ade yang membantuku untuk mendapatkan pengobatan terbaik. Bu Ade menelepon orang-orang, mengabarkan Petrus sakit. Begitu juga dia lakukan pada semua orang, tapi dia sendiri masuk rumah sakit dengan surat miskin…” tutur Petrus dengan suara tertahan.
Hari beranjak sore. Usai berpamitan pada keluarga almarhumah, kami beranjak pulang. Melewati makam yang berjejer, saya membayangkan perempuan itu mengenakan tais terbaiknya, tersenyum kepada kami, anak-anaknya, di antara hijaunya pepohonan di Gunung Ramelau.
Hai Gunung Ramelau, Gunung Ramelau hai!
Apa yang lebih tinggi daripada puncakmu
Apa yang lebih besar daripada badanmu!
Mengapa orang Timor (Leste) selalu tunduk?
Mengapa orang Timor (Leste) selalu diperbudak?
Mengapa orang Timor (Leste) selalu patuh?
Mengapa orang Timor (Leste) selalu diperbudak?
Buka mata, matahari baru tiba di desamu
Buka mata, matahari baru di negeri kita
Bangun, tanah sudah memutih!
Bangun, matahari baru sudah terbit!
Bangkit, pegang sendiri tali kekang kudamu
Bangkit, kita sendiri memerintah negeri kita!***
Alec Baldwin’s disappointment, undimmed by success.
by Ian Parker September 8, 2008
Alec Baldwin, who stars in “30 Rock,” the NBC sitcom that has revived his career and done nothing to lift his spirits, has the unbending, straight-armed gait of someone trying to prevent clothes from rubbing against sunburned skin. He is fifty years old, divorced, and lives alone in an old white farmhouse in the Hamptons and an apartment on Central Park West—feeling thwarted, if not quite persecuted. In conversation, he lets out an occasional yelping laugh, but he is often wistful, in a way that is linked to professional and romantic regrets, and to a period of tabloid notoriety last year, when an angry voice mail that he left for his daughter, who was then eleven, became public. He is very conscious of what is lacking in his life—a spouse, for example, and a film career something like Jack Nicholson’s, and the governorship of New York—and his rhetoric can sometimes bring to mind a scene from “30 Rock” in which Baldwin, in his role as Jack Donaghy, a shameless but astute TV executive, stares at an equestrian painting by Stubbs and, in a growled whisper of longing, says, “I wish I were a horse—strong, free, my chestnut haunches glistening in the sun.” According to Lorne Michaels, the executive producer of “Saturday Night Live” and an executive producer of “30 Rock,” Baldwin “guards against enjoyment.” (Michaels is a friend of Baldwin’s and was a model for the Donaghy character.) “I’ll say, ‘Alec, you have one of the best writers in television’ ”—Tina Fey—“ ‘writing this part for you. It’s shot in New York, where you chose to live. You work three days a week, you get paid a lot of money, you’re getting awards. It’s a great time in your life. It’s an all-good thing. And, if you were capable of enjoying it, it would be even better.’ ” Or, as William Baldwin, one of Alec’s three younger brothers, said recently, “There’s always something for him to fucking whine about.”
On a Friday afternoon in April, at the end of a week making “30 Rock,” in a studio in Queens, Baldwin was on a quiet suburban driveway in northern New Jersey, moonlighting on a low-budget independent film being made by friends of his. The production did not have the funds to produce Hollywood bustle: the loudest sounds were birdsong and a distant wood-chipper. Baldwin was wearing hunting gear—a bright-orange vest and camouflage pants—and this disguised him; throughout his career, he has typically been seen in fitted suits that signal a menacing delight in the exercise of power—perhaps most famously in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” which he made when he was thirty-three. (“Third prize is: You’re fired.”) Today, he was playing the owner of a suburban property business, a man in a troubled marriage. When I sat with him, he said, “I’m so fucking tired.” Besides performing in “30 Rock” and in this film, called “Lymelife,” Baldwin had just finished writing a book on divorce and the law—part memoir, part polemic about the legal barriers sometimes put between a divorced parent and his children—which drew on his bruising experience after separating from the actress Kim Basinger, eight years ago. He said that he had been falling asleep at night with a laptop on his chest.
Tiffany Nishimoto, Baldwin’s assistant and producing partner, handed him a phone, and he immediately began speaking into it: “It sounds to me like you want to . . .” Then he stopped and started again: “First of all, hello.” He has a fast, heavily stressed, highly enunciated speaking voice, punctuated by frequent throat clearings—this can give the impression that you’re hearing a warmup rather than the event itself. When he had finished, he asked about other messages. “What else?” he asked. She told him. And then: “What else?”
Turning back to me, he said of the film, which he was helping to produce, “This kind of stuff, it’s so hard”—the tiny budget, the tight schedule, no more than two or three takes. “It’s a domestic drama, and, as you might suppose, I’ve had my fill of that subject. This is the last time, in this movie, I assure you, you’re ever going to see me arguing with a spouse.” For a moment, he imagined life at the center of a big-budget drama, and remembered watching Leonardo DiCaprio at work in the lead role in Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” in which Baldwin had a supporting part. “To be Leo!” he cried out. (Baldwin can be quite earnest, even as he keeps an ironic eye on his earnestness.) “To have a huge role like that! To play the role that is the fizz in the drink, you know what I mean? You are the movie! I wish I could play the lead role in one movie, one great movie.” According to Baldwin, “The Insider” was the most recent “great opportunity” for an actor of his kind. “It was smart, it was relevant, it was topical,” and the part went to Russell Crowe.
He was called to work, and rather stiffly walked a few paces into the house, where he directly began playing a tense family scene with Jill Hennessy, in the role of his wife, and Rory Culkin, as their son. Baldwin then returned to the driveway, to sit near a full-sized stuffed deer that was part of the apparatus of the film. “Maybe one will lead to the other,” he said. “Success begets success. I’ve been offered a lot of movies now that ‘30 Rock’ has been successful.” In that show, Baldwin—carrying two hundred and twenty-five pounds, like an athlete in his sportscaster years—plays the corporate overseer of a fictional TV sketch-comedy show made at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the headquarters of NBC. Donaghy has the calm joy of someone who knows that nothing matters in life but ambition; Baldwin brings deadpan gravitas to a giddy parody of business egomania. (Explaining a tuxedo worn in the office: “It’s after six. What am I, a farmer?”) His performance has been widely recognized: last year, he won a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award, and was nominated for an Emmy. This year, he received the same three nominations: he won the SAG Award, and on September 21st he will learn if he has won an Emmy. Although ratings for “30 Rock” have been modest, the show has been celebrated by critics. To all of this, Baldwin’s response has largely been: Where did everything go wrong? “On a television show, precise acting isn’t the order of the day,” he said to me. “It’s a sitcom. The idea is to hit certain beats, and we do it cleverly. But, you do a television show, you become a pastry chef. I’m a pastry chef now; I’m not the big chef at the big restaurant. I’m not Daniel”—a brief pause, then he jutted out his lips in a way that was familiar from his movies, and almost shouted the next word—“Boulud. You know?” He laughed.
“I always think, What if you just took your hand off the wheel, and slowly, over time, it all went away, and your life became about, you know, ‘Is the mail here yet?’ I always think about that.” But this dream of disengagement quickly gave way: in the space of a few minutes, sitting in weak sun on a New Jersey driveway, smoking a cigarette, Baldwin imagined himself as the restaurant critic of the Times; the proprietor of an inn near Syracuse; and the presenter of a classical-music show on public radio. “I could do that,” he said, and he wasn’t exactly joking. He cares about classical music; he began to take an interest in his twenties. (Perhaps not surprisingly, he adores Mahler and can’t quite see the point of Mozart.) “To sit there in the studio and just say”—a rich radio voice—“ ‘And now Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, with Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.’ Click. Hit a button, and then you sit back and listen, and they pay you for that. And I can’t imagine they pay you as much as the movies, but to me it’s getting to that point where there’s just something else I want to do. I don’t know what it is. I’m tired of being somebody else. I spend the waking hours of my life saying things that other people think and say and do. And behaving as someone else. I’m tired of it. I want to be me! I want to be myself!”
Alec Baldwin once wrote a screenplay for a Western, derived from “The Fastest Gun Alive.” He and his three younger brothers—Daniel, Billy, and Stephen, all of whom have had acting careers in film and television—were to portray a family of unnaturally skilled gunfighters. As Billy Baldwin, who appears in “Dirty Sexy Money,” the ABC drama, recently recalled, “Basically, it was: Daniel’s the outlaw; I’m the riverboat gambler who gets all the pussy, the shallow, good-looking sap; Stephen’s the village idiot; and he’s the fucking hero! He’s the one who saves the day at the end; he’s the Clint Eastwood. If you’re looking for how my brother thinks about his brothers, and how he always felt about his brothers, that’s it. That ’s the movie he wanted to make with his brothers.”
The four Baldwin brothers, and their two sisters, grew up in Massapequa, on the south shore of Long Island, an hour’s train ride out of Penn Station. “It was a checkered neighborhood,” Alec Baldwin said. “The waterfront south of the highway was doctors, lawyers, and then, north of the tracks, very working-class: cops, firemen, tough kids. I definitely wandered between those two worlds.” The Baldwins were not among the wealthy: Baldwin’s father—also Alec—was a high-school teacher of history and social studies, and a football and riflery coach; Carol, his mother, who had worked as a substitute teacher, stayed at home. It was “an Irish-Catholic, rowdy, rambunctious upbringing,” in Billy Baldwin’s phrase. He described Alec as smart and disciplined but noted that “he ran in a crowd that was a little rougher than I did.” He was a good athlete, “but nothing special—I may hurt his feelings saying that.” Alec’s tales of boyhood, delivered with uncannily precise sound effects of the everyday (screen doors, beer cans), sometimes place him in cars and on furiously pedalled bicycles, on his way to settle, with violence, points of teen-age honor. “I had three younger brothers committing me to things,” Baldwin said, laughing. “It was ‘My brother Alec’s going to kick your ass!’
“My father was tough,” Baldwin told me. “No. I want you to know something: My father was tough. My father would chaperone at high-school dances, and the toughest guy in the high school used to want to fight my father. My father broke his hand on a guy’s head once in school. The kid was drunk; it was a big masculine challenge for him to pick a fight with my father. My father wasn’t a violent or mean-spirited person, but he was a very strict disciplinarian in school and he knew that some of these kids only understood one thing. . . . The older I got, I learned to behave as he did, which was to not be afraid of anybody. And I’m not afraid of anybody. Wherever I go, I don’t have a drop of fear in my whole body. Never. Never.”
According to Billy Baldwin, “Alec put my father on a pedestal. He really idolized him.” Alec Baldwin said that he deliberately molded a relationship with his father (who died, of lung cancer, in 1983, when he was fifty-five and Alec was twenty-five), in a way that the others, who were younger, did not: “If you wanted to communicate with my father, you had to share his view of politics and culture. He was very well read, a very bright guy; you had to watch Cronkite, and ‘How Green Was My Valley,’ and after that five other Donald Crisp movies.” His brothers “didn’t meet him halfway. They’d go out the front door and play Wiffle ball.” Baldwin speaks fondly of his siblings, despite the potential sources of friction. (Daniel Baldwin—“Homicide: Life on the Street,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Celebrity Fit Club,” “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew”—has had long-term problems with drugs; Stephen Baldwin, now a born-again Christian, has come to hold some conservative views, whereas Alec Baldwin is an active, highly informed Democrat and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.) Nevertheless, for all his affection, he also calls them “very different people.” If a generation gap opened up when they were children, it expanded in adulthood, when the younger brothers—gate-crashing Stooges—joined him in the profession for which he had trained. “My brother Stephen, for example—this is not meant as a judgment on him, or to malign him—but, like a lot of young actors, they don’t have a lot of training,” Baldwin said. (In recent summers, Baldwin has given a weeklong acting class in East Hampton, where he urges students to “muscularize” their lines, or genially condemns their torpid delivery: “I wanted a meteor to come out of the sky and crush this whole building.”) Billy Baldwin told me, “I think he thinks we felt, ‘If that idiot can do it, I’ll give it a shot.’ And on some level that’s sort of true.”
Alec Baldwin began at George Washington University in 1976, with the idea of going into law and becoming President of the United States. At the end of his junior year, he split up with a girlfriend and lost a student-body election. Feeling underappreciated, he transferred to N.Y.U. and began studying at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. Baldwin did not graduate at that time (many years later, he did). He was lean and intense, and had chest hair in which one could lose a telephone, and within a year he was in the New York-based daytime soap opera “The Doctors.” In 1983, he moved to Los Angeles and was soon offered a role in “Knots Landing,” the hit spinoff of “Dallas,” on CBS. His father died around this time. Billy Baldwin tentatively connects that blow—along with later career and relationship difficulties—to a general darkening of Baldwin’s mood, and an occasional habit of “grenade launching.” Alec Baldwin does not regard himself as unusually volatile—one wonders if his verbal facility has sometimes stood in the path of introspection—but he acknowledges that he used to have a sunnier self. His memory is that it survived until the end of the decade: “Pre-1990, I was just candy canes and lollipops and ice-cream cones and unicorns; I was happy-go-lucky!” (This timing is challenged by an interview that he gave in 1990, when, looking back at recent years, he said, “I was Mr. Telephone Thrower” and “My whole life was agony.”)
“Forever Lulu,” Baldwin’s first film, in 1987, was bad. But within a couple of years he had played six memorable supporting roles in six better-than-average movies—“She’s Having a Baby,” “Beetlejuice,” “Married to the Mob,” “Working Girl,” “Talk Radio,” and “Great Balls of Fire!”—with some beguiling note of severity, even cruelty, in each. Baldwin had a precise, self-contained style: his performances suggested that although he might accept an audience’s attention, he cared little for its approval. Even in “Beetlejuice,” some inner killjoy seemed to pull against the innocent, newlywed scampering required of Baldwin’s character. This was the last time a director asked Baldwin to play a blameless square—a Darrin Stephens—and one can survey Baldwin’s twenty-odd-year film career without finding a fully persuasive rendering of happiness. One has to be satisfied with flared nostrils and a dangerous flash of teeth.
In 1990, in a big step up, Baldwin played Jack Ryan in “The Hunt for Red October,” the submarine thriller. The film eventually made two hundred million dollars. That success brought Baldwin the first of many invitations to guest-host “Saturday Night Live”—so launching an admired secondary career as a mimic, and a parodist of such alpha males as Robert De Niro. (For many years, this skill was quite segregated from his day job as an alpha male.) In Hollywood, the success of “Red October” earned him “an all-access pass that lasts for five years,” Baldwin recently said. “You have to capitalize. And, if the movies you make don’t make money in that period, your pass expires.” In Baldwin’s estimation, it did expire. First, “Patriot Games,” the sequel to “Red October,” slipped away from him—he had a conflicting offer to play Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway, and, as Billy Baldwin described the negotiations, “to a certain extent, he played chicken.” Alec Baldwin’s view is that he wasn’t reckless; rather, the sequel’s producers already had their eyes on another actor. Either way, in both “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger,” Jack Ryan was played by Harrison Ford. (In the Times, Frank Rich described Baldwin’s Stanley, in “Streetcar,” as “the first I’ve seen that doesn’t leave one longing for Mr. Brando.”)
Then began a period where, in Baldwin’s description, “I ignored all of my instincts and started to do what other people suggested I do, but I knew it was wrong.” Baldwin is perhaps too easily seduced by a narrative of grand failure, rather than accepting a quieter story of qualified success; but by his account—one that hurries past some fine performances—almost everything he did in film from that point on was, at best, dissatisfying. A year after “Red October,” Baldwin made “The Marrying Man,” and started a romance with Basinger, his co-star. The film was a commercial and critical disaster. Baldwin said, “After that, I did ‘Glengarry Glen Ross,’ where I only had a very small role, regardless of how appreciative people are of it. Then I did ‘Prelude to a Kiss’ ”—based on a very successful theatrical production, in which Baldwin starred—“and that was a bomb. In 1992, I did ‘Malice,’ with Nicole Kidman. And that movie was a very cookie-cutter thriller. It did pretty well. In ’93, I did the remake of ‘The Getaway,’ with my wife. That was a bomb. I did ‘The Shadow.’ That was a bomb. In ’94, I did ‘Heaven’s Prisoners.’ That was a bomb. In ’95, I did ‘The Juror.’ That was a bomb. In ’96, I did ‘The Edge’ and ‘Ghosts of Mississippi.’ And that’s when you hear the sound of the wheels of the train screeching to a halt. ‘The Edge’ and ‘Ghosts of Mississippi’ were my last shots at the arcade, so to speak. Both movies were out in ’97. They bombed.” (“L.A. Confidential,” starring Basinger, was released the same year; she won an Oscar. Not long afterward, the couple provided voices for cartoons of themselves on “The Simpsons.” Basinger was shown ostentatiously polishing her statuette. “Honey, why don’t you give that thing a rest? You’re taking the finish off,” Baldwin says. “When you win one, you can take care of it however you want,” she replies.)
“Do you want to know the truth?” Baldwin said to me not long ago. “I don’t think I really have a talent for movie acting. I’m not bad at it, but I don’t think I really have a talent for it.” He described the film actor’s need to project strength and weakness simultaneously. “Nicholson’s my idol this way. Pacino. There’s a mix you have to have where the character is vulnerable, the character is up against it, but there’s still a glimmer of resourcefulness in his eye—you look at him and the character is telegraphing to you this is not going to last very long. ‘I’m down’—Randle McMurphy, Serpico, whatever it is—‘but it’s not going to last, I’m still going to figure my way out of this.’ ” In contrast, he referred to Orson Welles. “Welles was a powerful actor, but he wasn’t always a great actor,” Baldwin said, with, perhaps, a faint nod to his own career. “Even when Welles was lost, he was arrogant.”
In the late nineties, Baldwin began to take leading roles in smaller films, and (at last) in comic films—most notably in “State and Main,” directed and written by David Mamet—as well as more modest roles in big studio productions. For a movie star just turned forty, he was prematurely willing to take a generational leap; in “Outside Providence,” in 1999, Baldwin played the father of a teen-age boy. (Long before he was fifty, Baldwin had become independent cinema’s first choice for divorced father, tough patriarch, creepy boss.) As Baldwin sees it, if his career had now moved past the stage of leading man, that was in part because he had become a father himself. Ireland, his daughter, was born in 1995, two years after Baldwin and Basinger were married, on an East Hampton beach. “I just became—you know I’m not saying this to sound like a good guy—I just was obsessed with being with my daughter, and trying to parent my daughter. I always wanted children. And I think, in hindsight, I probably made a mistake, in the sense of my career.” He compared himself with his brother Billy. “My life, in some ways, has been a half-measure. I didn’t commit myself all the way to my marriage and family, because I would have given up more. And I didn’t go all the way with just being completely selfish. I always wonder where my career would be if I was more selfish. Billy is someone who gave it all up for his family. And he has a lovely family. He’s happily married. He stayed married to one person. . . . ”
I recently asked Marci Klein, one of Baldwin’s closest friends, if she had tried to discourage Baldwin from writing the book about his legal battle with Kim Basinger. “Oh, yes,” she said. Klein is a senior producer on “Saturday Night Live” and an executive producer on “30 Rock”; she has known Baldwin since he was first on “S.N.L.” She told me, “I said, ‘Do not write this book. Nobody cares. Nobody wants to hear about your divorce anymore.’ ” She laughed. “He goes, ‘You bitch!’ I go, ‘You loser!’ We work well together.”
Baldwin and Klein—who is forty-one and married, with young children—chaperone each other to award shows or sit at home and order takeout. “He’s happiest eating Lupe’s Mexican food and watching a movie,” Klein said. “I like to ask him, ‘Who fucked you up? Which girl in sixth grade?’ ” Baldwin often jokes about how they should have married. “But we’re friends,” she said. “And also I feel like I’m his mother, even though I’m a lot younger than him. I feel like I take care of him.” She added, “Marriage is very important to him. He didn’t want to get divorced. He wanted to make it work. He was very committed. With men, it’s not the first thing—‘I want to get married, I want to have kids’—but Alec is a different kind of guy. And therefore having it not work, for whatever reasons, was very difficult for him.”
When I first spoke to Baldwin, one afternoon in the bar of a midtown hotel, we barely moved from the subject of his marriage and divorce for two hours. He drank coffee—he hasn’t had alcohol since the nineteen-eighties—while a harpist played in the corner of the room. “I loved her,” he said at one point. “I loved her. I loved her the way I loved my father. I loved her the way I loved my mother. I loved her the way I loved people I cared about on the deepest level.”
In 2000, Baldwin and Basinger spent the year in a rented house in Bridgehampton. (They had bought a house in Amagansett, nearby, but it was being renovated.) Their daughter went to school locally. But, as Baldwin put it, “some people, no matter what you say, you can’t get them to come into the water.” That is, Basinger wanted a cloistered life, as he saw it, whereas he wanted to be out in the world. (Billy Baldwin, talking more bluntly of what he saw as Basinger’s difficult behavior, said, “Alec’s friends, family members, people in Hollywood had been asking, basically, ‘Should we do an intervention?’ ”—to extract him from the relationship. “I wish he’d figured it out after three or four years, not ten.”) Alec Baldwin’s final dispute with Basinger, as he recalls it, was about Ireland’s repeatedly catching colds at the end of that year. Baldwin saw this as normal, and good for a child’s immune system; Basinger saw a Long Island winter making her daughter sick. In December, the couple broke up, and Basinger took Ireland back to L.A., where they also had a place. (Basinger, through a representative, declined to comment for this article.)
In 2002, after a period of improvised custody-sharing, Basinger and Baldwin entered litigation—Basinger now equipped with a lawyer whose name evokes, in Baldwin, a desire to find an insult that outperforms all earlier insults he has thrown at the man. In various venues and, eventually, in open court, the parties argued about Baldwin’s access to his daughter. Baldwin has many complaints about the family-law system, and some record of this is in “A Promise to Ourselves,” his forthcoming book, but his primary focus is what he regards as a simple injustice: he hoped to have a reasonable share of his daughter’s time, and his ex-wife and her representatives were able to thwart him, in various ways, for years, in part by reference to behavior traits—or failings—that had not disbarred him from fatherhood when he was married. (So, for example, in 2002 Baldwin agreed to attend a course of twelve anger-management sessions. At the time, he was shooting “Second Nature,” in London. He remembers standing on the street after the last session “and just sobbing that they had put this enormous obstacle in my way and I had succeeded.”) When I asked Baldwin if he could have made the process smoother or quicker, he bristled: “That’s where the thing gets twisted around to where the persistence of the father to want to have enforcement of his parental rights is viewed as abusive and aggressive—pathological behavior. ‘All of our problems would go away if you would just back off. Why can’t you just back off? You’ll see the kid when I tell you that you can see the kid.’ ”
Some mental-health professionals employ the term Parental Alienation Syndrome to describe a condition in children damaged by one parent’s propaganda about the other. (It’s not formally recognized as a psychiatric disorder.) But “parental alienation” is also used in a looser, less clinical way—as Baldwin uses it—to refer to the mere daily flow of parental undermining. “Parental alienation is about people who narcissistically project their whole reality onto a child: ‘I don’t need you, so the child doesn’t need you,’ ” he said. “And what you ultimately realize is the clock that they’ve been running out is childhood itself. The kid goes from five to six to eight. Kids have school, they have friends; the next thing—my daughter is twelve. They have no use for either of their parents when they’re twelve. And you’ve missed everything. You’ve gotten only these little time-lapse things. The goal of the alienating parent is to kill contiguous time. People need reliability. They need regularity. And I’ve been a victim of a campaign to kill all that. You wind up being more an uncle than a father.” Sometimes, in order to have lunch with Ireland, Baldwin flew to California in the morning and flew back overnight, to be at a rehearsal the next day.
Baldwin did keep working after the breakup: in 2001, he directed his first film, a remake of “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” although the backers of the film were, at best, out of their depth; the financing collapsed, the film was never properly finished, the F.B.I. became involved, and, by the time it appeared, six years later—as “Shortcut to Happiness”—Baldwin had removed his name as director. In 2004, he was unexpectedly nominated for an Oscar for his role as a casino boss in “The Cooler.” He was in “Twentieth Century” on Broadway, with Anne Heche. He had parts in “The Aviator,” “The Departed,” and “The Good Shepherd.” But he says that he was distracted, in his professional life, by the struggle over his daughter. “Think I’m walking stiffly?” Baldwin asked me not long ago. “Yeah, there’s a hundred-and-twenty-pound actress on my back.”
“I used to be so upset,” he said. “I used to be consumed. It ate me alive.” When, in the spring of 2006, he began to discuss taking a part in a new sitcom, it was in a spirit close to defeat. “I kind of needed a harbor to duck into awhile,” he said. “I was so beaten down. They came to me and said did I want to do a TV show. I never wanted to do a TV show. Never.”
“30 Rock” is filmed at Silvercup Studios, in Long Island City. One afternoon near the end of the show’s second season, Baldwin, energized by coffee, was in a social mood. When a cry of “Rolling! Rolling!”—designed to hush the stage and bring absent actors to their positions—interrupted a story that he was telling, he announced, “No, we’re not,” and then he got to his punch line, which required an impression of Rob Reiner, the film director. (The writers mine Baldwin’s off-duty mimicry for their scripts; in a virtuosic scene last year, for instance, during a role-playing therapy session with Tracy Jordan, the troubled comedian played by Tracy Morgan, Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy drew five characters out of the air—three African-American accents, one Hispanic, one Wasp—in little more than a minute.)
That afternoon, Baldwin and his colleagues worked on an episode revolving around a John McCain fund-raiser arranged by “the Committee to Re-Invade Vietnam.” Baldwin’s manner on the set was proprietorial: “Can we do that without the tubercular cough in the background?” Or, after an error, “Fuck, shit—I’m going to say it again. No, I’m going to do something else.”
At the dimly lit edge of the studio, Don Scardino, the episode’s director, told Baldwin that he should have more children. “I had my boy when I was fifty,” Scardino said.
“My hero,” Baldwin replied, with a sigh. A moment or two later, Tina Fey carried her two-year-old daughter, in a pink jacket, through the studio.
In late 2004, when Fey—then the head writer for “Saturday Night Live”—began to devise “30 Rock,” it was in the hope, but not the expectation, that Baldwin would play the boss of Fey’s character, Liz Lemon, who is the head writer for a show something like “Saturday Night Live.” As Lorne Michaels said recently, “We were looking for a foil for Tina’s character—someone who was right just often enough to be infuriating.” Baldwin was wary. It was a sitcom, and he had played Macbeth and Stanley Kowalski on the New York stage. His mind turned to the example of Conrad Bain, the actor with a fine theatrical background who came to be Philip Drummond, the white father of two adopted African-American boys, on “Diff’rent Strokes.” Embroidering on this thought, Baldwin imagined an actor who signs up for the quick money of a sitcom pilot quite confident that the show will never be commissioned: “The agent’s saying, ‘Don’t worry, it’s the biggest piece of shit in the history of show business.’ Cut to six years later: you’re in your dressing room, you’re in season five, and on the wall are posters of you from the New York Shakespeare Festival—these achingly beautiful posters on the wall. By that point, you’re making a hundred and seventy-five thousand a week, you’ve got a house in East Hampton, you’re getting laid constantly, you’ve got closets of beautiful Italian suits, and you’ve got three cars in the garage and you’re paying alimony to your ex-wife who’s living down in Florida. And you’re doing the same jokes, again and again and again.”
Baldwin, who admires Fey—“She’s so bright you’re always wondering if you’re boring her,” he says—agreed to be in the pilot, but on the understanding that, if the show worked out, he would appear in no more than six episodes a season, for six seasons. The pilot was made. NBC saw it, and offered to take the show only if Baldwin was in all twenty-one episodes of the first season. It was a fair judgment: Baldwin’s Donaghy—too smart and too perverse to be a standard business blowhard—was an obvious asset. Although originally conceived as a bullying antagonist to Liz Lemon, by the time of the pilot the character had already begun to expand into a fellow-protagonist, a cynic who guides a neurotic. Unpunished for saying aloud what he should not even be thinking (“Don’t ever make me talk to a woman that old again”), Donaghy became a kind of mentor to the writers and performers under him. In Baldwin’s mind, “Jack Donaghy is Lorne, first and foremost. ‘What am I, a farmer?’ That is Lorne. I think he said that. Lorne’s got a tuxedo in the glove compartment of his car. Lorne is a big-ticket A-list New York water buffalo. He’s big on the Serengeti. Lorne is a person who seduces you into thinking that if you take his advice and play your cards right you’re going to end up with his life.”
Some actors might have taken NBC’s avidity as a compliment. “I said, ‘Go fuck yourself,’ ” Baldwin remembered. “I saw it as network scumbags trying to fuck you around. Zucker, I like”—Jeff Zucker, now the president and C.E.O. of NBC Universal, was then running NBC television—“but everybody who works for Zucker I have reservations about.” He added, “If the show does succeed, it’ll be something of a fucking miracle, because NBC hasn’t done a fucking thing to help this show at all. This show is the red-headed stepchild in the lineup. They’ve gone out of their way to wring the last drops out of ‘My Name Is Earl’ and ‘Scrubs.’ Those shows are done! They’re cooked! Yet they do a one-hour episode of ‘Earl’! You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” (Jeff Zucker told me, “Alec brings to ‘30 Rock’ a level of comedic excellence that is unparalleled in network television.”)
Marci Klein gave herself the task of persuading Baldwin to sign up for every episode of “30 Rock,” and, by implication, to have him acknowledge the possibility that, thanks in part to some mixture of charm and unyieldingness in his personality, his career might reach one of its peaks in a role that might take no more effort than telling a story over dinner. “I tried to explain to him, ‘You’re going to win every award.’ I knew it. I saw it. ‘Everything you are is coming out in that part.’ . . . We kept meeting. We’d go for drives. I got down on my knees.” In the end, Baldwin offered NBC twelve episodes, and the network accepted; he went on to do all twenty-one. “Even now, he has no idea how people worship him on ‘30 Rock,’ ” Klein said. “It’s really the saddest thing.”
That day at Silvercup Studios, the cast and crew ate tacos at long communal tables. Baldwin, sitting next to Klein, said, “I still want to do the episode of ‘30 Rock’ where we make fun of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’—where everyone on our show talks about something important for thirty seconds and then goes in a room and fucks each other.”
“That sounds like a sketch you should be doing,” Klein said, referring to “Saturday Night Live.” She had been pressing him to host again. He has hosted the show thirteen times. At fourteen, he would draw level with Steve Martin, the record holder. “Nobody does the show better than Alec,” Klein said to me. “Nobody.” Baldwin said there was no time. They argued back and forth.
“Seriously,” Klein said.
“It’s my daughter’s spring break! It’s my only vacation! With my daughter! It’s my daughter’s spring break!”
“She’ll have fun!”
Baldwin’s resolve was slipping. He said to his assistant, “Do me a favor, give me the phone. I’m going to call Ireland. I’m going to see what she says. The not-so-little Ireland. Five feet ten. Five feet ten!”
Baldwin has rather courtly manners. He told me, “Once, I almost choked to death on a piece of broccoli at Orso”—a restaurant in midtown. “So loath was I to inconvenience everybody else that I ran down the stairs to the men’s room, so they wouldn’t have to see me choke to death. So I wouldn’t disturb their conversation. Literally.”
But there have also been moments of public anger: in the early eighties, Baldwin tussled with a man who pushed his girlfriend on the street; a decade later, he was arrested after attacking a press photographer the day that he and Basinger brought Ireland home from the hospital. In 2006, during a run of Joe Orton’s “Entertaining Mr. Sloane,” at the Roundabout Theatre, Baldwin, annoyed that the theatre hadn’t fixed its air-conditioning—onstage, his glasses kept slipping off his nose—punched a backstage wall, upsetting Jan Maxwell, a fellow-performer. In an e-mail to a friend, which later reached the Post, she wrote, “My bottom line was my physical safety, mental health, and artistic integrity.” She left the production. Baldwin said recently, “I thought, This woman’s working for my ex-wife’s divorce lawyer! Physically threatened? You were in a room that was fifty feet away! I never had any interaction with this woman offstage whatsoever, other than saying, ‘How are you?’ ” (Scott Ellis, the play’s director, speaks supportively of Baldwin, who has become a friend. “I found two different actors. One was very giving and willing to adapt and collaborate. Jan was not that,” he said.)
Then, in April of last year—not long after he finished shooting the first season of “30 Rock”—Baldwin left a voice mail on his daughter’s cell phone. “I am tired of playing this game with you,” he said, and his voice rose to a shout. “I’m leaving this message with you to tell you that you have insulted me for the last time.” She had made him “feel like shit,” he said, adding, “You’ve made me feel like a fool over and over and over again.” He referred to Basinger as a “thoughtless pain in the ass” and to Ireland as a “rude, thoughtless little pig.”
Baldwin had spent a week with Ireland in February, and another week in March. But, in the days leading up to the voice mail, he had not been able to reach her on the phone, despite an arrangement decided in court: four scheduled calls a week. He told me, “One thing people don’t understand: I had lived my life for years a certain way. That is, always having a seat on the aisle when I go to the theatre, because I had to make my court-appointed phone call at a certain time. I mean, the hoops that I jumped through. So, once again: I was in a restaurant having dinner with my friends”—at Shun Lee, near Lincoln Center—“and I’m watching the clock and I get up and I can’t get a signal, and I walk out into the street and, once again, for the tenth day, there’s not even a ring—it goes right to voice mail. It’s not even turned on, and I freak out—it was wrong, I’m sorry I did that—I freak out.”
One evening a week later, the message was posted at TMZ.com, an online celebrity-gossip site. (Baldwin is sure that Basinger was responsible for the leak; she has denied it.) The next morning, it was a news story. Not long after that, near the subway station at Seventy-second Street and Broadway, a woman shouted at Baldwin, “Why don’t you call your fucking daughter, you fucking asshole?”
“When the tape came out, I wanted to die,” Baldwin said. “I wanted to die, literally. I didn’t want to live anymore. Every night, I’d say my prayers”—Baldwin is still a churchgoer—“and I’d say, ‘Please don’t let me wake up in the morning. I don’t want to do this anymore.’ ”
Baldwin said, “I had friends, a handful of people, of whom my sister Beth and my brother Stephen were the primary ones: real friends can hear you say the same thing over and over again every day for a year. The same thing, sobbing on the phone, saying, ‘How did this happen? How did I get this way?’ I only wanted to have a healthy relationship, a meaningful relationship, with my child.”
Billy Baldwin said that, on first hearing the voice mail, “I was heartbroken for him and his daughter,” but he also wondered if “there might be a silver lining, and he would be forced to say, ‘I really should look at this.’ Surrender. Just like A.A. The first step is admitting that you have a problem.” He was encouraged that, a year later, “he’s back into his relationship with Ireland. They’re spending a lot of time together.” This spring, for example, Ireland was in New York for her father’s surprise fiftieth-birthday party. And the public scorn had begun to disperse. “As someone pointed out to me, the garbage barge of someone else’s problem comes into the harbor right after yours,” Alec Baldwin said. “There’s a new shipment coming in every month.”
On a cool rainy day in June, the parking lot in the center of East Hampton was no more than half full, but Baldwin drove around it slowly, as if not seeing the many available spaces, and then drove around again, and stopped only when he saw someone he vaguely knew—a youngish woman with a large umbrella. “You’re a vision with your umbrella,” he called out through the window, in a neighborly way. (In public places, Baldwin’s broody gaze seems to be drawn about equally to women and to young children.)
“In East Hampton, I’m a nudist and I eat meat,” Baldwin—a vegetarian—had said before my visit, expanding on the idea that he lived a quite different life on Long Island than he did in New York. “I shoot deer with a bow and arrow. I smoke the deer meat and eat it every morning with my eggs and toast. I am a homosexual. I listen to rock music, loud.” We had met at his house. Baldwin was wearing sandals; his shirt was untucked. There was nobody else at home. (He recently broke up with a long-term girlfriend, an attorney in New York; then they got back together again, and then broke up again.) He gave me a brief tour of the house, which ended in a very large basement TV room, with pea-green walls, designed to please his daughter and her friends. Baldwin put on a DVD of “Strangers on a Train,” and offered a running commentary: “Watch those boats glide in—directors now would be cutting, cutting.” We watched up to the moment of the murder—the murder of a good man’s unkind wife. Later, Baldwin recalled an afternoon in a hilly part of Los Angeles, after he first separated from Basinger but when they were still in contact. Together, they looked at a house for Baldwin to rent. Baldwin walked a little way down a path until he found himself, to his surprise, looking down a sheer cliff. “You’ve got to come over here and see this!” he called back to Basinger. As he told me, “She moved forward, her body moved forward, but”—he mimed a little shake of the head, a glance at a watch—“she said, ‘No, no, come back, we’ve got to go. We’re late.’ And then I thought, She thinks I’m going to throw her off this cliff!”
We took a drive of disappointment through East Hampton. Baldwin talked of stores that had closed down, the car mechanic who abandoned him, the houses he should have bought but did not: “I almost bought that house right there.” And later: “I cried, I wanted that house so badly.” We drove near the beach. “You see the caps of those waves? They look clean—a little bit of a minty crisp green when they roll. I swim every day when I’m here. It cures anything that’s wrong with you, physically and mentally.”
He bought a coffee at Starbucks, where a young woman said something nice about “30 Rock.” “I do feel I’m entering that Clinton phase,” he said after we left. “I’m fifty. There are women who’ll go up to a young movie star and they’ll look at him, like, ‘There are certain things I really want to do with you, and it’s pretty plain to anyone why I’d want to do them with you.’ And then there are people who look at me now, at my age, and they’ll look at me and the look is ‘I can’t explain why, because it’s kind of strange . . .’ It confounds and perplexes even them. ‘In spite of the fact that you don’t look like a young leading man anymore, I’d quite like to throw you down on this blanket right now.’ A bit of that.”
We drove to the East Hampton Marina. “We’re going to be so happy,” Baldwin said. “We are going to be so fucking happy.” For the first time since the previous summer, he was going out on the water. Geoffrey Briggs, the yard’s owner, looked doubtful—“You remember how to work it?”—while Baldwin made a fuss over a small dog: “Chopper! My Choppy! Grrrr!” A few minutes later, we were in Three Mile Harbor, in Baldwin’s sleek speedboat, which has white leather seats and pale-brown trim. He explained that the boat, at twenty-five feet, was as long as it could be while still providing the initial pop of speed that would allow a man weighing more than two hundred pounds to water-ski. “This is why we do sitcoms in Queens!” he said, as he accelerated to fifty-five miles per hour.
The clouds were low and threatening, but the water was calm. He headed toward Shelter Island, making fast, sweeping turns. “It’s the only time in my life I can relax,” Baldwin said. “The most relaxing places for me—and I want to swallow my own vomit when I say this, it sounds so phony—the most relaxing places for me are onstage doing a play and on this boat. When I get onstage in a play, I feel very safe, very protected, very fulfilled. I go out there, I can’t tell you how happy I am: ‘We have a chance of something.’ With movies I always think to myself, We don’t have a chance.”
He pulled on the throttle, which became part of his rhetorical equipment: he slowed for reflective thought, then sped up again. He recalled a day, a few years ago, when he was driving through L.A., saw a car run a red light, smash into another car, and keep moving. Baldwin gave chase and, eventually, blocked the culprit in a cul-de-sac. Before the police arrived, the driver got out of his car—“Typical drug-addict, alcoholic, fuckhead look on his face. He was, ‘O.K., what? What? You’re chasing me. What?’ This nineteen-year-old kid, his eyes blazing. I’m thinking, I’m going to come over there and knock your teeth down your fucking throat just because you’re asking me ‘What?’ You know what, you little fuck? I saw you. I’m a pretty liberal person, but my liberalness comes from what the government should be doing with its excess of wealth. That doesn’t mean I’m not a law-and-order person. I’m the kind of person—you catch the kid who’s drunk and high and he almost killed a girl, let’s take him in and beat the shit out of him for a couple of hours. Then he’ll learn.” He laughed. “I believe that!”
He talked about Presidential politics, and an idea for a second book—about “the social and political and legal fabric of male and female sexuality”—and his hope that Anne Heche would play his girlfriend in the third season of “30 Rock.” We became slightly lost, and quite cold. We nearly ran aground. Baldwin’s spirits remained high; or, at least, his determination to be high-spirited remained strong. “I’m so glad we did this,” he said. “I’m so glad.” At one moment, he let out, as if for the first time ever, a cautious whoop of pleasure.
An hour or so later, he was driving his handsome Mercedes back into East Hampton, for a late lunch. He called his assistant.
“You told him no dice to the event, correct? What else? Saying what?” Pause. “What else? Which is when? What’s on the calendar now? Right? And her event is what? Whenever you see an invitation that says ‘What could be more magical than an evening under the stars in the Hamptons?’ you press delete. What’s going on with my voice-over for Major League Baseball? What’s their deadline? What else?” He banged the steering wheel. “What? Speak more clearly, I can’t hear you. He said what? Satellite broadcast goes where? I’ll look at that. What else? O.K. Take a deep breath. I don’t know what you’re talking about. What does their letter say? O.K. What else? O.K. What else? O.K. What else?” ♦