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Jewish World Review Sept. 17, 2002 / 11 Tishrei, 5763

Diana West

Diana West
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Fingerprinting, finally | Wednesday wasn't just the first anniversary of Sept. 11. It was also the first day U.S. immigration officials began fingerprinting and photographing foreign visitors who may fit the profile of your average airplane-hijacking, landmark-destroying, embassy-bombing, leader-assassinating and civilian-murdering terrorist: Any citizen, a Justice Department spokesman told The New York Times, from the countries of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan and Libya.

Somehow the phrase "better late than never" fails to convey the full range of sputtering sentiment inspired by this latest INS moment. That is, there's no shrugging off the fuse-blowing fact that if Sept. 11, 2002 marked the initiation of this new tracking system, then no such system was in place during the 12 months since 19 Islamist terrorists massacred 3,025 Americans. If some 44,000 temporary visas were issued to citizens from these same terrorism-sponsoring nations in 2001 alone, you don't need a slide rule to figure out that one huge heap of fingerprints and photographs of potential terrorists has gone unamassed in the interim.

But maybe we should just be grateful that the immigration service has finally mastered the high-tech intricacies of inkpads and flash bulbs. Even so, it's less than reassuring to realize that U.S. policy still appears bent on giving a pass, for example, to Saudi nationals at the gate despite the fact that 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers came from -- so quaintly named -- "the kingdom." In other words, Saudi Arabia is not included on the new watch list: Why? And what of Egypt, home to the notorious Mohamed Atta (not to mention Al Qaeda capo Ayman Zawahiri)? Or, to name the respective motherlands of some of Atta's old terrorist mosque-mates, what of Lebanon, Morocco, United Arab Emirates and Yemen? One year after Sept. 11, there remains an official failure to acknowledge the pan-Islamic face of the murderous fanaticism arrayed against us by the very agency that constitutes our first line of defense at the border.

These policy blinkers may come partly from President Bush's oft-repeated avowals that Islam is a religion of peace and brotherly love. Worth noting, however, is that the president's ever-befuddling mantra, repeated as recently as Sept. 10, necessarily recalls the rough ride given reality in "The Emperor's New Clothes" when juxtaposed against the typical teachings of many mosques around the world. Last Friday's sermons broadcast over state-controlled TV stations, for example, in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Qatar (future home, it seems, to U.S. Central Command) respectively called on G-d to "destroy" Jews and Christians; to "humiliate infidelity and infidels" and "destroy the usurper, tyrant Jews;" and, not least, to "use your might to take revenge against the usurper Jews."

("Show them a black day," the imam concluded -- happy face, clearly, not optional.)

The jihadist acts of terror against Jews and Christians inspired by such despicable hate-speech may not, as the president likes to say, represent the "true" face of Islam, but they certainly represent one face of Islam -- one that must be recognized and, it would seem to follow, reflected in immigration practices for the foreseeable future. But no, there is a weird strain of what passes for strategic thinking in some circles that opposes such common sense.

While the government has been unforgivably slow in cranking up its tracking systems at the borders, it seems to have shown slightly more initiative when it comes to getting the visa system under control. According to The New York Times, the Bush administration "quietly" enacted a new visa policy three months ago that stripped visa-dispensing authority from consular offices and embassies abroad and gave it to Washington. Here, visa applications from every male between 16 and 45 from 26 countries across the Middle East and parts of Southeast Asia must now be reviewed by the FBI and CIA. The backlog, naturally, is immense -- reportedly amounting to more than 100,000 applications, many for student visas -- which suits me fine. Given, as they say, recent events, why expedite the process?

Here is where logic fails. "Don't we want to encourage more of these guys to get degrees in the U.S.?" asks U.S. Ambassador to Singapore Franklin L. Lavin, voicing an objection to tighter visa controls that is common in the foreign policy establishment -- and downright bizarre given how many of "these guys" have proven to be terrorists infiltrating the West on student visas. This new policy, he adds, "is certainly not creating good will." Indeed, according to the Times report, it's "creating widespread hostility in the very countries and populations -- Muslim men -- from which the Bush administration most wants to gain support."

Well, pardon us for finally doing some little thing to slow the flow of potential mass-killers into this country. The real question is, isn't this still a time to do more?

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JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2001, Diana West