When I saw last week that The New York Times had published an op-ed by Muammar el-Qaddafi, leader of Libya, it got me thinking. I've been submitting opinion pieces to the Times for years without success. I've sent in punchy, timely essays on sexual harassment, cosmetic surgery, women and religion, and too many others to mention for fear of embarrassing myself.
Most of the pieces went on to be published elsewhere in respectable newspapers and websites. But from the venerable paper of record, if I've been lucky to get any response at all, it has been this: "Dear Ms. Tanenbaum, Many thanks, but I'm afraid that I'm not going to be able to get your essay in the paper. Thank you, though, for thinking of Op-Ed." You're welcome, and thank you for spelling my name correctly.
I've consoled myself with the knowledge that aside from a few high-profile academics and a sprinkling of humor writers, nearly all the contributors to the op-ed page are big-name boys in government and world affairs. If my name never appears on the page, that's the price I pay for choosing to live a life in which I research and write for a few hours each day, then go pick up the kids at 4:30. Even Senator John McCain couldn't get his opinion piece -- a response to one published by Barack Obama, on his plan for Iraq -- in the paper last summer.
So back to Qadaffi. Yes, I know that in 2006 the United States restored diplomatic relations with Libya, and I know that Qadaffi has denounced al-Qaeda and destroyed his country's weapons of mass destruction. Still, I was shocked that the leader who allows his people no basic civil liberties, who was a major backer of the Munich Massacre during the 1972 Summer Olympics, who was responsible for the 1986 Berlin disco bombing, and who during the 1990s refused to allow the extradition to the U.S. or Britain of two Libyans accused of bombing Pan Am 103, could get his byline in the Times.
My strategy isn't working; Qadaffi's is. It seems that I have to work my way up to dictator, finance some terrorism, become shunned by the entire Western world, and then say that I'm sorry and I won't blow up innocent people again. Or maybe any major sin, followed up with a mea culpa, would do the trick. Perhaps in a few years we will see op-eds penned by Rod Blagojevich, Bernard Madoff, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
On second thought, I can handle the rejections. Thank you, New York Times op-ed page, for helping me put this matter in perspective.