This column was written by Andrew C. McCarthy.
Radical mosques are the spark lighting the fuse that can kill Americans. That has killed Americans. That will kill more if we let it. Such killing sprees, moreover, are plotted by young, male, Muslim militants who often enter to the United States on student and other visas from places known to sponsor or export terrorism.
None of this is news. But it is cloaked in taboo. Thus, controversy was stoked last week when Mitt Romney, the Massachusetts governor and potential Republican 2008 presidential hopeful, did something that you should never do in this country. Not, at least, if you want to escape the caterwauling of civil liberties extremists and a cacophony of activist Muslim organizations whose knee-jerk approach to "opposing" terror is indignant spewing at every effort made to prevent it.
He told the truth.
Gov. Romney suggested that in the ongoing war, we ought to be investigating mosques that preach Islamic militancy and the young men who come to this country from rogue precincts of the Islamic world.
For giving voice to such a notion, Romney's comeuppance is to have the usual suspects screaming for an apology.
Instead, we should be giving him a medal.
Monitoring radical mosques is exactly what we ought to be doing if we want to avoid domestic terror attacks on the United States. It should be the top priority. And not due to conjecture. We know for certain, and we have known for many years, that modern terrorists are inspired by the Islamic extremism they are routinely fed in mosques -- whether here, or in Europe. Not all mosques, but many of them.
In the late 1980s, the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in New York City began noticing the activities of a group of Muslim men whose center of gravity was the Farooq Mosque in Brooklyn. On several occasions in 1989, JTTF agents watched as the men converged on the mosque in the early morning, loaded their cars with boxes and bags from inside, and caravanned out to Calverton, Long Island (occasionally pulling off the road for prayer breaks). Once there, they made way to a range where they would spend hours shooting handguns and AK-47s at targets.
Just imagine for a moment if that were all we really knew and the FBI proceeded nonetheless to wiretap them. Can't you just hear it now? Can't you just hear the Muslim interest groups and their fans in the media running through the talking points? "It's a mosque, a sacrosanct house of worship. The guns were legal. Shooting is legal -- that's why we have firing ranges. Prayer on the side of the road? That's indicative of piety -- nothing suspicious about that...."
But of course, it's not all we know about them, because the agents took pictures. These totally non-suspicious young men engaging in First and Second Amendment protected activity included a couple of Palestinians named Mohammed Salameh and Nidal Ayyad, along with their Egyptian friend, Mahmud Abouhalima -- a trio who would bomb the World Trade Center three years later. They included the Egyptian Sayyid Nosair (known around the mosque as the "emir of marksmanship"), who would soon murder Rabbi Meir Kahane at a New York City hotel, be captured only after he'd attempted to murder a 70-year-old man and a federal police officer while trying to get away, and later help plan the WTC attack from his jail cell. And they included an American named Clement Hampton-El (a.k.a. "Doctor Rasheed"), who, like Abouhalima, was a veteran of the jihad in Afghanistan and would later conspire with other mosque associates -- Egyptians, Sudanese, and a Palestinian -- in a failed plot to bomb the United Nations complex, the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, and the FBI's Manhattan headquarters.
The men were not just playing target practice. The shooting range sessions were coupled with trips to other rural areas to get down to real paramilitary business -- explosives, assault techniques, and the like. We know that, among other reasons, because they recorded themselves reporting on it to their chosen imam, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind cleric and leader of Egypt's deadly Islamic Group (Gamaat al Islamia) who would relocate to the United States in mid-1990 and immediately take to preaching in Farooq, as well as other New York and New Jersey mosques.
We know, too, what was in these "religious" lectures by the Blind Sheikh and other radical imams. That's because while the Muslim interest groups and the libertarian activists don't want the FBI recording what goes on in the mosques, the militants themselves made an industry out of recording these "sermons" -- and distributing them widely for recruitment and fundraising purposes.
If those who have the right [to have something] are terrorists, then we are terrorists. And we welcome being terrorists. And we do not deny this charge to ourselves. The Koran makes it among the means to perform jihad for the sake of Allah, which is to terrorize the enemies of God and our enemies too. ... Then we must be terrorists, and we must terrorize the enemies of Islam, and frighten them, and disturb them, and shake the earth under their feet.
Audio-taping was not the only way someone monitoring these exhortations might have memorialized them. Note-taking was another possibility -- although, regrettably, no FBI informants dared enter the inner sanctums for that purpose in those days. But, again, the militants themselves did. Here's an excerpt from Nosair's notebook (and as you read it, bear in mind that these notes were scribbled at least three years before this nascent jihad organization carried out the WTC attack, and over a decade prior to 9/11):
Before announcing the establishing of the state of Abraham in our holy land[,] to break and to destroy the morale of the enemies of Allah. And this is by means of destroying the structure of their civilized pillars. Such as the touristic infrastructure which they are proud of, and their high world buildings which they are proud of, and their statues which they endear, and the buildings in which gather their leaders.
And without any announcement of our responsibility as Muslims for what had been done. And therefore, the enemies of God will be busy in rebuilding their infrastructure and rebuilding their morale. And they will not care much about what goes on around them more than [they] care about rebuilding their morale; and therefore, the chance will be available for the Muslims to repossess their sacred lands from the enemies of God, the traitors and hypocrites who will be at this moment in a very psychological weakness from what they see around them. And this is because the forces on which they were depending were crushed into pieces and are in a tragic collapse.
Militant Islamists are our enemy in the war on terror. Militant Islam is an ideology. Ideologies do not fall like rain out of the sky. They are taught. In this instance, we have long known exactly the places where this one is taught, and at the top of the list are mosques.
Radical mosques have been the center of indoctrination. They have been the hub for paramilitary training. They have been central to recruitment. They have been ideal for conspiratorial confabs about explosives. They have been collection points for terrorist financing. And they have been the scene of crimes (such as the provision of a gun to a government informant at the Abu Bakr mosque in Brooklyn during the run-up to the WTC bombing).
In short, mosques have been safe havens -- even today, even after all that has happened -- because the terrorists and those who share their utopian, universalist vision know full well that if someone like Gov. Romney sensibly suggests that we should be paying more attention to them, he will be pilloried with far more vigor than the press has for examining militant Islam and than the civil-rights lobby has for defending the right of innocent Americans to live.
Romney, it should be noted, was not saying that every mosque should be scrutinized. He instead asserted that we should not shrink from wiretapping mosques out of "political correctness."
To a responsible adult, that ought to be unassailable. The government cannot get a wiretap authorization without showing a federal judge probable cause that the place on which it wants to eavesdrop is being used either for the commission of crimes or by agents of a foreign power (such as a global terrorist organization). If that kind of evidence exists, does any rational person really think we should not use wiretaps because it might upset CAIR or the ACLU?
The current media narrative holds that the president's record-low approval ratings indicate flagging public support for the war. Nonsense. A goodly chunk of the disapproval contingent is comprised of Bush supporters increasingly worried that the urgent priority of crushing militant Islam has been eclipsed by lesser goals.
If Gov. Romney really does have presidential ambitions, he hasn't just done the right thing. He's done the smart thing.
Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
By Andrew C. McCarthy
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online