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Jewish World Review Oct. 22, 2002 / 16 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Michael Long

Mike Long
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What if we never catch the terrorist-sniper? | Once again last week, I found myself discussing the DC sniper killings on various talk radio programs. But you don't have to listen to TV or radio to know most of what all pundits and "experts" are saying. For all but police officers involved in the case, every conversation on the matter boils down to worrying in big words, cribbing psychological terms from "Silence of the Lambs," and describing one's own way of zig-zagging across parking lots.

We explored a little new ground, though, the idea that the sniper is an al Qaeda terrorist, and the possibility that the "lone" sniper is really a team of snipers. They could be members of the long-feared al Qaeda sleeper cells believed to be in America.

And one idea did crack the mold: We haven't caught them so far, and they're not leaving evidence to get us any closer. What if we never catch them?

If the DC sniper case is an al Qaeda project, then individual Americans are already living at the beginning of a new and long era in this nation's history: life spent as a target on the street. What they know in Beirut and Jerusalem, we will know here. There will be no such thing as a "casual" trip to the grocery store, no "calming" walk around the block, no child's Little League game in a wooded park without wide eyes watching the tree line for motion and metal.

If their news conferences are any indication, the police are no closer to catching the sniper or sniper team than you or I are. They have almost nothing to go on. The bodies pile up, the roads are shut down, the killer waits in the weeds and then cruises home.

Unless the killer makes a mistake, he won't be caught. Ever. If he's part of a team, catching one won't stop his colleagues. If that team is one cell out of dozens around the nation, another sniper's nest will spring up from another al Qaeda cell in another part of the country. And so on.

At the rate the sniper is going just now, he's adding a victim faster than one every two days. Imagine this going on from October 2 not just through today, but for years.

If he continues to fire a shot and escape without making a mistake-and there's so little that can go wrong for him, actually-he'll murder between one- and two-hundred people each year. He'll inspire copycats who will take down their own fair share, but the originals will keep right on going, because they're not sociopaths headed toward breakdown. They're soldiers, fighting glorious jihad. Every American of any age they put in the ground is a glorious offering to their "god"-after all, non-believers must be converted or killed, right? What Islamofascist could feel guilty about that?

It's more than a year since September 11, and Grand Guignol violence on our own continent seems not to have come again-or perhaps we don't yet recognize it. Thank Heaven that the administration is unafraid to act alone on our behalf, because the point of fighting back is not revenge (though that's a little of it) and not military imperialism (we have plenty of commerce-driven power, thanks). The point is to keep the terror-animals of the world at bay, the better to head off the kinds of bizarre and largely unstoppable attacks that-if the sniper is a terrorist-have started just now. This is a new level, and this is just a taste of what's possible-the kinds of 21st century battles that 19th century sociologist Max Weber predicted would make wars that have come before look like schoolyard games.

There's no predicting where the war on terror will be forced to go next. We learned quickly that Afghanistan was the easy part; that is, it was a war fought against a geographically contained enemy toward a certain goal, the path to which was quite clear. Iraq's (perhaps) unexecuted threats are tougher to deal with. But the toughest challenge of all may have arrived here in Washington, DC over the last three weeks: killers felling innocents, one at a time, and exploiting the openness of our society so that everyone, even children, become targets every day.

How can anyone suggest civilization can negotiate or even appease such people? For that implies sharing a peaceful world with opponents of peace itself.

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JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Michael Long