This editorial by Prof. Bowen was published in the News Leader (Staunton VA: May 30, 2007): A9.
by Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
(Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401)
Since it sometimes is difficult to read every word of a scanned article (as above), here is a clear copy of the original version of this editorial for readers' reference:
Memorial Day weekend at Virginia Beach's waterfront conveyed a message this year. For this special occasion, four by eight foot poster essays written by local area high school students hung from lampposts on each block. Each depicted one of America's greatest battles, from Revolutionary War days to 9/11 and beyond. The "Remember our Heroes" theme added appropriate dignity to a boardwalk alive with jogging sailors, Marines, their families, and throngs of plain old tourists like myself. The vibrant diversity of our evolving nation was energizing, and only the occasional screaming fighter jet overhead could interrupt this picture-perfect atmosphere to remind all that the time of heroes resides in the present as well as in the commemorated past.
Yet, American patience with the current war has grown thin, we are told. In late May, a CBS/New York Times poll tallied nearly three times more disapproval (72 percent) than approval (23 percent) for President Bush's handling of Iraq. That same poll also reported the public more to disapprove his handling of the wider campaign against terrorism (52 percent) than to approve it (42 percent).
Meanwhile, Islamist terrorists worldwide remain at war with us, and not just overseas. A former sniper from Kosovo, Agron Abdullahu, and five other long-term U.S. Muslim residents of Cherry Hill, NJ, were jailed on May 8th for plotting an attack on Fort Dix. Found among their effects were maps of the base, radical Islamist literature, weapons, and videos. Some were tapes of Osama bin Laden's sermons, while others depicted cell members practicing with automatic weapons, shouting out praise for violent jihad (holy war) against the U.S. The group, which included not just former Yugoslav Muslims but a Jordanian and a naturalized Turk, had honed their tactical skills "playing" paintball in the New Jersey woods and firing weapons in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. This is another face of our evolving enemy: "self-starter" cells of terrorists already in our midst, inspired but not directed by Al Qaeda, unified not by nationality but by a shared Islamist ideology. Neither heightened air travel inspections nor greater efforts at border security will stop these types of threats: only a vigilant public paired with a teamwork approach to homeland security will. The authorities got wind of this plot from this new sort of needed American hero: a video store employee who grew suspicious when he saw a tape the group had asked him to dub onto a DVD.
Among some of the war weary, however, a different sort now poses as a hero. The anti-war organization ANSWER has thrown its support behind Sami al-Arian, the former University of South Florida computer science professor who has refused to answer an Alexandria, Virginia grand jury's questions about the activities of the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Herndon, Va.. Al-Arian once received funding through that Institute, and in May 2006 he entered a guilty plea, and was given a 57 month federal jail sentence, for conspiring to aid the Islamist terror organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad. (His 2005-06 trial also led a Florida jury to acquit him on other charges). From January to April 2007, al-Arian went on a hunger strike to protest being coerced to give testimony against his fellow Islamists, and on February 14, 2007, he was transferred to a federal prison hospital in Butner, North Carolina as he lost 50-plus lbs. on that since-ended fast. In the months since, the U.S. Court of Appeals and other federal courts have refused to end al-Arian's contempt-of-court jailing, the effect of which may extend his incarceration indefinitely. Al-Arian, a man who admitted he conspired to aid terrorists, a man who the sentencing judge referred to as a "liar" as he sentenced him last year, this is the type fellow who the anti-war champion ANSWER now calls a hero. Its banner flew beside those of the Muslim American Society and the American Muslim Alliance in a pro-Al-Arian protest outside the Justice Department earlier this year.
One year ago this week, I interviewed some of the men for whom Sami Al-Arian raised money. The setting was a maximum security prison in the Middle East, and the fellow from Palestinian Islamic Jihad I spoke with was, like Prof. Al-Arian, soft-spoken and well educated. He also was a convicted murderer of civilians. I asked him if, as part of a final settlement, he would accept peace with non-Muslims in exchange for security and self-rule. With a look every bit as engaging as the PR-conscious Al-Arian and his team of lawyers, the man looked me straight in the eye and calmly said "no."
The war weary among us need to appreciate that while their spirit lags, and while their desire for revenge dissipates as 9/11 morphs into memorial posters and holiday rituals, the same is not true of our enemy.
return to Professor Bowen's main page