This country quivers so

A couple of year-end arrests at the Canadian border, the suspicion of an Algerian plot to do us harm, and a quiver runs through this country.

So far so good, but this has been a nail-biting time between fears of what the computer may do to us and what terrorists may do. And the fear itself rewards terrorists; for, after all, the purpose of terror is to terrify and thus capture attention.

One of the most famous terror acts of this generation was the storming of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979, taking the staff hostage.

History reveals that the young militants originally planned a one-day demonstration until they heard that "the great Satan," America, was transfixed by pictures of fist-shaking young Iranians on all the networks. ABC inaugurated a daily program called "America Held Hostage," later changed to "Nightline." Thrilled with their success, the young militants stayed for 444 days and helped to drive President Carter from office.

Ronald Reagan, the indirect beneficiary of the Iranian hostage crisis, had his own experience with terrorists when Iranian-backed guerrillas in Lebanon kidnapped 17 Americans in the 1980s.

The kidnappers must have been astonished to learn that President Reagan would barter the freedom of two hostages for missiles for Iran.

Terrorists can spread fear by blowing up an American military installation, as they did in Beirut in 1983 and in Saudi Arabia in 1996. Or they can bring terrorism to our shores by bombing New York's World Trade Center in 1993. But they can also spread fear by the mere threat of violence.

In 1983, the CIA got word of a five-man Libyan "hit squad" on its way to assassinate President Reagan. That sparked a security field day, with barricades in front of the White House and snipers stationed on the roof. No hit squad ever turned up and the CIA eventually concluded it was a Qaddafi hoax, using double agents. If so, the hoax was wildly successful.

Today our government lives with barricades and metal detectors, the kind of security we once thought more characteristic of a police state.

In these days between the hijacking of an Indian airliner and the arrest of bombing suspects at our border, terrorism has become a pervasive subject in our media. And that alone must give satisfaction to those who deem it their mission to make this superpower feel super powerless.

Fear rewards terrorists: The purpose of terror is to terrify and capture attention.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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