- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2005

Friday’s arraignment of former Ku Klux Klansman Edgar Ray Killen on charges of murdering three civil-rights workers in Mississippi on June 21, 1964 was front-page news in the New York Times. As he stood before a judge in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the frail-looking Killen, 79, seemed a pathetic shadow of the man prosecutors say was part of a KKK gang that terrorized eastern Mississippi during the early and mid-1960s.

For obvious reasons of ideology, we would hardly expect the NYT to highlight the connection on its editorial page or in news analysis pieces, but the fight against the Klan in the 1960s has a few lessons for our national struggle against Abu Musab Zarqawi and the jihadists in Iraq. One is that, in many cultures, there are thugs who use violence in an effort to subjugate their neighbors and deny them the right to vote. Another is that, with the right combination of skill and a sense of purpose, terrorists can be beaten.

For decades, the Klan, often in collusion with local police, set up an effective infrastructure of terror — highlighted by shootings and firebombings of homes and businesses — in order to maintain racial segregation and prevent blacks from voting. During the 1960s, prominent Klansmen (including some of Killen’s reputed associates) escaped punishment for their crimes, or served absurdly short sentences for crimes of violence committed in an unsuccessful effort to preserve Jim Crow. Today, however, blacks have the franchise and have won elective office throughout the South, the Klan is a shell of its former self and former potentates like KKK imperial wizard Sam Bowers (widely believed to have ordered the aforementioned murders of the civil-rights workers) are behind bars for other, similar, crimes.

As the people of Iraq prepare to go to the polls 20 days from now, they too will be risking their lives in order to vote. Almost exactly one year ago, coalition forces in Iraq found a letter written by Zarqawi, the leader of the terrorist insurgency in Iraq, which emphasized that if Iraqis were successful in establishing a government, the jihadists would be finished. The Islamofascist savagery we see on a daily basis — including the suicide attacks; car bombings and beheadings; cold-blooded executions of election workers; and threats to target polling places — is morally no different from what the Klan did in this country.

The parallels of course, are never exact. In Iraq, the jihadists are focusing their attacks on persons associated with the interim government and coalition forces — including civil servants and police and the Iraqi military. In the American South, the main targets were private citizens seeking to win the franchise and end segregation. The bottom line is that despite major divisions in this country, we managed to summon the national will to defeat the Klan. It’s tragic that so many people at the NYT (which did an admirable job of chronicling Washington’s battle with the Klan in the 1960s) today seem blind to the similarities between the Klansmen and the jihadists.

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