Jewish World Review Sept. 24, 2001/ 7 Tishrei 5762

Wesley Pruden

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The spirit of Pearl,
fragile and fading -- THE Pearl Harbor spirit lasted nearly a week, so who's complaining?

But anyone who was around in the wake of Pearl Harbor, and some of us were, hardly recognize the spirit that smashed the Axis.

Operation Infinite Justice ran aground almost before the USS Theodore Roosevelt steamed out of Norfolk harbor. When supersensitive Muslim extremists objected to the name the Pentagon gave to George W. Bush's pursuit of terrorism, the secretary of defense, instead of telling them that he was not a theologian, that the operation had a name and they should get a life, looked for someone to surrender to. Talk about Republican Guard. (We could call it Operation Infinite Infidel.)

Donald Rumsfeld, who is supposed to be one of the tough guys in the Bush administration, said the operation might get a new name because he - or someone at the White House - was moved by the argument that only Allah can dispense "infinite justice."

Though he had not heretofore revealed his theological training, Mr. Rumsfeld now has to decide whether Allah, Jehovah or just plain God is the dispenser of "infinite justice." He should call in the theological giants - the Rev. Jesse Jackson, perhaps - before he makes up his mind. If Mr. Rumsfeld decides Allah is the sole dispenser of earthly justice, and finds another name for the "war" on terrorism, he will offend Jews and Christians. But Jews and Christians are not particularly chic this week. They are expected only to shut up and die cheerfully.

There's precedent for official solicitude for unreasonable grievance. In the Gulf War, a previous Bush administration agreed to outrageous restrictions on the ministrations of Jewish and Christian chaplains assigned to the U.S. forces dispatched to save the Saudis, lest the prayers of a dying American soldier boy from Brooklyn, Atlanta or Santa Fe offend the Islamic red-hots who were squatting about, doing nothing.

Last week, as an interfaith group of religious divines met and prayed with the president at the White House (and Secret Service agents bullied anyone who tried to talk to them later, speaking of trashing civil liberties), leaders of several American Muslim groups accused FBI investigators of harassing and intimidating Arabs and Muslims.

Representatives of one such group, Solidarity US, organized to protect the civil liberties of Muslims, told its members that they have a "moral obligation" to come forward with information that could lead to the jackals who killed 5,000 Americans in a single hour. Just not too far forward.

"We advise them not to talk or to speak to the FBI, except with the presence of a legal counsel, and also to remind them that they have the full right not to speak to the FBI if they elect to do so," Yaser Bushnaq, president of Solidarity US, told reporters. Mr. Bushnaq is perfectly correct, and it's no less important to protect the rights of Muslims than the rights of Baptists and Presbyterians (and atheists), but he must not be surprised if Baptists, Presbyterians, atheists and others draw their own conclusions about those who cooperate reluctantly, if they cooperate at all.

George W., busy putting together a "coalition" to fight terrorism, had another bad hair day with the European fainthearts. President Jacques Chirac of France pledged his nation's usual unqualified support, sort of. Russia said it would not object if the United States seeks help from three of its former Soviet republics if George W. doesn't object to how Russia deals with rebels in Chechnya. China pledged to help with rescue efforts, help nobody needs, if the United States looks the other way while it abuses Taiwan. The Saudi foreign minister met George W., and afterward agreed that fighting terrorism requires a "persistent focus," which he naturally defines as keeping the war on terrorism as ineffectual as possible. "It should in no way follow the objectives of the terrorists themselves in creating an unbridgeable gap between the Western world and the Islamic world," he said. Five thousand Americans died at the hands of holders of Saudi passports, but it's America that should show caution and restraint.

In the end, though nobody will say it, the United States will do nearly all the heavy lifting - and take the casualties in getting the job done and abuse later from the fainthearts who will have sat on the sidelines. We can expect a hand from Britain, as always, and Israel and those most like us. Australia, for example, pledged troops to support U.S. military action. Said Prime Minister John Howard: "There is no point, in a situation like this, being an 80 percent ally."

Right on. That's the spirit of Pearl Harbor, of Saipan and Anzio, of Bastogne and Omaha Beach. Washington, please copy.

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

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