Shall We Send a Fox into the Henhouse?

We haven’t seen such a fuss in the local newspaper in quite a while. The Los Angeles Times and the editor of this newspaper have taken up cudgels in support of — are you ready? — a man who, for the past decade, has been mixing his “moderate” statements on the slaughter of civilians in the Middle East with thinly disguised justifications of these bloody deeds. When Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., performed his political pirouette of first nominating Salam Al-Marayati, an Arab-American, to the federal panel on prevention of terrorism and then dumping him in the face of widespread protests, the American left went into orbit, denouncing the Zionist Organization of America and the leadership of Jewish-American organizations as bigots acting out ethnic discrimination.

At first, I too thought that opposition to Al-Marayati’s nomination was dubious (after all, I only know what I read in the papers, and the local press wasn’t exactly forthcoming with information on what got all those Jewish leaders to heat up), but as time went on and more information became available, it became clear that his nomination to so sensitive a government body was less than prudent, and Gephardt was right to reconsider.

Has Al-Marayati cried for a jihad? Not exactly. But if you examine his public statements and those of the organization he is affiliated with, a somewhat different picture emerges. It turns out that through the use of equivocations and artful language, Al-Marayati is indeed sympathetic to Middle Eastern terrorists who have been murdering not only Israeli civilians but also Americans and others. It is important to remember that though Middle Eastern terrorists proclaim their hatred for Israelis as the motivating factor for their murderous conduct, they are in fact equal-opportunity killers, whose bombs and guns have dispatched civilians of all nationalities, ranging from innocent travelers at the Rome Airport, to passengers on Pan Am Flight 103, to Puerto Rican travelers on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. They have also killed Americans by the hundreds, from the Marines who died from a terrorist bomb in Beirut, to the execution-style murder of American diplomats in the Sudan, to the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.

This is not to say that Al-Marayati is involved with such deeds, but his expressions do require us to think long and hard about the exact nature of his sympathy for such people. After all, not all propagandists are so stupid as to proclaim openly their support of killers of Americans.

If the history of modern propaganda teaches anything, it is that the “fellow traveler” who remains indifferent in the face of the slaughter of innocents or who de facto supports misdeeds with faint words of disapproval, followed by rationalizations and convoluted excuses for the murders, can be a far more valuable propagandist than an extremist openly crying for the shedding of blood. What better camouflage to spread over deeds of murders than to explain that they were only driven to the extremes, that they had no choice, you see, but to blow up children even as they also take occasions to ambush a few Israeli soldiers whose deaths provide a cover for the propaganda?

And that is what we seem to have on our hands in the case of Al-Marayati. He has not called for mass murder or for a jihad against the infidels in the crude terms of the Middle Eastern terrorists, but he doesn’t have to. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that here is a man whose sympathies lie with killers of Americans.

And all that does not include similar statements issued by organizations (and their officials) with whom he is affiliated. When it comes to national security matters, that is not “guilt by association.” These are vital concerns. Under the First Amendment to the Constitution, Al-Marayati had every right to be sympathetic to the cause of the Hezbollah terrorists, or to offer excuses for their bloody misdeeds, however indirectly he chooses to do so. But he doesn’t have the right, either legal or moral, to insist that a seat be reserved for him in the American councils of power that have to deal with sensitive security information on which the lives and safety of Americans may some day depend.

There is an old American proverb that there are times when one has to fish or cut bait. Just so. In this case, Al-Marayati has to confront the reality that however sincere his beliefs and however great his sympathies to his ethnic group, he can’t be both an apologist for the “legitimate grievances” of the terrorist killers of Americans and, at the same time, a functionary of a sensitive security body of the American government that, as “the Great Satan,” is high on the list of terrorist targets.

Gideon Kanner is professor of law emeritus at the Loyola Law School and a columnist for the National Law Journal.