- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2001

Having tried for decades to declare war on America, the holy terrorism of Islam has finally gotten our attention.

It is not too early to discern potential transformations in our society shakeout and consolidation of the economy, a revolution in military spending and preparedness, a whole new dimension of security measures, a sea change of heart among Democrats (millions of whom have astonished themselves with the realization that they're glad their man Al Gore is not in charge), a tactical shift by the gun-control lobby and numerous leaders and thinkers have already begun discussing them. But whether they will be enduring ones, it is too soon to tell.

Among other potential transformations:

Restoration of a national immigration policy: Lax or nonexistent airport-entry and border controls, serial amnesties for illegals, visas granted to anyone who applies, an asylum policy without rhyme or reason, a million "tourists" overstaying their welcome every year, sensitive military and technical training (sometimes at taxpayers' expense) offered at U.S. institutions to nationals of "high-risk" countries it's time to say goodbye to all that. No one denies any longer that such laxity led to the ease with which this foreign-born operation was realized in our midst, almost with our blessing. It will be difficult for the open-borders faction to regain a hearing after this.

Clarification of our nation's true friends and interests: 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli is the source usually cited for the maxim that nations do not have friends, only interests. America has characteristically thought in terms of who its "friends" are. Some of these friends fatally compromise our interests, however, and our friendship with them should be re-examined. We have also gotten more and more entangled in the ancient and virulent intrigues of the Old World exactly what the vast majority of our ancestors came here to be quit of forever. This phenomenon too should be guarded against in future. Only greater insistence upon assimilation (see below) will break down the disruptive allegiance of Irish-American Catholics to the IRA, for example, of American Zionists to Israel, or of Pakistani-Americans to Islamabad.

The left always jeers that America's military does the bidding of Big Oil abroad, merely in order to keep the pipelines flowing. In the current crisis, this "profound" critique has taken the form of indignantly pointing out how we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years "merely" to prevent it from making another move against the Arabian Peninsula oilfields.

America's new mood is: "Damn right we're protecting our access to petroleum. You want your standard of living cut in half overnight? Then let the Arabs gain full control of Mideast oil production." Making this access even more crucial is the fact that new oil and gas finds peaked years ago; the world now uses 28 billion barrels of oil a year and discovers fewer than 7 billion.

Americans had heard vague rumors before Sept. 11 that many peoples in the world hate us, but now we finally believe it. Some may be unnerved and seek to placate, but those with a survival instinct will defy the malevolence. Britain, the "mother country" of Auld Lang Syne, has stood like a rock by our side, with approval ratings for military retaliation only a couple of points below those here at home. Tony Blair's grave demeanor during President Bush's Sept. 20 address before Congress was extraordinary, given his usual reflexive Clintonisms.

The reaction of France has been very French and that of Italy very Italian, but Russia has revealed itself a strong and unexpected ally, which bodes wonderfully well for the future.

Even China is taking sides in favor of capitalist modernity and against reactionary fundamentalism.

The so-called moderate Arab regimes are proving more problematic, however. One enduring clarification brought on by the crisis may be that Islam itself (not just its "militant, radical, fringe" incarnations) and the modern technological civilization of "the West" are in fact incompatible, each a standing reproach to the other. And if only one will be left standing, which is it to be? Were free societies and free markets only a brief experiment, or are they the future of humanity? As everyone is becoming aware, this is the question being called so bloodily.

• Accelerated assimilation: The shock of war has always speeded the process of assimilation in our immigrant nation. When the U.S. entered World War I, its German-American population was second only to that of British descent. The Great War put an end to hundreds of Bund organizations and German-language schools and newspapers all over the country. By the time we entered World War II, German-Americans were so thoroughly Americanized that not a murmur greeted the decision to make a man named Eisenhower supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe.

But Italian-Americans still had to prove themselves loyal in view of Benito Mussolini's intensely nationalistic, charismatic leadership, and also because of Sacco and Vanzetti and other anarchist outrages during the interwar period, which slammed shut the Golden Door of immigration for 40 years. Many Italian-Americans Anglicized their names as the Germans had done before them. Italian youths joined the armed forces in great numbers and served with heroic distinction (Joe DiMaggio's prowess on the home field burnished the Italian image as well). Yet some Italians were interned at the war's outset. The Japanese, with their very different racial heritage and very difficult and little-known language, were considered far more suspect in loyalty, and those living near the Pacific Coast were thus interned in much greater numbers.

Whether voluntarily or involuntarily, then, war has forced many immigrant groups out of their encysted communities and into the crucible of Americanization. The present conflict bids fair to do the same for American citizens of Muslim custom and dress, as well as for Sikhs, Hindus, and others who have clung to purdah, caste and other Old World hobbles while benefiting from America's economic freedom. It will also be fascinating to see on whose side Hispanics, our largest minority, end up with their "La Raza" chauvinism and "Aztlan" irredentism.

De profundis: Springing unbidden to the lips of horrified journalists came the words God, prayer, blessing and homeland. In an instant, the painstaking erasure of Christianity from public life was undone. A nation in crisis can look to only one mountaintop, and for the U.S. it was Washington National Cathedral, or the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, as it is formally known. This is one lesson that will not be lost upon us.

Intensification of American values: While the crisis has found Americans shoving "God" and "homeland" back in the teeth of those who have tried so long to silence all religious and patriotic expressions, tolerance for the free expression of differing views has soared at the same time. We seem proud of our peaceniks, for whom no provocation could ever justify war; of our naysayers, who still claim America brought this attack on itself; and even of our internal enemies, who continue to excuse and even champion the terrorist cause. It is a resurgence of America's Voltairean spirit: "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

A hundred thousand times since Sept. 11, people have said or written that since America is all about freedom, freedom must never fall victim in our self-defense. If we were ethnically homogeneous, unity would be easier that's indisputable. But we're not, and all that does hold us together is the idea and ideal of freedom. In this world, that will be enough.

Marian Kester Coombs is a free-lance writer.

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