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October 21, 2011
Ross London

WHY HASN'T IT HAPPENED AGAIN?

By Ross London

The greatest fear that arose after the 9/11 attacks was that it was only the beginning. What next? Our subways, our bridges, our theaters, our schools? Will they poison our water, our air? Will it be nuclear next time?

Amazingly, in the decade since 9/11, there hasn't been a "next time." Yes, there have been shooting incidents by a few individuals, but nothing as catastrophic as we had feared.

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Why not?

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Is the enemy any less determined to kill us? Obviously not. This is no ordinary enemy- and our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11 have aroused even greater fury among those who believe we are waging a "war against Islam."

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Should credit go to our police forces, armed with increased powers by the Patriot Act and the new Department of Homeland Security? With all due respect- and this former prosecutor and criminal court judge really does respect the police- the answer, again is "no."

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Despite the expenditure of billions, America's borders continue to be an open sieve for the trafficking in illegal drugs and "undocumented" aliens. What makes us think these measures are effective against would-be terrorists? Within our country, the opportunities for mayhem are everywhere, and the instruments for destruction are readily available. Timothy McVeigh destroyed an office building by detonating farmyard fertilizer, remember? And, despite all those fierce-looking policemen at the tunnel entrances, ask yourself- when was the last time your trunk was actually checked?

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No, the police may put on a good show, but police presence is not the reason we have been spared from major attacks. Since our invasion in 2003, Iraq has been teeming with soldiers, police, checkpoints and roadblocks- and yet , during that time, has suffered over 1,000 suicide bombings and over 12,000 civilian deaths (NY Times, 9/3/11, p. A-10), not to mention the many thousands of deaths in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Why there- and not here? Clearly, there are far more disgruntled young religious zealots over there, but consider: we have a population of 300,000,000 citizens, including upwards of 5,000,000 Muslims. It doesn't take too many young malcontents to create havoc. Every population- white, black, Christian, Jew and Muslim- has its share of "crazies"- and we certainly have them here in America. We don't have to look beyond our borders to find candidates for suicide missions. They are right here. And worse, their delusion of eternal martyrdom makes them unresponsive to the threat of lawful punishment that ordinarily deters would-be offenders.

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In the face of these dire possibilities, who, then, should get the credit for our continued security?

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In my opinion, the lion's share of the credit must go to the Muslim community in our country. I say this not because it is the politically correct response. I have no hesitation to say that, like many Americans, I am disappointed that more Muslims have not publicly spoken out to denounce the terrorists who would hijack their religion and to support of our efforts to defeat them.

But actions speak louder than words. And it is for their actions that the Muslim community must earn our respect- and our thanks.

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The reason why attempts to curtail suicide bombings in the Middle East have failed is that, despite strenuous law enforcement- unburdened by any of our constitutional restrictions - those terrorists could always find a supportive community to feed and shelter them and insulate them from detection. Within the community, their identities, their whereabouts and movements are an open secret, and if this information were shared with the police, the terrorists would be swiftly rooted out and annihilated.

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This is why terrorism continues to thrive in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere- but has failed to gain a foothold in America. Our Muslim community would have none of it.

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They have refused to provide a safe haven for terrorists. On the contrary, they have turned their backs on these malcontents and, in case after case, have provided crucial information to the authorities to root them out.

Perhaps not by showy demonstrations, but by their actions, they have shown that they reject these hate-mongers and everything they stand for. Just as in the case of so many Americans, the very reason they came here was to enjoy the blessings of a free and tolerant society, unmolested by sectarian strife.

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They came here, like the rest of us, to become Americans-and, by their communal rejection of terrorists, they have shown their loyalty to their new home and their dedication to its democratic values.

Ross London is a former municipal court judge and the author of Crime, Punishment and Restorative Justice (FirstForum Press, 2011)

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