Passengers who act are not vigilantes

In its last paragraph, "Shoe-bomb incident shows progress, and gaps, in air safety" (Dec. 24) states, "Yet some caution against any emerging vigilantism - and say crew and air marshals should be the first to deal with dangerous situations." I must ask, if you were on board the referenced flight and the crew was asking you for help would you stand by and watch the fuse burn while waiting for more "officials" or would you personally act? The comment reminds me of the do-nothing, uncaring attitude residents of large cities have been accused of when they seem to abdicate responsibility to "the proper authorities" when they hear and ignore victims' cries for help. I believe the emerging trend of people taking on more responsibility for their immediate surroundings is good. We are missing the mark if we equate this trend to "emerging vigilantism."

Christopher Armstrong Alberta, Canada

Sharon's perception woes

Regarding "Sharon's Way Now Riding High (Dec. 21): Ariel Sharon is consistently shooting himself in the foot. In the midst of "riding high," he had to admit that Foreign Minister Peres is actually talking to the Palestinians about peace, after having denied such conversations were happening. Now he bars Yasser Arafat from a Christmas service held in territory under Palestinian control. Imagine what we all would have thought if Mr. Sharon had gone to the service with Arafat. The struggle for victory in public perception is as crucial as for territory, a lesson many who have sought to win by force alone over the centuries have failed to grasp.

Daniel E. White Wailea, Hawaii

Fragile democracies need help

"Freedom marches undaunted" (Dec. 26, Opinion) celebrates that at the end of 2001 democratically elected governments now outnumber governments constituted by other means. It is important to acknowledge that most of the newly democratic governments in the world today are actually very limited, fragile electoral democracies that need external assistance to build effective independent institutions such as an independent judiciary, independent central banks and, above all, a free press, to make their democratic experiment enduring and sustainable.

In my home country, Nigeria, virtually all of the hope, evident when the present Nigerian civilian regime took over from the former military regime more than two years ago, has been replaced by despair and uncertainty as the country oscillates from one political crisis to another. In the face of widespread poverty, religious fundamentalists in the north have attained political power with a strict Islamic code of law not dissimilar to that of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Without assistance from the international community, it is conceivable that national instability in countries like Nigeria and Afghanistan will continue.

Wole Akande Austin, Texas

US border filter isn't tight enough

Regarding "Don't dangle US citizenship" (Dec. 24, Opinion): Open borders were a problem in the Sept. 11 events and remain a problem today. A crucial bill to track aliens within America passed the House but was blocked in the Senate at the recent close of Congress. Prudent changes have not been made in the issuance of visas either. Between late October and the first of December, 7,000 nonimmigrant visas were given to men from nations where Al Qaeda is active. Mexico tells us open borders will actually aid security, although some estimate that 1 in 10 of those entering illegally across the southern border is Middle Eastern. Bottom line, America can never be secure while borders are open.

Brenda Walker Berkeley, Calif.

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