Mark your code orange calendar

Posted: Feb 18, 2003 12:00 AM
When asked about Code Orange, America's elevated terror alert level, an attendant at Disneyland's Haunted Mansion in Anaheim, Calif., responded: "I thought the air was cleaner now, and we didn't have to worry about that ozone stuff anymore." Ozone stuff is right. The New York Times reporter whom fortune chose to favor with this epic disconnect offered no comment on the exchange, but I'm hoping he decided against bringing Mr. Stratosphere down to earth with a deflating headline or two from current events. Better to leave him aloft in that state of buoyant oblivion most people find difficult to reach while hefting 2.5 gallon containers of mountain spring water into the pantry -- which better approximates the working definition of Code Orange for the earthbound among us. Amazingly enough, the Code Orange custom -- so new that Martha Stewart hasn't had time to come up with a commemorative craft using duct tape and plastic sheeting -- is starting to tie in perfectly with the Muslim religious calendar. That's because Western intelligence intercepts suggest that the major Muslim terrorists may mark the major Muslim holidays with a little jihadi action against America and other infidel-nations -- excluding Germany and France, naturellement. Our last Code Orange occurred on Ramadan; this time around, it's Hajj, a holiday of pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, the seat of Islam. For Hajj 2003, no fewer than 2 million people from around the Islamic world have traveled to Mecca to hear the message that Islam is "peace" -- which must be what that head Saudi cleric meant this week when he told the assembled masses, "the enemy has exposed its fangs." The faithful also participated in such spiritually cleansing rituals as "stoning the devil," a rite in which each pilgrim hurls seven pebbles at several posts before safely, everyone hopes (this year's death-by-trampling toll at the Hajj holiday was 14), moving on. That's a lot of pebbles. Not that there's anything wrong with a lot of pebbles. Indeed, who are we-who-buy-duct-tape to say anything about they-who-hurl-pebbles? The same reticence, however, is inappropriate when it comes to the link between elevated terror alerts and Muslim religious observances. The connection isn't open to debate; even Saudi authorities figured on Hajj-related terrorism as being a possibility, announcing their intentions to respond to it "with an iron fist." What deserves comment are the concerted efforts of the Muslim lobby to deny it. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) calls the U.S. government's intelligence findings "unnecessary linkage." According to CAIR Executive Director (and Hamas supporter) Nihad Awad, the main reason "linkage" is "unnecessary" is that "it serves to promote the growing perception in the Muslim world that the war on terrorism is in reality an attack on Islam." Follow the logic: Connecting evidence of a potential threat (Islamic terrorism) to evidence of a potential time frame (an Islamic holiday) is not professional-caliber intelligence work that could save the lives of multi-faith Americans, it's "unnecessary linkage" that could offend the Muslim world. Looks as if Mr. Stratosphere isn't the only one in the ozone. Of course, that's putting a happy face on a strategy of denial that seems designed to undermine common sense and even discourage its expression. Take the turbulent micro-flap over recent remarks by House Republican Howard Coble. The North Carolina congressman has been loudly denounced as a bigot and bombarded with calls for apology, even resignation from a congressional post, for daring to suggest that "some Arab-Americans are probably intent on doing harm to us." (He also dared to suggest that FDR was correct to intern Japanese-Americans who lived on the West Coast during World War II, but that's another column.) The fact is, there is ample evidence that some Arab-Americans, acting with both non-Arab Muslims and non-American Arabs, have done their darnedest to harm us, according to government cases pending against Arab-Americans from Washington to Michigan to New York to Florida. In light of FBI Director Robert Mueller's warning this week that, besides the "several hundred" Muslim extremists in this country suspected of aiding Islamic terror networks, the greatest stateside threat is "Al Qaeda cells in the United States that we have not identified," Mr. Coble's hunch that some Arab-Americans may be involved is nothing short of credible. As if to illustrate Mr. Coble's point, Enaam M. Arnout, the Arab-American director of an Islamic charity the government believes kept Al Qaeda in the money, has admitted, also this week, to funneling money illegally to Muslim fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya in the 1990s. Not that any of this matters, apparently, to James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. In denouncing Mr. Coble's statement as "both false and hurtful," Mr. Zogby is demanding an apology. For what? Such keen outrage would better serve the nation by exposing the truth, no matter how hurtful, instead of hiding it.