In 1969, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked a plane that left Los Angeles for Damascus. In 1970, the Black Liberation Army allegedly planted a bomb in a San Francisco church full of mourners attending the funeral of a police officer who had been killed in the line of duty. The bomb detonated, but no one in the church suffered serious injuries. In 1972, the Red Army Faction bombed a US barracks in Frankfurt. In 1973, the Symbionese Liberation assassinated the superintendent of the Oakland schools. The following year they kidnapped Patricia Hearst. In 1974, the Japanese Red Army assaulted the French embassy in The Hague taking the ambassador and others hostage. In 1975, the same group attacked embassies in Malaysia and included the American consul among their 50-plus hostages. In the same year the PFLP assaulted a meeting of OPEC leaders in Vienna. In 1979, the Red Army Faction, using a land mine, nearly assassinated General Alexander Haig, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, in Belgium. In 1981, the Red Brigades kidnapped American General James Dozier in Verona, Italy. There were countless attacks, murders, bombings and hijackings carried out by these groups and others. These organizations in particular shared a similar communist ideology. Their ideology attacked the sacred freedoms, liberties and rights that we emphatically claim—especially today—are so dear to us. Sound familiar?
We need to examine something that deeply affects our society, our way of life, and the beacon of freedom known as America. Look back at how we fought terrorism 30-plus years ago and compare it with today. Back then we did not aggregate terrorists into a vague and monolithic threat. We did not redefine suspects as illegal enemy combatants. We did not detain them indefinitely and deny them habeas corpus. We did not devise “enhanced interrogation” techniques or redefine torture to suit our needs. We did not kidnap and deliver suspects to countries who used torture. We did not try suspects with secret evidence they could not view or challenge. We and our allies somehow managed to fight terrorists and prosecute them in courts of law. We did not declare an unending war. We did not invade any countries because of their alleged or real support of terrorism.
President Bush says that the terrorists “are the face of evil” and want to impose their “dark vision.” Look who he is grouping together and you'll see that some are mortal enemies of the other. Not only would Iran never help the Taliban but Iran supported us when we attacked the Taliban in Afghanistan. Our administration links illegal immigrants, environmentalists and drugs to terrorism. It's as if there's nothing that doesn't have the specter of terrorism hanging over it. After all, we're told, they will stop at nothing because they hate our freedoms.
Our concern should be with two areas of our administration's approach. First of all, years ago we understood each terrorist group and counteracted them as a individual entities. We knew who we were up against. We knew their goals, capabilities, and ideology and how they differed from each other. We cannot say that today. The “face of evil” terrorist label is liberally applied to many as if they're all one and the same. Combining the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Taliban is like saying the Ku Klux Klan and Black Liberation Army are one and the same because they each murdered innocent people. Yes they did, but is it logical to group them together?
Secondly, the purpose of “face of evil” and “dark vision” labels is just to spread fear. Everywhere we look we see possible terrorists and we fear what could happen. Fear keeps us silent as our civil rights and liberties are whittled away. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—created in response to illegal surveillance of U.S citizens—ironically has been watered down over the last six years by new legislation, Executive Orders, and signing statements to protect the freedom, liberty and rights we hold so dear. We don't speak out about the kidnapping, torture, and the loss of habeas corpus because it is being done to fight against the evil that could happen.
We desperately need to learn from our earlier success against terrorism. We also need to recognize that a free and open society entails risk. A fearful, suspicious society entails the same risk. It just ceases to be free and open.