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Our role in the war on terror

Islam & Terrorism

Issue: "Islam and teroris," Oct. 27, 2001

How, then, should we live in this dangerous new world? Christians have a specific calling to fight spiritual wars through spiritual means. Only a few people act in terroristic ways, but all of us have terroristic thoughts. All of us, including Muslims, can repent and be saved, through God's grace.

Cold War II is more daunting in many ways than Cold War I. A few Communists were willing to give their lives to benefit (in their imagination) millions of others, but they themselves could expect only oblivion after death. Suicide bombers are much easier to recruit when the promise of a lush afterlife of sex, food, and fun can cover a multitude of fears. We need to pray for God to change hearts.

While the spiritual war continues, all Americans regardless of theology can unite at a different level in fighting a physical and psychological war. Here is my fifth and last set of five propositions.

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During most of Cold War I we lived under terror, facing the possibility of sudden death with a megaton bang. So many things could have gone wrong. Human miscalculation, technical error ... the betting line at times on our getting through without having at least one city obliterated must have been less than 50-50. The United States could have given up. With schoolchildren doing bomb drills under desks, parents could have chanted, "Better Red than dead."

Astoundingly, we survived. The patriotism developed in World War II grew and thrived, nurtured by movies and music that recent cultural leaders have ridiculed. Meanwhile, Soviet leaders turned out to have a sense of societal preservation. Marxist ideology emphasized the importance of industrial development, so the thought of being bombed back to the Stone Age kept the Khrushchevs and Brezhnevs from risking all. Since communism is based on atheism, our Soviet opponents did not grow bold with the thought that when they died they would immediately enter a lush paradise.

Now we are embarked on a new Cold War. We once again live under terror, facing the possibility of destruction-except this time, chillingly, we might have no warning at all. It was startling to see airplanes used as missiles, but a bigger threat may be biological warfare, terrorist style, within which we might already be fatally diseased before we know what has hit us.

We have four lines of defense against biological warfare. First is a reliance on the basic human decency of our opponents-but they showed a chilling willingness on Sept. 11 to go where no man had gone before. Second is a rushed production of vaccines. That is essential, but terrorists have so many options from which to choose that, as in buying life insurance policies, we may be protected against everything except that which finally brings us down.

Our third line of defense is a good offense abroad. We need to get to the terrorists and disrupt their activities before they can kill us and others. That is especially true when fighting gangs like bin Laden's that gain grudging admiration largely for their success. Those groups now have what every bully temporarily has: the ability to say, "Put aside your better judgment and don't try to stop me, or you will be hurt." Once the aura of bin Laden invulnerability is broken, traditional Muslims who see terrorism as going beyond what the Quran allows will have some traction.

Our fourth line of defense is enormously tightened security at home. The Israelis have shown that this can work to prevent mass murder. The greater difficulty in the United States is political, because a generation of schoolkids has grown up not knowing much about history except for a few terrible incidents. Students who do not know who Dwight Eisenhower was have heard about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the House Un-American Activities Committee and "McCarthyism" during the 10 years afterwards, and so on.

We need to reevaluate that history. Internment was wrong, but some ethnic profiling is needed in wartime when terrorists are coming from a particular ethnic group. Congressional investigations should publicize the existence of numerous terrorist cells in this country; bin Laden has declared war on the United States, and those who support him should have no more rights than Nazi cells had in the United States during World War II. We will need to live with the violations of ideal civil liberty that a war against potential plague-distributors and well-poisoners requires. Do those who complain about thorough wiretaps of suspects understand that hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake?

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