Jewish World Review July 10, 2002/ 1 Menachem-Av, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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No criticism, please,
we're bureaucrats | The Justice Department ought to listen when President Bush says that fighting terrorism is the most important duty of the government.

A gunman named Mohamed, angered by his upstairs neighbors who insisted on flying the American flag from their window after September 11, walks up to the El Al Israeli Airlines counter at Los Angeles International Airport, passing up Delta, Air New Zealand and dozens of other carriers, and shoots a clerk and a security guard.

The FBI can't figure out that this was an act of terrorism. A "hate crime," maybe, but not terrorism. To call it by its true name would subject the bureau and its director, the inimitable Inspector Clouseau, to criticism that he sanctions racial profiling. Nothing frightens a Washington bureaucrat like criticism.

You might expect this kind of excuse-making from The Washington Post, and in fact, this was The Post's first account of the who, what, why, when and where: "FBI officials said this afternoon that there was 'no indication' the shooting was a terrorist strike, adding that neither the airport nor the city faced any related threats. Investigators were checking reports from witnesses that the gunman may have been a disgruntled former employee of the airline or the airport, or may have had a dispute over identification in the ticket line."

No indication? Well, maybe he was a passenger and he was afraid he would get a middle seat, or the stewardess would be out of the filet and he would have to eat the ravioli. Maybe he wouldn't like the movie. Maybe none of the above. But the Israeli security officers, who were long ago expected to get serious about Arab terrorism against Jews, operate on the theory that if it waddles and quacks like a duck it probably isn't a giraffe. They took a look at the dramatic evidence - two dead Jews and one dead angry Arab - and called it an act of terror.

In the current delicate climate the FBI has to be careful even to call it a hate crime. A reasonable man, unencumbered by attitudinizing, would figure that the act of spraying the El Al counter with gunfire would be an act of hatred, not of love. But you can't be too careful. Three psychiatrists, after all, were required to diagnose the celebrated cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer as crazy after the cops found several human heads on ice in his refrigerator. Almost any one of the rest of us would have recognized him instantly as seriously nuts. (One day soon a court, perhaps the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, will devise a "Miranda"-like warning for killers to use to avoid being charged with hate crimes. "Good evening, madam, I intend to rape you and then shoot you with this .357 magnum and a hollow-nose bullet, but I assure you that I hold you in the highest personal regard and respect." Bang.)

If the FBI can't find the evidence to call it a hate crime, they could call it a "rage" crime, or at least a crime of "dislike." Or "distaste." The bureau's semantics lab, always on the prowl for serviceable euphemism, points out that the FBI must find that the shooter is a member of a terrorist group, on an approved terrorist list, before it can call an act of terror an act of terror. "On the face of things," Boaz Ganor, director of the International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism in Jerusalem, tells the Jerusalem Post, "it was no coincidence that he picked out the El Al counter and opened fire indiscriminately at the passengers and staff there. This indicates that the attack was politically motivated and that puts it into the category of terrorist act, despite what appears to be an American effort to calm things down by defining it as a hate crime.

"I dare say that if a lone gunman had opened fire, for instance, at the Continental Airways counter at Cairo International Airport in order to deliberately kill Americans, it would not be described as a hate crime but, quite rightly, as a terrorist act.

"Contrary to the premise in criminal cases in which a suspect is innocent until proved guilty, any politically motivated crime committed against civilians because of their ethnic or national identity should automatically be defined as a terrorist act until proven otherwise."

President Bush is right to remind everyone that the acts of deranged, evil or even misguided Arabs and other Muslims are the acts of deranged, evil and even misguided Arabs, and do not entitle anyone to tar all Muslims with the blood of innocents. Indiscriminate profiling, racial or otherwise, is wrong. But we delude ourselves and sabotage the war effort if we insist on treating the war on terrorism as an exercise in domestic politics. The November elections are not that important.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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