Monday, July 18, 2005

Words and (Hypothetical) Deeds

Colorado Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo on Friday deplorably undermined the United States when he painted the war on terrorism as a war on Islam. Speaking on a talk show in Florida, Tancredo said that if the United States were attacked with nuclear weapons, and if it was determined that "extremist, fundamentalist Muslims" were responsible for the attack, then the United States could "take out" Islam's holy places, including the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Time and time again the war on terrorism has been stressed as not a war on Islam or on Muslims. The terrorists who committed the attacks of September 11, 2001 were just as he put it, extremists. Attacking Mecca because of the actions of a radical fringe group of Muslims is just as deplorable as incarcerating Japanese Americans was during World War II. Mecca is the holiest site in Islam for all Muslims, including those who live in the United States and want nothing more than to go about their daily lives. Osama Bin Laden's followers make up only a tiny fraction of the worldwide Muslim population. It goes against the very nature of the United States to punish the entire Muslim community for the actions of a few extremists.

This is not to say that there should be no response in the event of this kind of attack. The United States would have to respond, and bring those responsible to justice. Those who planned, financed, advised, aided, abetted, and carried out an attack should be captured, brought to the United States, stand before a judge, face a jury, have a fair, public trial, and sentenced to a prison term that will have them locked up for the rest of their lives in a federal prison. But their families, their friends, and their fellow Muslims are off limits. The Constitution expressly forbids punishing a family for the crimes of one of its members. We would deny our own identity if we resorted to this extreme measure to punish what would be a relatively small number of people who attack our country.

In addition, if the United States were to attack Mecca, we would quickly have on our hands a crime to fit our punishment. All over the world, Muslims would be united against America, and we would truly have a holy war on our hands, and this time it may even be on legitimate grounds. If the war on terrorism became a war on Islam, as the bombing of Mecca would indicate, then we would be justifying Osama Bin Laden, and the September 11 attacks, as well as this theoretical future attack, would look like a small riot in comparison with the world-wide bloodshed that would follow.

Congressman Tancredo tried to walk back his comments, saying he was speaking hypothetically, but a four-term Congressman should know better. His words mean something, not only to his district in Colorado, but to the entire country and the world at large. Words like these seem to justify the very hate that brings about the terrorism we are trying to fight. Congressman Tancredo should be ashamed of what he has said. His so-called explanation has left a lot wanting. His words portray him as an out-of-touch extremist filled with hate.

There is no appropriate time to speak about bombing Mecca, just as there is no appropriate to speak about bombing Jerusalem, just as there is no appropriate time to speak about bombing Washington. And beyond all of this, there is never a time when these words should be translated into deeds.