Monday, January 4, 2010

The Nation’s At War!

In his most recent column, conservative godfather Charles Krauthammer criticizes Obama’s decision to treat Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man who tried to blow up a Northwest airliner in Detroit on Christmas day, as a criminal defendant, rather than an “enemy combatant.” (The latter term was invented by the Bush administration to classify al Qaeda terrorists. It acts as a legal nether-world between “criminal defendant” and “prisoner of war,” since al Qaeda members are waging a war against the United States, but do not deserve POW protections, since they fight “unlawfully” – out of uniform and against civilians.)

Krauthammer writes:

This is all quite mad even in Obama’s terms. He sends 30,000 troops to fight terror overseas, yet if any terrorists come to attack us here, they are magically transformed from enemy into defendant.

The logic is perverse. If we find Abdulmutallab in an al-Qaeda training camp in Yemen, where he is merely preparing for a terror attack, we snuff him out with a Predator — no judge, no jury, no qualms. But if we catch him in the United States in the very act of mass murder, he instantly acquires protection not just from execution by drone but even from interrogation.

So, according to Krauthammer, what’s good for a terrorist in Yemen should be good for a terrorist in Detroit.

Al Qaeda is not composed only of foreigners. Several American citizens have joined al Qaeda over the years, and at least one of them was killed by a Predator drone in Yemen in 2002. Since those American citizens are also waging war against America, Krauthammer presumably has no problem with that. (Neither do I, for the record.)

But if that’s true, then the implication of Krauthammer’s argument – that a terrorist is a terrorist, wherever he is captured, and should be treated accordingly – is that President Obama should assert the authority to unilaterally kill American citizens on American soil, without trial, judge or jury.

Would Krauthammer go that far?

I’m pretty sure the present circumstances do not justify that kind of power grab. The argument about whether we’re “at war” with terrorism or not is semantic, in my mind. One numbskull with a bomb in his pants does not a state of emergency create. This is not the Civil War. The president does not have the right to wage war on American soil. In this land, on our soil, we have the luxury of putting murderers like Abdulmutallab through due process. This is a system that protects us all, and we should not abandon it because of al Qaeda’s war. People who try to kill Americans in America should face the appropriate legal consequences, regardless of their delusions about restoring the Islamic Caliphate. I’m glad Obama recognizes that.

Krauthammer goes on:

... the president is constantly denying the nature of those who threaten our homeland. On Tuesday, he referred five times to Abdulmutallab (and his terrorist ilk) as “extremist(s).”

A man who shoots abortion doctors is an extremist. An eco-fanatic who torches logging sites is an extremist. Abdulmutallab is not one of these. He is a jihadist. And unlike the guys who shoot abortion doctors, jihadists have cells all over the world; they blow up trains in London, nightclubs in Bali, and airplanes over Detroit (if they can); and they are openly pledged to wage war on America.

...a government that refuses to admit that we are at war, indeed, refuses even to name the enemy — jihadist is a word banished from the Obama lexicon — turns laxity into a governing philosophy.

Why does Krauthammer insist on the word jihadist? Is terrorist not good enough? If so, why not? Because it doesn’t adequately convey the ideological leanings of the terrorists in question?

I hate to be “that guy” (the lecturer on multicultural values), but jihad does not mean terrorism or warfare. Jihad has been called the sixth pillar of Islam. It means “struggle,” and it takes two forms: greater and lesser. The greater jihad is the struggle to make oneself more Islamic. The lesser jihad is the struggle to make one’s society more Islamic. For al Qaeda, that means blowing up airplanes, but al Qaeda is not representative of all Muslims. All good Muslims practice jihad (just as all Christians try to both improve themselves and impact the world for the better). To make jihadist synonymous with terrorist in the Obama lexicon would be both incorrect and offensive.

On a personal note, two days before the Christmas bomber was foiled, I was on a Northwest flight coming through Minneapolis. Same airline, same week, same region – it’s a little eerie.

Nevertheless, I do not feel like I am on the front lines of any war. Terrorism is a scourge, but, thanks be to God, in the United States of America, it is a very minor scourge. The nation is at war, yes, but that war is being fought overseas, not here, and far more is at stake for the people of Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan than for us.

This is the 21st century. As long as anyone, anywhere, has reason to resent America’s power, there will be the occasional Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. That’s no reason to live in fear, or give the president unprecedented assassination powers, or demand that passengers stay seated for the final hour of the flight. (WTH is up with that regulation anyway?)

Americans have perhaps the most secure physical existence of any people in history. It’d be a pity if we forgot to enjoy it.

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