- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 22, 2001

The great irony of the anti-terrorist campaign is the emergence of George W. Bush as the world's leading liberal.

We see the women of Kabul enjoying life beyond the burqa, the TV sets dug up from their hiding places, the smiling faces of Afghan men and women able to enjoy some basic level of human freedom.

These are the stakes in the global war against bin Laden and his crowd. The fanatic Islamists want to repress their people, especially women. The West, led by the American president, fights for the right of people to observe, or not observe, their religious beliefs and cultural traditions freely.

Which side is winning this struggle? The side whose culture appeals most to the other.

Which side is losing? The side whose culture feels most threatened by the other.

And just as terrorism is the weapon of the weak against the strong, cultural repression is the tool a threatened culture employs to protect itself.

That is the gift for which we must offer Thanksgiving this fall.

A society that forces women to wear a burqa under threat of a public beating is not a society on the rise. It is a culture so endangered it would rather punish than persuade. It is one that tries to control a person's thinking by dictating how he or she dresses.

The American side of this fight brings a different culture into battle. "When an American says that he loves his country," Adlai Stevenson once said, "he means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect."

I have thought of that definition often in recent weeks. I think it's what this fight is about.

Bin Laden and his boys don't want people to enjoy this sense of individual freedom. Most Americans do.

This vast disagreement in principle makes it all the more vital that President Bush honor our freedoms at home even as he champions them abroad.

Mr. Bush's executive order of last week gives him the authority to try those he suspects of terrorism before military tribunals. It exposes noncitizens to trial by a panel of military officers. The commander in chief of those officers will charge suspects with committing or aiding terrorism against this country.

This executive order is inconsistent with the cause of freedom.

"There's jubilation in the cities we have liberated," the president said on Monday of his triumphs in Afghanistan.

Throwing captured fighters before a military tribunal may be appropriate treatment, but it is a sorry way to deliver justice here in the land of the free.

Christopher Matthews is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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