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Where Do You Stand?
An Essay by Juan Williams

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Juan Williams
Juan Williams

In the middle of a crisis you talk to one person and think they have a point. Then someone else comes along to make exactly the opposite point and you think they're making sense too. That's when you realize that in a storm, you have to think for yourself.

This week, Neil Livingston, an anti-terrorism expert, told me there is only one meaningful response to terrorism. That is to absolutely extinguish the terrorist. That means using nuclear weapons on terrorists in any country that harbors them. Neilís point was that no precision military response from the U.S. is going to scare off the next terrorist. And putting terrorists on trial wonít do the trick. Like most everyone, I was furious with what the terrorists did. My panic sent me rushing to call my children to make sure they were alive and safe. Despite my non-violent instincts, I found myself reluctantly agreeing with Neil.

Then Jim Zogby, the president of the Arab-American Institute, joined the conversation outside a Washington, D.C., TV studio. Zogby looked like he was on the verge of tears. He said Arab Americans were not free to grieve with the rest of the nation because they had to worry about being threatened and vilified. Thereís a big difference between people who, in his view, have a legitimate political grievance, such as Israelís occupation of Palestinian territory and terrorists who act on that legitimate grievance to commit horrible evil acts that kill people. Contrary to Livingston, Zogby says you canít kill off terrorism with nuclear weapons, you have to deal with root causes and work to bring about a better spirit of understanding.

The root cause here is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It's also Islamic anger towards the U.S. for talking about democracy, but supporting Arab despots. For our culture that allows for pornography and womenís rights, as well as the freedom to publicly mock Allah and the flag. If you try to extinguish terrorists and their supporters, Zogby said, you only create martyrs for the ages and more terrorists. I found myself nodding in agreement and thinking for a moment that Zogby has a point. Then I went back to Livingstonís camp. Maybe anger is distorting my thinking. But ultimately I think there has to be a steep price for this vicious brand of terrorism. There will never again be a minute in America free of the threat of terrorism. Our sense of security is gone. In a new world, where terrorism is a fact of life, the best response is an all-out response that makes the price of terrorism unbearably high for anyone considering terrorism. Weíre talking an eye for an eye. Itís a savage calculus, but reasoning with terrorist suicide bombers is futile. There will be a time for mutual understanding -- not now. These are unreasonable times.

Juan Williams is host of NPR's Talk of the Nation.