Putting Safety First
This July 4, a shadow fell across our proud celebration of the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Make no mistake about it. The attempts by terrorists to randomly kill innocents in London and Scotland (frustrated only by a failed cellphone connection), and the murder of Spanish tourists in Yemen, seem to make Europeans the central targets outside Iraq, but the gold standard for the jihadists is to kill Americans on American soil. We remain the Great Satan. We have not had a catastrophic attack since 9/11 because our intelligence services have pre-empted plotters, but the length of al Qaeda's planning cycles in the past indicates that even a decade of peace is delusive. The jihadists are determined to attack the leader of the infidels, not just by a series of pinpricks but by killings on a grand scale.
Who are these people? In the attacks in London and Glasgow, the eight suspects are all young Muslims connected to the medical profession. In April, an al Qaeda man boasted to a senior British cleric stationed in Baghdad, "Those who cure you will kill you." What a perversion of their calling ("first, do no harm")! These are educated people living in the heart of western culture, but they are "at odds with the modern world." They enjoy the fruits of modernity, living under the protections of a civil society with rights they would deny to everyone else in their interpretations of sharia, or Islamic law.
The problem, as the 9/11 commission reported, is not just terrorism. It is the virulent ideology of radical Islam seeping from the Arab world almost everywhere. Its poisons need infect only a few. A handful can have a devastating effect with relatively easy access now to explosives and the technology on the Weband there are thousands of Muslims anxious to die for their cause without, even now, anything like enough condemnation from mainstream Muslim leaders.
Culture of death. The radicals' gift to civilizationthe suicide bombercan only be forestalled. Punishment is irrelevant. Nor is there any hope of a dawning of reason. A culture that celebrates death is impervious to reason from those who celebrate life. A culture that makes women conceal themselves and then obscenely promises virgins to the "martyrs" is maddened by its own hypocrisies. The jihadists have sacrificed to rote recitation all capacity for independent thought, indoctrinated by preachers in their mosques, in study groups, and in media of all kinds. Nothing can appease them.
We have to assume they will try to do their worstbut in fact our sense of urgency has been dissipated. The Department of Homeland Security is now just another bureaucracy, struggling for budget dollars and mission coherence. Only in America would New York City, the No. 1 terrorism target, receive dramatically less defensive funding on a per capita basis than states offering virtually nothing by way of targets. Safety first? Safety last!
Safety first means our traditions of free speech and free association have to be adjusted, carefully and with oversight, so we can carry out surveillance of groups likely to be influenced by al Qaeda's jihadist philosophy.