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The Crux Project Archives: Government/Politics

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death

Why it's no longer an either/or situation

by Herbert London

At the end of the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama and his acolytes assured us that we had reached the end of history, a time in which democracy and free markets would prevail and relative tranquility would replace conflict. It may well be that Fukuyama is right, but at the moment a new, fierce challenge has emerged on the world stage, as threatening to our interests as communism.

We have entered a period in which our enemy, radical Islam, is out to destroy America and other western democracies. As Osama bin Laden noted in 1998, Muslims have an obligation to kill Americans. “The ruling to kill all Americans and their allies—civilian and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.” In addition, there is the belief among radical Islamists that the infidels, namely Christians and Jews, must be forced to submit to Islam or die. “Our struggle is not about land or water,” the late Ayatollah Khomeini said in 1980. “It is about bringing by force, if necessary, the whole of mankind onto the right path.”

For radical Islamists, the United States has been transmogrified into the embodiment of evil. The head of the Sunni religious courts in Lebanon, Sheik Muhammed Kar’an, called America “the garbage of all nations.” A professor of political science at Notre Dame University in Lebanon, Dr. George Hajjar, said, “America is the new Nazism.”

Statements of this variety can be found in television and newspaper accounts across the Arab world. These statements are also accompanied by action.

As late as this past January, three would-be terrorists were arrested in Italy after vowing to launch an attack in the U.S. that would dwarf 9/11. Curiously, with the exception of the Philadelphia Inquirer, this story was conspicuously ignored by the U.S. press corps.

Through conversations that were wiretapped, Italian officials heard Algerian terrorists plan to kill tens of thousands of Americans. In May a terror plot, led by representatives of al Qaeda, was thwarted in Canada, and in June the FBI raided prospective terrorists in Miami who are sympathetic to al Qaeda.

Recognizing the anger and capability of the enemy, President Bush told graduates at the U.S. Air Force Academy, “We must keep in mind the nature of the enemy. No act of America explains terrorist violence, and no concession of America could appease it.”

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times argues that there is a better-than-even-money chance a nuclear device will be set off by terrorists, killing 500,000 people or more. The 9/11 Commission report contends that such an event is probable. And Osama bin Laden claims he has a religious duty to kill at least four million Americans.

These cannot be considered exaggerated claims since the threat was borne out on 9/11, and even before in the attacks on: the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the U.S.S. Cole, the Marine installation in Saudi Arabia, the 1993 explosion at the World Trade Center, and dozens of other violent episodes, including the explosions in the British Underground and the Spanish rail system.

In order to counter other potential attacks, intelligence is critical—intelligence that can most usefully be obtained by penetrating the terrorist organizations through human intervention or the monitoring of telephone conversations.

There are some well-meaning critics who contend that every step taken to ferret out radical Islamic plots not only “dehumanizes” the enemy but dehumanizes ourselves. The ACLU, in its effort to protect civil liberties, seems to short-change the threat the nation faces. And the Supreme Court, in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision, flouted the president’s authority to deal with known terrorists.

It is obvious that in the freedom-security equation, some freedom may be temporarily reduced in order to thwart the dangers that lurk in our midst, notwithstanding pettifogging legalists. President Lincoln, after all, suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. 

The Patriot Act may be a small price to pay for bolstering intelligence operations that could forestall attack. It should be pointed out to libertarians who superordinate liberty that before liberty can be entertained, survival must be assured. 

My major gripe with those who promote civil liberties to the exclusion of other concerns is their seeming unwillingness to consider enemy motives and potential actions. Surely al Qaeda spokesmen can be taken at their word. What they say is that war is necessary, democracy is evil, science is misguided, and Islam must prevail even if Armageddon is fostered. In May 2004, Sheiks Nasrallah seemingly summarized this view when he said, “Let Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld, and all those tyrants in Washington hear . . . there will only be room for great sacrifice of the call to martyrdom.”

The United States is a long way from a “police state,” which is glibly asserted as a criticism after every action taken by the Attorney General in the war against terrorists. Moreover, I am all for glorifying liberty, which the United States has provided to its citizens in ample measure. Yet as a prerequisite for our future, we must recognize the threat that exists and, in the process, glorify life even as we glorify liberty. In other words, there may be necessary intelligence methods that in a less threatening world would not be deployed.

There are specific measures that must be taken to thwart possible terrorist acts in our nation. The wall of separation erected between law enforcement and national security agents must be shattered. Human intelligence assets—emasculated by the Church Commission—should be restored. Spying is a nasty but necessary business in a world as dangerous as ours. Similarly, preemption is a critical feature of prevention. We must use every legal, i.e. constitutional and congressionally approved, means at our disposal to undermine terrorist cells, including a Congressional decision to reverse the intent in the Supreme Court’s Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision. The INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service)  should be encouraged to deport non-citizens who foster violent activity. It is noteworthy that more than 80 percent of mosques preach Wahhabist dogma (extremist Islamic teaching that often includes anti-American diatribes), and some actively promote terrorism, according to Steve Emerson’s recent studies and the work of Efraim Karsh (Islamic Imperialism: A History, 2006).

And last, despite a reluctance to consider profiling (understandable since racial and ethnic differentiation is appropriately frowned upon), it should be noted that 80-year-old grandmothers from Des Moines haven’t been identified as terrorist “sleepers." Yet, remarkably, the Department of Transportation has issued a statement in which profiling is shunned and that specifies that all passengers should be treated in the same fashion. This defies common sense and introduces a degree of unnecessary risk. 

In many respects, the radical Islamic response to modernity is like the Hieronymus Bosch painting The Garden of Earthly Delights, which depicts a hell of obscurity and insanity, a world without reason or hope. Either the world submits to Islam or the world is turned into the hell of destruction. In radical Islam, religion is “flesh and blood,” and unless one submits, death is the only recourse: hence a persistent refusal to use power against this threat must be overcome. The United States doesn’t need martyrs to survive, but it does need a heightened sense of vigilance that includes the widespread use of spies, the deportation of those who preach subversion, telephone taps of suspected terrorist organizations, and profiling as a means of deterring violence. •

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