Combating terrorism, a great feat

Published 8:16 am Monday, August 21, 2006

By By Tray Smith
Last week, officials in Great Britain arrested several terrorist, who were allegedly plotting to blow up a series of commercial airliners in flight from London to the United States with liquid explosives. Should the plot have been successful, thousands of people would have died in a cowardly act of terror. By uncovering this operation, British authorities have no doubt accomplished a great feat. But these arrests have also revealed some flaws in our own counterterrorism policy that should be addressed.
"There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom," President Bush said in his second inaugural address. That quote describes the entire Bush foreign policy since 9/11, the cornerstone of which is the idea that spreading freedom throughout the world will be the ultimate defeat to terrorism. According to this theory, focusing on poverty and oppression as the root cause of terror will end the threat we face from radical Islam.
Though I have generally supported the Bush policy, its main flaw has now become apparent. The Bush doctrine cites oppression and poverty as the root causes of terrorism, but it excludes what is beyond a doubt terrorism's most obvious cause, religion. While it is true that every Muslim is not a terrorist, almost all terrorists are Muslims. As our forces have been losing their lives nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan, homegrown extremism, which is now apparent in Europe, has grown in appeal and strength. Several of the perpetrators of this plot, along with the perpetrators of the British bus and train bombings last year and the leaders of the Madrid train bombings in 2004, are from European countries. While several of the terrorists have had origins in Islamic countries, the fact remains that they were living in free societies. Britain and Spain are two of the most prosperous democratic states in the world, yet Muslims within their own countries are attacking their own people. Beyond a doubt, this war is not on terrorism, but it is on radical Islam. And we are losing.
I have no doubt that America would be more secure if every government in the world was democratically elected and respected the rights of its people. Before we focus on idealistic notions about the worldwide appeal of human freedom, we should focus on what we can do to make our own people safe and win the ideological side of the war. As is shown by this latest incident, just because people have the right to vote does not mean that they will not carry out acts of terror. The terrorist organization Hamas was democratically elected to lead the Palestinian territories, and Hezbollah is represented democratically in the Lebanon government.
Last year when I traveled to Houston with my grandmother, the government air security screeners confiscated her Swiss pocket knife. My grandmother may be a lot of things, but a terrorist is clearly not one of them. Instead of focusing our security techniques on everyone just for the sake of political correctness, we should focus our limited recourses on screening young Muslim men. Granted, we cannot single any particular group of people out, because the terrorist will then change their tactics and send unsuspecting bombers into our airports, trains, malls, etc. But there is no sense in bothering 80 year old grandmothers when 20 year old Muslim males are walking by.
Another step our government could take to help preserve our security is continued surveillance of terrorist suspects. Though some of the Bush administration's tactics for tracking terrorists have come under attack from liberals and journalists, they are all within the boundaries of the
Constitution. Instead of attacking these programs, members of Congress should work with the administration to find surveillance methods that strengthen America's security yet remain constitutionally acceptable. We should also look at tools that were available to British law enforcement officers and, if they are applicable, apply them here.
We should also do a better job of articulating our global agenda before the world, and working with our allies in order to increase our own security and fight this dangerous ideology.
Finally, these arrests clearly show that no matter how much security you have at airports, malls, subways, etc. there is no possible way you can protect every population center in the country from terror attacks. In order to uncover plots, we should not be as dependent on screeners at the site of possible attacks as we should be on getting good intelligence before attacks are ever able to develop. That requires not only increased surveillance but good intelligence. We must ensure we have a proper amount of human forces penetrating terrorist cells, because intelligence is the most effective way to prevent terrorist attacks. Establishing a national identification card system might also help us locate terrorist suspects and prevent them from traveling.
The events of August the 10th were no doubt a win for British officials. It is unfortunate that some lawmakers on Capitol Hill of both parties tried to politicize a huge success of the war on terror. Instead, they should begin working together to make us more secure. That is the bottom line.
**Correction** Last week, I mistakenly referred to Connecticut Democratic primary winner Ned Lamont as Nick Lampson in the beginning of my article.
I apologize for the mistake.
Tray Smith is a sophomore at ECHS. He writes a political column for the Atmore Advance. He can be reached at for comment. His column appears weekly.

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