- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 7, 2004

If September 11 was not horrific enough or loud enough to wake the West, the explosion set off by the Islamist terrorists at a Russian schoolhouse, raining death on the most innocent among us, is the snooze alarm bell that most of the world doesn’t deserve.

This latest outrage is ample evidence, of a kind repeated over and over, of how the enemy proposes to fight. Wishing it were not so won’t help. In whose featherbeds have the girlie men from the salons of Europe and certain fashionable precincts in America been sleeping?

The languages of the world, including Arabic, are not rich enough to describe the depravity of terrorists, Islamist or otherwise, who would shoot tiny children to make points, political or otherwise. That’s a given. Regret, dismay, concern, grief, sorrow, despair and all the proper emotions the prissy can express in response are not enough. If the tough ever get going, they will now. Slaughtering children is as tough as things are likely to get.

Some of the early signs are encouraging. The French, who have a unique talent for accommodating whoever may be trying to kill them, may be trying to shake themselves awake. Some of Britain’s Labor Party loonies, ever eager to make excuses for the militant and violent Muslims of North London, now demand that Scotland Yard crack down on an Islamic conference to be held this weekend in London to “celebrate” September 11 as “the operation that lifted the head of the Muslim nation.” One prominent Muslim cleric in London says targeting children is OK because British troops have carried out terrorist acts in Iraq.

The shock waves unsettling swing voters in America may be waves from Russia, too, as it dawns on the sleepy and the inattentive that we really are at war and the enemy is brutal, persistent and determined to win by killing, not persuading, the infidels. “Infidels” are defined, naturally, as anyone who is not eager to follow the version of Islam that we are assured over and over is a benighted and counterfeit version of Muhammad’s vision of “rules to live by, or else.”

Vladimir Putin’s government, which has had trouble getting its stories straight every time there’s a massacre, now says it has determined that at least 10 of the 30 or so intruders who took more than a thousand hostages were Arabs, and the others were Chechens and Ingush who were trained at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. Survivors of the massacre said some of their captors spoke Arabic, and Russian security agents confiscated notebooks in the rubble, inscribed in Arabic script. Maybe there really is a terrorist threat; Mr. Putin, heretofore scornful of American resolve to destroy terrorists, concedes that he has been “weak.”

The well-meaning in the West do moderate Muslims — the peaceful followers of a religion that is not always peaceful — no favors by pandering. The kidnappers of the two French journalists, who turned public opinion on its head in France, at first cited the French government ban on Muslim head scarves as the point of the kidnappings and subsequent threat of beheadings. The Bush administration quickly signaled, no doubt without meaning to, that maybe the kidnappers had a point. John Hanford, a White House spokesman on issues of religious freedom, told the New York Times: “A fundamental principle of religious freedom that we work for in many countries of the world, including on this very issue of head scarves, is that all persons should be able to practice their religion and their beliefs peacefully, without government interference.” The same French government edict prohibited Jewish yarmulkes, or skull caps, and large Christian crucifixes, and so far, there have been no beheadings or even kidnappings by enraged Jews or frenzied Catholics. So it’s hardly a matter of discrimination.

Answering the snooze alarm will mean looking the threat squarely in the eye, accepting the consequences of what we see and acting accordingly. For John Kerry, this means treating the war on terror as seriously as he treated the war in the labyrinthine waterways of the Mekong Delta, even if it offends his blame-America-first followers. For George W. Bush, it means putting an end to the pandering to the Muslims here and abroad and telling the Islamic world loud and clear to civilize their extremists, whoever and how many they may be, if it wants to be a part of the civilization of the 21st century. Mr. Bush is fond of calling Islam “a religion of peace,” and we all want to think it is. But first it must look and sound like a religion of peace.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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