I’ve written before that elements within the American government have sometimes defused a threatening minority by legally prosecuting unto death advocates who mayor may not have been guilty of a capital crime. Though even now some still think either Nicola Sacco or Bartolomeo Vanzetti innocent, their execution certainly undermined Italian anarchism in America. Similarly, the trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg defused Jewish communism, even though, in my considered opinion, the ill-fated couple were wannabe spies who had no serious secrets. Wanting to do something treasonous is not a capital crime, objectionable though it is.
More recently, the execution of Timothy McVeigh defused militias, though I’ve read serious critiques of how exploding a truck outside a building was less murderous than planting explosives within. The ulterior motive behind the incarceration, apparently for life, of Jonathan Pollard, was to frighten Jews employed by the American government away from collaborating with Israel.
The arrest of Dr. Wen Ho Lee was similarly meant to scare immigrant scientists, especially from Asia, from sending American atomic secrets back home; and even though Lee was finally exonerated, his arrest probably accomplished its ulterior motive. At least no other Asian scientist has been arrested with such fanfare since.
Into this tradition falls Zacarias Moussaoui, purportedly the 20th collaborator in the massacres of Sept. 11, 2001, even though he was in an American jail at the time. Whether he was actually a conspirator, rather than a friend or a wannabe, is not entirely clear; certainly he was not a participant.
What became clear once he testified, purportedly on his own behalf, contrary to his attorneys’ wishes, is that Moussaoui understood what his role in American history is supposed to be: that only in death will his life have a political meaning comparable to that accorded Sacco and Vanzetti, the Rosenbergs, and Timothy McVeigh; that only in his death will he be remembered as vividly as the other martyrs are.
Since the jury gave him a life sentence, he’s more likely to be a Jonathan Pollard than a Rosenberg. His incarceration establishes the opportunity to swap him for an alien’s country’s future American hostage. On the other hand, may I question whether his incarceration, rather than execution, will defuse Muslim-Islamic radicalism within America?