The uncovering of a plot to attack American soldiers at Ft. Dix, N.J. last week made headlines across the country. But now that the sensationalism associated with any story of this magnitude has subsided, it is time to substitute sober analysis for hyperbole and draw some conclusions about the event.
The first is that those who seek to downplay the importance of public awareness about the danger of terror should remember that the plan of the terrorists was spiked primarily by the efforts of a Circut City outlet clerk who was alarmed by the content of the DVD the plotters sought to copy. He informed local police, who in turn brought the FBI into the investigation, which, in time, unraveled the conspiracy.
In the post 9/11-era, there has been a lively debate between advocates of vigilance against terror and those who believe such measures inevitably shred our civil liberties. Was the clerk's rightful alarm at the content of the plotters video a violation of their civil rights or was it the rightful action of a responsible citizen? Inevitably such vigilance will mean that some innocents whose behavior strikes their neighbors as unusual will be questioned or subjected to investigation. But if the clerk had ignored the video and the plot went undiscovered until dead bodies littered the soil of New Jersey, many would, no doubt, howl at the blindness of those who could have stopped the crime.
The point here is that while we must always subject police agencies to scrutiny, cynicism about the fallibility of government action must be accompanied by a recognition that there is a real danger that our society faces. Attempts by some so-called civil rights groups like the terror apologists at the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to intimidate citizens such as that video store clerk into silence ought not to prevail in this debate.
Another point relates to the scrutiny that local Muslim groups and mosques are subjected to in the wake of an incident such as the Ft. Dix plot which was hatched by residents of nearby Cherry Hill who may have attended Philadelphia-area mosques.
The notion that all of the conspirators co-religionists are somehow responsible for this attempted crime is simply indefensible. Any effort to promote guilt by association that would implicate every American Muslim in this incident or any other act of terror is antithetical to our system of justice. No one, other than those who aided and abetted this conspiracy need answer for the behavior of the plotters. Nor should this event prevent us from having peaceful relations and dialogue with our Muslim neighbors.
That said, it must also be pointed out that Muslim leaders and organizations that often seek to rationalize attacks on American targets or the State of Israel do have an obligation here to do more than play the victim in a false morality play in which attention paid to Islamic extremism is likened to McCarthyism.
It is incumbent upon those groups and religious organizations that routinely lionize Islamist terrorists or promote the ideological agenda of groups such as Hezbollah or Hamas to do better than merely issuing bland disavowals of the Ft. Dix plot. They must forthrightly condemn such groups and all they stand for — something CAIR still refuses to do — before they have the chutzpah to denounce those who shine the spotlight on their extremist policies.
As much as we must avoid tarring innocents with the brush of guilt, interfaith dialogue with Muslims must be predicated on a common abhorrence of terror and a respect for the rights of all — including Israeli Jews and Americans — to live in peace. Demanding anything less than that is a betrayal not only of our security but of our responsibility to defend our values and our democracy.