Editorial: A Win for Common Sense

As Governor Chris Christie will attest, federal judge William J. Martini has a low threshold for legal nonsense. Several years ago, when Mr. Christie was burnishing his image as a corruption-busting prosecutor, Judge Martini took the unusual step of rebuking Mr. Christie from the bench. He accused him of prosecutorial overreach in the case of disgraced Newark Mayor Sharpe James, in essence calling the future governor a bully. Sound familiar?

Last week, Judge Martini ruled that the New York Police Department’s surveillance of portions of New Jersey’s Muslim community did not constitute illegal discrimination. The case was brought by eight Muslims in the Garden State, and they had the predictable support of the Center for Constitutional Rights. 

This is hardly the end of legal actions against the NYPD surveillance program, but some of us can take comfort in knowing that common sense can prevail over politically correct abstractions, at least in some courtrooms.

The judge rightly noted that the motive for the surveillance was “not solely to discriminate against Muslims but to find Muslim terrorists hiding among the ordinary law-abiding Muslims.” 

The judge committed a breach of linguistic etiquette in referring to “Muslim terrorists,” because in some quarters, it is considered impolite and downright offensive to use “Muslim” or “Islamic” as an adjective to describe the sort of terrorists who have declared war on, well, just about everybody, including other Muslims.

But an agency like the NYPD has no business splitting linguistic hairs. Its job is to catch terrorists before they can commit mayhem on our streets, not to tiptoe around semantic niceties.

The vast majority of Muslims are law-abiding Americans or guests who contribute mightily to our region’s culture. But we have every reason to suspect that hiding in their midst are some who would like nothing more than to carry out jihad in Times Square. The NYPD could, one supposes, seek out Muslim terrorists who might be hiding in the city’s Methodist churches or in Korean community centers. While this might satisfy the Center for Constitutional Rights, it is hardly the most efficient way of protecting New York from would-be suicide bombers.

The NYPD and other security agencies must be careful not to overstep their bounds. That much is clear. But it is equally clear that, as the judge said, there may be “Muslim terrorists” hiding in the region’s Islamic communities. Finding them is literally a matter of life and death.

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