Jewish World Review Sept. 28, 2001 / 11 Tishrei, 5762
How to explain the hush enshrouding the marble halls of the Capitol? Is it owing to the members' anticipation of the fiery justice we are sending Osama bin Laden's way? Is it the deepening sense of loss from bin Laden's treachery? Perhaps the eerie silence attending our lawmakers as they fashioned the legislative tools for President Bush's war was the result of their sudden revelation. Before Sept. 11, they could pose as statesmen. Now any such poses will be laid open. One of the realities of war is that it exposes peacetime's frauds for the frauds that they are -- war, the product of politics' worst impulses, often reveals history's greatest politicians.
An irony of war is that it sets the stage for greatness, greatness in leaders who in quieter times could be ignored or loathed. That has to make a few of our congresspersons uneasy.
Consider Rudy Giuliani's miraculous transformation. Despite his unprecedented revival of New York City, the flinty mayor was a repellent figure to many New Yorkers until Sept. 11. Now, most do not flinch at comparing him to Churchill. Churchill is but one of the wartime leaders now summoned up from the mists of controversy to serve as an exemplar -- Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan are also mentioned.
Yet there is another wartime leader whom September's vile events brings to mind, Hitler. He is the true precursor to bin Laden, notwithstanding their differing outward appearances and deities. If Giuliani standing in the bombed-out remains of the World Trade Center puts us in mind of Churchill in the blitz, surely bin Laden seething in his mountain fastness should put us in mind of Hitler in his "Wolf's Lair," raging at the doom he has brought down upon himself and his leashed jackals.
Like Hitler, bin Laden from his demented cogitations has provoked the imminent destruction of his followers, many of his sympathizers and any claim to respect that his tortured brand of religious fundamentalism might claim. At Barbara Olson's memorial mass after her heroic death in American Airlines flight 77, the Rev. Franklyn McAfee filed bin Laden's religious pretensions into the moral category they have earned.
"I cannot explain the madness that took place (on Sept. 11), he declaimed from the pulpit. "For what we saw with our own eyes is the face of evil. ... Nothingness. And to confront nothingness is to come face-to-face with unspeakable horror." The priest went on to put a name on the face of nothingness: Satan.
Perhaps the "eerie silence" that our lawmakers experienced this past week was occasioned by the extreme seriousness of their proceedings. One hint of the seriousness with which they are approaching their legislative duties is the caution that both Democrats and Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee are showing in weighing the attorney general's proposals for pursuing terrorists.
This is the only serious disagreement that has arisen between Congress and the White House. It is, however, a heartening disagreement. We do not want to pass laws today that leave law-abiding private citizens open to police snooping for years to come. Unfortunately, today's terrorists are occasionally freer from police surveillance than members of organized crime.
Some of the attorney general's proposals are clear threats to the Fourth Amendment and of doubtful help in apprehending terrorists. Others cast the government's net too broadly. And others duly adapt investigators' tools to the advances of the New Technology -- for instance, adapting wire-tap warrants to the era of the cell phone.
Some members of the Judiciary Committee, weighing the present emergency against the Bill of Rights' desiderata, call for separating the attorney general's proposals into those that can be passed now and those needing more thought. That is a worthy compromise for these exigent challenges. Maintain Congress' solid front and pass what anti-terror legislation has unanimous support
09/21/01: So protected, we're vulnerable