Terrorists: Come illegally, do anything

Georgie Anne Geyer

March 09, 1993|By Georgie Anne Geyer

IF MY beloved mother were still alive, how happily and with what ultimate satisfaction I would point out to her the Jordanian immigrant Mohammed Salameh!

I do not mean to diminish in the least the terrible tragedy at the World Trade Center. One's heart aches for the senseless loss of life and property.

No, I would merely like finally to prove to my suspicious mother that there really are men in the world who are dumber than my teen boyfriends!

Here, while U.S. officials were somberly calling the bombing "the single most destructive act of terrorism on American soil," the sweatshirted Mr. Salameh, who stands only 5 feet 6 inches tall, actually 1) proceeded to a police station to report his rental van missing, and then 2) returned to the car rental agency three times to get his $400 deposit back!

But while even in a tragic situation one can get a few laughs -- and even while one can proudly praise the exceptional work of the FBI in this important case -- one overwhelming question now haunts us: Is international terrorism now going to happen here?

There are answers to that question.

To back up a bit, we all know by now that extremist Islamic fundamentalism, which is more political than religious, is gaining in the Middle East. It is causing chaos and confusion from Egypt to Algeria to the West Bank -- and the reasons include everything from overpopulation, to economic stagnation, to the most direct instigation of violence from Tehran and Khartoum.

"Communism has collapsed," Mohammad Mohadessin, an anti-Khomeini Iranian specialist on Islamic fundamentalism and author of the soon-to-be-published "Islamic Fundamentalism," told me recently. "That was the one alternative to fundamentalism that existed. Arab nationalism was much weakened by the end of the gulf war. The stage was set for fundamentalism to manifest itself as a 'way out.' "

But the fact that fundamentalism was growing in the Middle East did not mean that it had to be imported into this country. The reality is that we -- or at least our government -- have moved generously to bring it right into America, right into downtown New York and (probably) right into the biggest building in Manhattan!

I am talking about the next part of the investigation involving our diligent and parsimonious Mohammed Salameh (I stress again that this remains an investigation). That involves a blind Egyptian "religious leader," Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was allegedly involved in the assassination of Anwar Sadat and who has been on the State Department list of those involved with terrorist groups since at least 1990.

And where do we find the busy little sheik? Why, right there in Jersey City, in the El Salam Mosque where our resourceful little Mr. Salameh worships. Preaching hatred and violence against any non-Muslims, the sheik has been there because our immigration laws have become so ludicrous that 1) just about anybody in the world now can come into this country and do just about anything, and 2) once here, not even President Clinton himself can get them out!

Indeed, the Washington Times recently published a revealing document by an INS district director, Benedict Ferro, in which he said, "Alien smuggling has passed the crisis level, with hundreds of aliens with bogus documents or no documents at all arriving and claiming 'asylum.' " Last year alone, roughly 15,000 persons are known to have arrived at JFK with no documents or fraudulent ones. They immediately request "political asylum" and that means realistically that they stay forever.

No one ever said that terrorists were smart (imagine thinking "I blew up the World Trade Center, I blew up the van, and now you owe me money"). But, like the Serb killers in Bosnia, men who involve themselves in these underworlds of the mind and of the body (and, apparently now, of the rental van) have an uncanny natural sense of others' fears and vulnerabilities.

We may be just getting on to them -- at last -- in this most recent incarnation. But, with their cunning and sense of how to use their limited power against great power, they instinctively are just as quickly on to us.

Our message to them is abundantly clear. We no longer have the guts to protect our security in any realistic way, so come illegally and do what you want. Whether against our own criminals or foreign ones, we have lost the will to act with reasonable caution to prevent and limit violence against our own people.

Has it occurred to anyone that that might be why Mr. Salameh assumed he could get his deposit back?

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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