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Jewish World Review Sept. 17, 2001 / 28 Elul, 5761

John Leo

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A war of two worlds -- NOW that everyone seems to agree that we are at war, it's important to make clear just what that war is about. It is not primarily about Israeli or Palestinian grievances. Some of the most dedicated fanatics-Osama bin Laden, for instance-rarely bother to focus on the Palestinian issue. Despite what our blinkered academic establishment thinks, the war is not about post-colonial resentments either. Colonialism is two or three generations past.

The rich nations have spent so heavily on the underdeveloped world that who-did-what-to-whom many decades ago cannot explain what is happening. No, this is a global cultural war, pitting a pan-Islamic movement of fundamentalist extremists against the modern world and its primary cultural engine, America, "the Great Satan." But that does not mean we are in a battle against Islam. The vast majority of Muslims want no part of terrorism, and many Muslim states are as nervous about extremism as we are. The problem is a religious subculture that cannot cope with openness, change, rules, democracy, secularism, and tolerance-and that wishes to destroy those who can.

For some in this culture, the Crusades have never ended. For others, like bin Laden, the dream is to restore the caliphate, the glorious age of Muslim domination that flourished after the death of Mohammed. Whether these extremists and their terrorists are living in the 12th century or the sixth, it follows that the traditional soft Western search for the "root causes" or "understanding the pain of poverty that leads to violence" has no role. The clear rational response to those who would kill thousands of people in a single attack is the same as the angry emotional response: No negotiation or placation is possible.

The mass murderers and their conspiracy must be rooted out and eliminated-not "brought to justice" in a series of leisurely trials at the Hague, but killed. We don't need to prove that bin Laden was directly responsible. This is war, not a courtroom proceeding. Terrorists are often recruited in one nation, trained in a second, and sent to a third. Proving who gave what order is hardly necessary. Everyone involved in the transnational conspiracy and its shifting networks will be targeted.

Sharpened focus. Give the terrorists credit for sharply focusing the minds of Americans in a single day. The nation yawned its way through a decade of attacks on U.S. troops, embassies, the USS Cole, and the World Trade Center in 1993. The assumption seemed to be that whatever happened on our shores would be minor and conducted by incompetents. The skill and scope of last week's attacks were as shocking as the results.
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If the fanatics were able to kill so many Americans with just a few box cutters and knives, what could come when more sophisticated weaponry is used? What if the tools are biochemical or nuclear? Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, a new book by Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, and William Broad, reports that advances in biotechnology and germ warfare have left America unprepared for catastrophic attack. We will have to spend whatever it takes to prepare biodefenses.

Some restrictions on U.S. counterterrorism operations may be dropped. One is the rule that CIA agents cannot pose as journalists or clergy. There are good reasons for the rule, but the downside is that CIA agents are much less effective when they are clearly identifiable as spies. Another is the rule forbidding CIA agents from employing anyone suspected of human-rights violations. Former Sen. Sam Nunn said last week that we cannot expect our agents to deal only with Boy Scouts.

As yet we just don't know how much America must be reshaped to cope with a terrorist enemy that will stop at nothing. Surely, massive expenditures will be involved, plus a major loss of privacy. We will likely have to accept a degree of intrusion and surveillance long regarded as intolerable. To survive, an open society will have to become less open.

A minor example: David Bonior, the Democratic congressman from Michigan with a heavily Arab-American constituency, has led the fight against racial profiling of Arabs and Arab-Americans at airports. Those of Middle Eastern ancestry must not be demonized or treated unfairly. But under current conditions, the "racial profiling" argument simply looks quaint. To ask America to refrain from heightened scrutiny of Middle Easterners at airports, aviation schools, and immigration checkpoints is unrealistic. The peril to the nation is so great that changes of all kinds will come, many of them painful. What has to be done will be done.

JWR contributor John Leo's latest book is Incorrect Thoughts: Notes on Our Wayward Culture. Send your comments by clicking here.


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