The wonder is not that a would-be terrorist set his sights on exploding a car-bomb at Times Square. What amazes is that this took so long to happen. It's been nine-long years since the streets of Manhattan ran red with blood. I suspect it will not be another nine before sorrow strikes, and strikes hard.
That's the world we live in, and it takes courage to face it. Judging by the reaction to last week's failed bombing in New York, courage is in short supply. So, too, is a commitment to core values that we like to pretend make us different.
Faisal Shahzad is a naturalized American citizen of Pakistani origin. Last year, he spent five months in his native country, apparently training with the Taliban. He was not, thankfully, a good student. The car-bomb he constructed was a dud, constructed in a haphazard manner that really looked like an inept high-school student's experiment.
Shahzad lived in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He bought a used car and paid with cash. For a time, he lived in Shelton. He once bought a firearm. Federal agents tossed the state in search of clues about the man and his life. One daily newspaper headline screamed that a terrorist lived among us. How many more sleeper citizens are there?, another paper wondered.
It is our misfortune that the Time Square incident took place on the heels of Arizona's ill-fated experiment with xenophobic legislation intended to crack down on illegal immigration. Last week, everything foreign was suspect. We need bigger walls, government with more teeth, greater surveillance to keep we members of Club America feeling safe and secure.
Senator Joseph Lieberman, perhaps angling for leadership of a new political party for our times, the Homeland Party, told reporters we need legislation to strip American citizens of their citizenship and the protections of the federal constitution against such things as abusive police procedures when they are suspected of terrorist sympathies.
Sadly, no one accused Lieberman of treason when he uttered this swill. We took it all in stride. Tough times require tough measures. So if we need to abandon first principles to feel safe, what's the harm? America, America, uber alles, right?
Read my words: There will be car bombs in America. More people will die. This seems inevitable in a world filled with hatred. Make no mistake about it, we are hated, even as we hate. We are not a nation apart. We are no city on a hill. We are no longer protected by geography from the sorrow that afflicts other nations.
The only real question is when horror visits again will we really sacrifice core constitutional values so quickly? Will Big Brother become our best friend? Will we slam shut the doors, ostracize folks without trial, torture in the name of freedom? If we do, who will protect us from ourselves?
Law enforcement crowed about being able to scoop up Shahzad in a mere 53 hours. That same week, controversy simmered in Pennsylvania about an ad directed at tax dead beats featuring a government official's satellite photo of a man's home. "We know all about you," was the theme. And of course, Arizona flirted with racism. Government has the power to draw lines, making the lives of the other unbearable.
But what happens we become the other?
Wasn't the American experiment about limited government? Didn't we the people create a tool we at once abhorred and used with caution? Has terror so quickly unstrung us? Do we chickens now welcome the fox's glare?
What new outrage against liberty will the next bombing yield? And the bombing after that, what will we do in grief and rage to feel safe again after it? What we should be doing is steeling ourselves against the inevitable, and bearing down on the commitment to what we really stand to lose, liberty.
It is, the good book says, appointed unto us once to die. Only fools choose a false sense of immortality promised by a government set loose on the very people it is supposed to serve. And tyrants and terrorists stand be greedily dividing the world they have so easily conquered.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.