Jewish World Review Oct. 29, 2002/ 23 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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Connecting the dots in the sniper's tale | It was the worst of times for the "religion of peace."

The cops in Washington caught the Beltway sniper, who turned out to be a one-time Fruit of Islam, an American Muslim so devout that he changed his name to Muhammad and forced the boy he called his stepson, 17, who is neither a Fruit of Islam nor a peach in anyone's collection plate, to subsist on a grim Middle Eastern diet of soda crackers and honey.

Seven thousand miles away, a gang of Muslim suicide warriors threatened to blow up 700 theater-goers, including women and children, if the Russian government would not clear out of Chechnya and make way for an Islamic government. And not a government by Talibanic wussies, either, but this time a sure-'nough Islamic state. They didn't get to blow up the theater, if only because the government got to the audience first with a mysterious "secret poison gas," killing hundreds. But the suicide bombers got theirs first, and are this morning doing their thing in Islamist paradise with their virgins, supping on broiled sheep's eyes (and soda crackers and honey).

We still haven't heard from the mullahs, so quick to take offense when someone looks sharply at them, about any of this. Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, manfully owned up to having recruited John Allen Muhammad ("all of those who have known him, both in military service and in the mosque, have never said ugly things about his conduct or behavior"), but said Muhammad dropped from view several years ago, and if he is convicted of the sniper murders, the Nation of Islam will consider kicking him out of their ranks.

Islam, as reasonable people know, is not to blame for the sniper or the Chechen terrorists, but a lot of Islamic mullahs are. The religion may be a "religion of peace," but the Islamists who go unchallenged when they say they speak for Islam are often messengers of violent death. Worse, some of the "leaders" in the West, and even in America, won't confront them, either. Some of George W.'s campaign strategists dream of using the Muslim vote, small but concentrated in several strategic places, to neutralize the black vote.

Worst of all, this fear of appearing politically incorrect in the face of mortal danger can free bad men to do their thing. The hunt for the Beltway sniper was clearly hindered by an early unwillingness to look in the most promising places. He was none of the things the profilers told the cops (and the rest of us) he was. He was not an angry white man, not a gun nut, not a loner in a white box truck, with or without a ladder on the roof, not a man spending time watching himself on television since he slept in his car, and not a native of the area familiar with the streets.

Now it appears to any reasonable man or woman that it was probably not a coincidence that he came to the capital of the free world (the "Great Satan") to terrorize the town and the nation. We must hope that since politically correct police work was such a bust, the authorities won't be tempted to pursue politically correct prosecution. We would feel more reassured if the prosecutors who get first crack at Muhammad and his teenage companion were in Virginia instead of Montgomery County, Md., where "root causes" could be a tempting excuse.

Muhammad, a monster but not a dope, is said to be not in the conversational mode. But some of the dots can probably be connected in Bellingham, Wash., where Muhammad and John Lee Malvo lived for a time. A starting place is Stuart's Coffee House at 1302 Bay St. The next stop should be the Lighthouse Mission, where Muhammad at first made an impression that the mission director, the Rev. Al Archer, remembers as "good - too good."

"On the surface," he told the Bellingham Herald, "he was squeaky clean. He was almost too good to believe. I kind of quit believing."

For starters, Muhammad always had money. Regulars at Stuart's Coffee House remember that he frequently flashed a bankroll. Bums in skid row missions rarely have more than a few coins in their pockets. Mission regulars recall that Muhammad frequently disappeared, saying he was off to Denver or New Orleans. Airline ticket agents occasionally called Muhammad at the Lighthouse Mission to confirm his reservations. Such a frequent flier is usually found at the Holiday Inn.

Mr. Archer called the FBI with his concerns after September 11. "I felt like he was a part of an organization," he says. "I felt like he had some connection with terrorists." He told the FBI that Muhammad seemed to have connections with someone with money. "I always figured we would read about John in the news. He was involved in something. He wasn't just an average, ordinary guy. If he had been stopped at that time, a lot of people would be alive who are not."

Just so. The cops, the profilers, the pundits, television's talking heads - even the president of the United States - are reluctant to regard him as an authentic terrorist, or anything more than a man with a grudge against society. Maybe the experts are right this time. Or maybe they're wrong again.

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

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