Breaking News on Terrorism Suspects … becomes potent new fuel for fears …

BREAKING NEWS about the arrest of 4 men allegedly planning to bomb 2 Jewish centers in the Bronx becomes potent new fuel for fears. If we aren’t careful in the way we respond to this important news story, we can allow such tragically twisted individuals to succeed in their goal of spreading “terror.”
    Here’s an example: The highly rated season-ending episode of the hot network-TV drama, “Lie to Me,” portrayed home-grown terrorism in the U.S.—organized as a series of small bombings on the East Coast. Earlier, I criticized that fictional network series as fear mongering. We haven’t seen home-grown terrorists in years. Why raise the specter just to drive TV ratings? Well, now, anyone can see that “Lie to Me” was describing a plausible plot.
    Another example: Even as you read this, over-the-top, anti-Muslim DVD films are circulating in small groups, pushing the basic theme that Muslims want to kill innocent people. Efforts to combat the extreme claims of these films are set back a good step or two by news like this from New York. These grassroots anti-Muslim DVDs are an entirely different class of media—they’re emotionally loaded propaganda films aimed at spreading fear—but a key argument against such films has been weakened. Now, there is fresh evidence that at least some small groups of twisted individuals do want to kill innocent people right here in the U.S.
    So, this is a crucial moment for people who care about cross-cultural peacemaking …

NOTE: We are inviting readers to send us your thoughts on this incident—or links to other online statements and commentaries that are helpful in putting the news in perspective. We’ve already started to post some reader submissions here.

HERE ARE A FEW THOUGHTS from our ReadTheSpirit perspective—

OUR SYSTEM WORKS! Law enforcement professionals caught the likely criminals. In fact, law enforcement was so good that these four guys weren’t anywhere close to killing people. The FBI had been investigating them for about a year. We won’t see the full-scale prosecution case against them for some time.
    It’s possible that, in the end, we’ll discover that their defense is something like a claim of entrapment. I’m not for a moment defending terrorist criminals—but obtaining high explosives in this country is extremely difficult. These four low-life plotters didn’t actually plant real explosives. Law-enforcement officials saw to it that what they attempted to explode was harmless—a fake bomb. One wonders how a group of men with criminal history got this far in the first place—likely it was the FBI sting that allowed them to think they might pursue and accomplish their goals.
    Bottom line: Our system works. These guys didn’t get close to killing people. They couldn’t get real bomb supplies. They now are arrested. What we’re “doing right now” is a solid response to terrorism. One good reason not to heighten our fear. Our system works—that’s the No. 1 headline here.

I’m impressed with the New York Times breaking-news story. The reporting by Javier Hernandez, Sewell Chan and a host of other Times staffers was solid—and their balance in writing the story is obvious.
    The accused individuals are “four men” in the opening paragraph of the story and also “petty criminals who appeared to be acting alone.”
    Here are paragraphs 2 through 5 of that breaking story from the Times (again, careful balance throughout this crucial section of the story):

    The men were arrested in an elaborate sting operation at around 9 p.m.
on Wednesday after planting what they believed to be bombs in cars
outside the Riverdale Temple, a Reform synagogue, and the nearby
Riverdale Jewish Center, an Orthodox synagogue.

    The men did not know that the bombs, obtained with the help of an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were fake.

    In a news conference at the Riverdale Jewish Center, one of the two
synagogues said to be the targets of the plot, the commissioner,
Raymond W. Kelly, offered new details about the four defendants — James
Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen — all of
whom are to arraigned in Federal District Court in White Plains, N.Y.,
later Thursday morning.

    The men, all of whom live in Newburgh, about 60 miles north of New York
City, had met in prison. Mr. Cromitie, 53, who authorities described as
the plot’s leader, had lived in Brooklyn and had as many as 27 arrests
for minor crimes both in upstate New York and in New York City, Mr.
Kelly said. Mr. Cromitie, David Williams, and Onta Williams were
native-born Americans, while Mr. Payen was born in Haiti and is a
Haitian citizen.

    Paragraph No. 6 explains, again in a balanced way, what motivated the men:
    The four men arrested are all Muslim, a law enforcement official said.
Mr. Cromitie, whose parents had lived in Afghanistan before his birth,
had told the informant that he was upset about the war in Afghanistan
and that that he wanted to do “something to America.” Mr. Cromitie
stated “the best target” — the World Trade Center — “was hit already,”
according to the complaint.

    OF COURSE, we’re also going to see terribly biased reporting on “talk radio,” on various cable TV channels and elsewhere—but essential reporting is coming to us from major media in a balanced way. That’s also something to help us calm the temptation to fear. Again, at least a major part of our system of news media still is working.


    Investigators are emphasizing that the plot cooked up by these four men was “not in concert with any terrorist organization.” This isn’t the return of 9/11. No question: This is an alarming moment. Law enforcement officials need to remain vigilant. Religious leaders across the nation need to continue to condemn terrorist acts.

    BUT—this is not a return of a global terrorist network inside the U.S.

   That’s a crucial point to remember and to emphasize here.
    It’s one more reason not to fuel our fear.


HERE is an excellent, timely story about the real, historical Muslim approach to conflict. Click here to read an in-depth interview about “Commander of the Faithful,” a new book that I encourage our readers to pick up and read in times like this. You can get a copy via Amazon at right—or, if you’re not familiar with the book, click to read the interview with author John Kiser.


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