Caution and sense

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 30, 2002

Events in Dade County, Florida bring again to the forefront the greatest dilemma facing America as we confront the war on terrorism. What rights will we sacrifice for our safety? The government has encouraged us to be vigilant and to report suspicious behavior. And yet, who decides what is suspicious?

The woman in Calhoun, Georgia, who notified authorities about the three suspicious men in the restaurant was right to do so. Their conversation merited much closer scrutiny and we commend her

for her prompt and selfless act. That would not have been the case had she merely reported them because they were of Mideastern origin.

There are subjects being held by the United States government on similar suspicious, but without formal charges being made. In another country, we would call these political prisoners. There have been press blackouts - understandable when there is an immediate security issue, unforgivable when there is not. Now, the President wants a free rein in directing forces against the terrorists.

We must balance caution with common sense, Big Brother with

levelheadedness. It is not justifiable to turn in three men of Mideastern descent. It is justifiable if they are gloating about the September 11 attack and seem to be plotting another.

Like most of mankind, we have a tendency to forget history and thus repeat it, but in one arena, we did remember. After the attack on the World Trade Center last year, the first reaction was not "lock up all the Arabs" but "don't blame all the Arabs" - a far cry from World War II where Americans of German and Japanese origin were placed into detention camps. There have been a few tragic instances when someone lashed out and hurt, or even killed, a person of Mideastern origin, but there will always be someone eager to take advantage of an opportunity to display their own bigotry and violence.

If these three men do turn out to be terrorists, then we highly praise the efforts on the part of law enforcement and especially civilians concerning their capture. If they are not

terrorists, then we still give high praise - they took the right actions at the right time - because they had reasonable cause to do so. We cannot ignore the laws, even in our attempts to defend them, or we risk living in a police state. Is safety - and an unguaranteed safety at that - worth that price?