Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Worth Fighting For

Some thing are worth fighting for. The rule of law. An independent judiciary. A military that is answerable to civilian authority. Whether the fight for them is against foreign enemies or domestic corruptions, these are values we cannot surrender.

America, like all the world's established democracies, still struggles with those ideals. The ideals test us, and events test our commitment to the ideals. The most dangerous tests come from the natural human tendency to trade order for law, to prefer safety to freedom.

In three concurrent cases, the U.S. Supreme Court is examining the Bush administration's detention of some 595 enemy combatants at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay. Most are suspected al Qaeda members or Taliban fighters.

It is entirely appropriate that we argue these things before the nine justices. It proves that the shock of the worst terror attack in U.S. history, and the wars we have fought since, have not shaken our foundations. We can still passionately debate whether the constitutional right of habeas corpus extends to enemy irregulars on a distant battlefield. We have held true to our civilization.

Those things we deem worth fighting for do not exist in the minds of the people who brought on this war, on Sept. 11, 2001. They regard such concepts as weak, decadent, irreligious.

America has begun to "impose" these "Western" values in Afghanistan. It has even begun to implement them in Iraq, along with another core Western value: Tolerance -- religious, political, social.

And that is another thing worth fighting for. Among those sitting on the high court in judgement of the administration's policy is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Imagine for a moment her life, her career, in the Taliban's thugocracy or under Osama bin Laden's dream caliphate.

At the core of this just war are the lives of 3,000 of our fellow citizens, incinerated at their desks or on their way to work. They died in the spurts of their own blood with their throats slit, or chose between splattering themselves on the pavement from terrible heights or roasting to death in an inferno of airliner fuel. This was done to them because they were Americans. The immigrant maintenance workers died as surely as the Wall Street mavens, the first casualties in a war we did not start and did not seek.

The only difference between you and them was that they got on the wrong plane that morning; they worked in a different building than you do. As Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, the London-based radical Muslim cleric said in an interview published Sunday, "We don't make a distinction between civilians and non-civilians, innocents and non-innocents. Only between Muslims and unbelievers. And the life of an unbeliever has no value. It has no sanctity."

It is possible to argue sincerely that Iraq was the wrong next step in this war. But it is ludicrous to deny the fact that a war exists, or what it ultimately is about. It is possible as a pacifist to say, "not in my name." Very well, then, not in your name. But in the name of the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and tolerance.

Let the bin Ladens mock the nation that puts a Jewish woman (unveiled, no less) on its highest court because of her merits, to protect the rights of his POWs. Let Sheikh Omar mock the rule of law that allows him to continue spewing hatred in the infidels' capital. "I've been arrested 16 times," he boasts. "And 16 times freed, because they have nothing against me. These are the contradictions of laws made by man."

Let them mock, because they only remind us what we're fighting for.