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Commentary By Heather Mac Donald

The Elite War On Our ‘Bigotry’

Governance, Cities Civil Justice

ANOTHER Islamic terror attack on American soil is coming, warned Tom Ridge, the president’s Homeland Security adviser, last week. Maybe after the next mass murder, the country’s elites will get serious about protecting the nation.

During the last year, it has rarely been clear which war we were fighting: the war on Islamic fanatics bent on destroying America, or the war on alleged American bigotry.

With stunning mental rigidity, the media, so-called victims’ advocates and civil libertarian absolutists (left and right) have painted each modest effort to improve the nation’s defenses as a dangerous eruption of intolerance or tyranny. As a result, the country is not even close to taking the measures needed to protect itself.

Some examples of elite hysteria:

* When Attorney General John Ashcroft announced plans to voluntarily interview young male visa-holders recently arrived from terror-breeding nations - a category that would have described nearly all the known Islamic terrorists who committed or conspired to commit murder on American soil upon their entry to the country - the press and the advocates howled about racist repression.

* When the INS and FBI detained a mere 1,200 men, mostly illegal aliens, on the basis of terror tips after 9/11 - a minute fraction of the Muslim and Arab population in America - the liberal media and Arab spokesmen invoked images of mass detention camps. Never mind that the detentions and subsequent deportations may have averted at least two more attacks, according to al Qaeda expert Rohan Gunaratna, a terror researcher at St. Andrews University.

* This August, law-enforcement authorities in Southern California arrested 81 airport workers, including 23 fugitives, who had forged phony security badges to gain access to airplanes, runways and cargo holds. One would think that protecting the nation’s airports would meet universal approval. Not so. Protesters charged that the fraud crack-down was insensitive to illegal aliens.

* Likewise, when the FBI broke a terror cell in Detroit last month and federal prosecutors simultaneously indicted over a dozen local men for providing phony immigration documents, Muslim leaders groused about ethnic profiling. It seems that one can’t enforce the law anymore without being accused of bias.

The list of fake civil liberties and discrimination “crises” goes on and on. The USA Patriot Act made common-sensical changes to existing surveillance law to bring it up to date with modern technology. The ACLU and its congressional allies objected to virtually every change as a prelude to oppression.

Grandstanding judges have burst forth in mighty waves of preening verbiage while blocking actions that lie within the president’s plenary power to protect the country against enemies. Columnists and the legal professoriate ate their performance up.

No wonder, then, that far more essential reforms remain far off the table. The basic structure of intelligence law, an outdated relic of the Cold War and 1970s-era anti-government righteousness, remains intact, though it leaves us ill-prepared to detect killers on our soil.

That law, not FBI bumbling, was responsible for the Bureau’s failure to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s terror-laden computer in August 2001. Under current rules, a green-card-holding Saudi imam who leads his followers in prayers for the destruction of America every Friday could not be surveilled. In New York City, the NYPD could not even ask a patriotic Muslim for information on the mosque.

The nation’s borders remain wide open to terrorists. But rather than reasserting the concept of national sovereignty, the country continues to dissolve the distinction between legal and illegal aliens.

Amazingly, California is close to granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, even though next to the al Qaeda manual on incinerating non-believers, a driver’s license is a terrorist’s best friend. Gov. Gray Davis’s appeasing efforts to “moderate” this foolhardy legislation merely exacerbate the national sovereignty problem: He’d require the illegal license applicant to have worked 15 months over the previous three years, thus making not just one, but two, law violations a prerequisite for a valuable government benefit.

Immigrant-rights advocates, shameless in their indifference to the national good, are calling Davis’s weak gestures in the direction of counterterrorism concerns a “constitutional” violation, though illegal aliens have no constitutional rights. Undoubtedly, they soon will.

We shouldn’t have to wait for the next 3,000 people to die before we grant government the power both to track down the terrorists already among us and to keep out those waiting to get in. Serious reforms would severely limit immigration from countries where Islamic terrorism festers, because current intelligence capacity is wholly incapable of detecting the next Mohammad Atta.

We should rigorously track all immigrants once here, with the assistance of a national ID card. Law enforcement should not shrink from using the fact that every act of anti-American terrorism since 1983, with the exception of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, has been committed by Islamic radicals, almost all hailing from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.

And if the elites continue to scream racism, the nation should stop listening.