THE SPINE MAY 14, 2010
Waverley Avenue in Watertown is about half a mile from my house in Cambridge. Two Pakistani men were arrested yesterday in their apartment down the road. It was big enough news to persuade the Boston Globe to run two above-the-fold articles under the headline “2 held in local antiterror raids.” A third man was nabbed in Connecticut. Yet another was imprisoned in Pakistan. And good luck to him.
So it turns out that, despite Janet Napolitano’s instinct to pass out Valium after every shock to public peace, the failed Times Square car bombing was no “one-off” at all. Is pacifying the citizenry part of her job description as secretary of homeland security? But soporifics won’t do in these circumstances. Islamic terror is no joke—and no passing phenomenon, either. Maybe the lady should be retired. Hers is not work for Polyannas.
Still, what strikes me as very odd is that what should have been a relatively simple task (and an inexpensive one, too) seems to have embroiled so many nitwits. It should at least be a bit consoling that the terrorists in the U.S. seem to be less gifted at mass killing than the Taliban in Pakistan or Al Qaeda in Yemen.
Aftab Khan, one of the men arrested in Watertown yesterday, had been here on a visa (what sort, I don’t know). But, by now, it had expired. What virtues did the visa officer at the American Embassy in Pakistan see in Khan? Or in the thousands of other at-best shiftless people whom he ushered into the United States? Do we really need more immigrants who are gas station attendants or taxi drivers?
No, I do not want to discriminate against Pakistanis. There are plenty of Pakistanis who would add luster to America. Many are already here at our hospitals and universities and high-tech start-ups. They are Muslims and probably not friendly to the Jewish state. So be it.
None of this should disqualify anyone from a U.S. visa (or American citizenship, for that matter). My animadversions are not aimed at Muslims. The same standards should apply to Italians, Irish, Indians, and, for that matter, Israelis.
We don’t even need surplus diamond cutters from Tel Aviv. For whom should the qualifications be different (and, let's admit it, much less exacting)? We have an intrinsic relationship with the people of Latin America. The (relative) prosperity of our neighbors to the south is in our interest, both concrete and symbolic. Our politics must deal with their tempests and resentments. They are a part of our economy, willy-nilly, and we of theirs.
One other matter: the visa raffle, or lottery. It is outlandish, proclaiming that we are really indifferent to who comes. As we seem to be.