The war we are in

Posted: Oct 25, 2002 12:00 AM
They got 'em! Hope abides that there are only two. The arrest of John Muhammad and John Malvo may mark the end of one of this generation's most harrowing, fear-gripping stories - affecting millions. The two were brought in by outstanding police work and by alert Americans - the latter precisely the sort of individuals the likely killers were targeting. How can one not love the cops after this? And how can one not love alert Americans and the land where they live? Much remains. Questions require answers - principally: (1) Are Muhammad and Malvo all? (2) What were their motives? And. (3) Why not prosecute them in Virginia, where they can be toasted, instead of in sensitive Maryland, which currently has a death penalty moratorium? No. 2 is perhaps the most interesting. Were these killers driven by inexplicable malice, anger or mental lapses - a la killers before them? Or were they jihadists by allegiance or sympathy? Did Muhammad style himself not "God" - as he said - but Allah? Like the al-Qaidist he may be, to maximize agony and the terror effect, did he seek to kill just people, just Americans doing the things Americans do - shopping, eating, pumping gas, driving a bus, going to school - each one a target of opportunity? Or, perhaps, is he a sleeper jihadist - carrying out on his own the tasks his fanatical masters have long urged? In his messages, Muhammad indicated his spree was about more than violence. If it was not solely about $10 million, could it have been about hateful ideology, too? David Berkowitz, the "Son of Sam" killer who terrorized New York City in 1977, is in jail and allegedly reformed. He says the snipers are in thrall to a "strong demonic bondage." Montgomery County Suburban Hospital trauma surgeon James Robey, appalled by the massive ripping damage inflicted by .223 rounds on the sniper victims he tried to save, said in dismay before the recent arrests: "This guy meant business." And (about a woman victim): "He was shooting for the heart, from the back." And: "Who on Earth would do something like this?" Crime novelist Patricia Cornwell, recently of Richmond, wrote last week of the sniper spree: "We don't want to buy gas. We don't want our children going to school. We don't want to shop. We don't want to drive to work. We may deliberate for hours whether we go to the grocery store or pharmacy. ... Forget any activity that might involve travel or expense. Terrorism. Lead poisoning. We watch the stock market implode. Fear creates fear and the more we fear, the more we create fear until the day will come - and it most certainly will - when we won't need anyone to ruin our lives. We will become perfectly capable of ruining them ourselves" Whether the killers are jihadists or just malignant loons mimicking a movie or video game, the effect of their spree is: terror. Nothing - no agony - has quite so affected our lives since 9/11. One feels regarding what they did - the lives ended and forever changed - the inestimable sadness one feels regarding any wanton shooting, multiplied many times over. The "more-than-violence" and "your-children-are-not-safe" rationales offered in this case make no more sense than the awful unfolding story of Chechens in Moscow. Nor do they make any more sense than this from Islamic Jihad - explaining its latest Israeli bombing as "retaliation for the series of massacres committed by the criminal enemy against our people." If it is over and all have been caught, the sniper spree may have been carried out by solo-operating creeps in the long grim tradition of American crime. Or it may prove but a skirmish in the jihadist war come to us - the war we are in.