Earlier this week, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the former al-Qaeda leader and "principal architect" of the September 11th attacks, came back into the news in a fashion that defies the most basic ethics of reason.
As many outlets reported, a Turkish cosmetics company came under fire after it used the image of Mohammed, currently in residence at Guantanamo, in an ad for a hair removal product.
"Waiting won’t get rid of that hair!" the copy read.
The company later issued something of an apology saying that they didn't know Mohammed was a terrorist and that image had been chosen "for his hair, not terrorism."
The infamous image of Mohammed, one of the only pictures of him, was taken after his 2003 arrest in Pakistan. In it, there appears a beleaguered-looking man with, yes, a surfeit of body hair. And, it is also a man who looks more than a little bit like adult film legend Ron Jeremy, an often remarked-upon resemblance.
The first and only time I met Ron Jeremy was at an event for the release of his autobiography The Hardest (Working) Man in Hollywood that coincided with my brief post-college stint in book publishing. At the time, it didn't really dawn on me just how much Jeremy resembled a notorious terrorist, in part because he is an extremely charming person. In addition to starring in over 2,000 pornographic films (a Guinness world record), Jeremy is also a classically trained pianist, has a master's degree in special education, and is a gifted raconteur.
But with this latest spate of KSM news in mind, I decided to reach out to him. In hindsight, I should have worded the email to his manager a little bit more carefully. I mentioned that I was a writer with The Atlantic and that I wanted to know if anyone had ever mentioned Jeremy and Mohammed's doppelgängerdom and if I could talk to Jeremy about it. At the bottom of the e-mail, I attached the infamous picture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
A few hours later, I heard back from Jeremy's agent:
Thanks and do they or you want him to play the part?
There are a rare few moments in life when the universe explicitly reveals an unexpected path.
Well, first, I sat with the e-mail for a while wondering just how Ron Jeremy's manager had so capriciously responded in approval of the idea of a porno about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. (I had specifically IDed Mohammed as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in my e-mail.) Had Ron Jeremy's manager really seen it all? Or maybe this was more about society⎯the wayward allure of the forbidden or despicable. I didn't know.
After the initial shock wore off, I found myself very ambivalently thinking about the project I'd undertaken. Could this be a vehicle to explain...no. Maybe if I focused on....no. I didn't get very far.
The next morning I wrote Jeremy's manager back and clarified that I was just a journalist and reiterated that the interview would be for a story. I still haven't heard back.