The heat is on. While the London attacks continue, Americans are on high alert against terrorist attacks on subways and buses, and those charged with protecting the public's safety are doing, well, something. Last week, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly warned subway riders to be on the lookout for suspicious people: such as those who might be sweating. C'mon, Commish. Anyone in the Big Apple who wasn't sweating last week must have been standing in front of an air conditioner. Is this our answer to the terrorist bombings in London? No, there's worse. One Washington Metro driver, yet another descendant of Werner von Braun, ignored passengers' warnings of an abandoned backpack on a train, and blithely continued a few stations down the line before stopping to call security. If this is how serious we are about terrorism, we are lost. And so, possibly, are the British.
In between the attacks, Tony Blair was bombarded on July 18 by a report from the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the "Chatham House" think tank. The report -- issued with much media fanfare -- said in the most political and derisive terms that British involvement in the Iraq war made the U.K. the object of more terrorism. Blair immediately headed to the microphones to deny that terrorists were targeting Britain because he sent troops to Iraq. Blair's denial is understandable (but obtuse) politically and -- more importantly -- wrong. Of course Britain is more of a target now: Who are the terrorists going to attack but their enemies? You don't see al Qaeda sending their first string to bomb France or Belgium. Why should they attack nations that are no danger to them? Blair would have done better to say just that. But the threat to Britain is real, and not just from foreign terrorists.
Britain can no longer ignore the problems embedded in its Muslim population. All four of the bombers were British citizens but obviously not loyal to the nation that took them, or their forbears, in to enjoy the freedoms they couldn't find at home. Which is why some Brits now call their capital, "Londonistan." It's sadly too close to the truth. According to a new poll released by the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, about 24% of British Muslims "have some sympathy with the feelings and motives of the bombers." In fact, about 6% -- which could mean as many as 100,000 people -- believe the bombings were "fully justified." Why shouldn't they? Too many of their religious leaders preach hate and violence against Britain.
Omar Bakri Mohamed, the "Tottenham ayatollah," commenting on the July 7 bombings, said that bin Laden is "a sincere man who fights against evil forces," and that the killing of British and American troops in Muslim lands was "pro-life" and justified. (Don't whine: just deal with it. Mohamed's use of the term "pro-life" was no accident.) Mufti Zubair Dudha, billed as an "Islamic scholar," openly advocates violence. According to
the Times of London, British police have tried 19 times to bring charges against seven "preachers of hate" for "incitement to racial hatred" only to be turned down by prosecutors because -- under the mess of British and EU law -- prosecuting preachers of hate who are clever enough to cloak their bile in religion may violate their "human rights."
Blair is trying to pass a number of new laws, one of which would allow the deportation of those such as Bakri Mohamed who haven't taken British citizenship. Another would make "incitement" to terrorism a crime as well as "acts preparatory to terrorism," which could include accessing terrorist group websites. Vague laws such as those wouldn't pass constitutional muster here. Britain is caught in a mess of its own making, because its law now prohibits deporting Mohamed and his ilk to nations that might abuse them. The result? The British lion is now, hat in hand, petitioning countries such as Jordan and Syria to agree that these little dearies won't be mistreated if they're shipped home. Winston Churchill must be spinning in his grave.
THAT PROBLEM MAY BE overcome, but the worse problem remains: What can Britain do about the British citizens who preach domestic jihad?
We're groping for answers to the same questions. Shall we impose more closed-circuit television on city streets for the police to monitor us? The Senate, as oblivious to reality as ever, seems intent on cutting back the investigative authority of the awfully named "PATRIOT Act" bestowed on the FBI. We benefit from the fact that the American Muslim population is assimilated to a greater extent than its British counterpart. But there are some who aren't. We, like the Brits, have to face this problem.
The case of "Islamic scholar" Ali al-Timimi gives us little guidance. Timimi was convicted of soliciting treason for exhorting his followers to join the Taliban after 9-11. He will have plenty of time to do more of this while serving life in prison for this offense. But what about those who preach jihad but don't advocate specific acts of treason or violence?
Free speech, including religious speech, is protected by our First Amendment. More than 200 years ago, the "Alien and Sedition" acts made much anti-government speech illegal. Free speech gained protection over the years and in 1969, in Brandenberg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court said that even hate speech was within the First Amendment's scope. Today, anything that doesn't advocate specific acts of violence appears to be protected, and that's okay. We mustn't sacrifice freedom of speech to the terrorist threat. There's no need to.
Our best defense against terrorism at home is to strengthen, not weaken, our individual freedoms. There are myriad ways to do that. How about raising the bar on libel and slander, so that anyone who wants to publicize the rants of any American versions of the Tottenham ayatollah will have much greater protections against libel suits? Why don't we extend the "good Samaritan" laws so many states have to protect people who take action to thwart a terrorist plot or an attack in progress from any criminal or civil liability? So many states readily issue concealed weapons permits, but to carry a weapon from state to state is confusing and risky. Why not mandate a nationally valid carry permit, or at least require states to give reciprocity to permits issued by other states?
While we're enhancing our own freedoms, we need to reduce the terrorists'. Let's make it tougher for terrorists to make a home here. We should make it a whole bunch easier for a naturalized citizen to have his citizenship revoked if he advocates terrorism in or against the United States. And -- here's a really novel idea -- why don't we close our borders to illegal immigration, deport those here illegally, and make it much tougher for anyone -- yes, anyone -- to get a visa to enter the U.S.? Just a thought.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004).
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