WITH the unhappy, upcoming anniversary of 9-11, despite the blessed lack of subsequent attacks on our homeland, it is not a question of if al-Qaida will strike us again, but when. Al-Qaida has warned us, sworn and promised, to hit our heartland. Osama bin Laden has issued calls to martyrdom to both his close and far-flung followers. Ayman al-Zawahri recently gave the legalistic three-fold warning of attack as mandated in the Quran. All these, along with the arrest this past week of eight suspected terrorists in Denmark and three in Germany posing threats that were both credible and imminent, augur events that call for preparation – both physical and, more importantly, emotional. While we cannot truly prepare for how we will feel, we will need to react with the maturity of a great nation. We know that no defense system is perfect. Our Secret Service admits that they cannot guarantee the life of the president from an assassin who is willing to trade his, or her, life for the president’s. Al-Qaida is filled with terrorists eager to trade their lives for our deaths. This makes the idea of perfect or near-perfect security an illusion. How we will feel and what we will do, we do not and cannot know. Will we act like Spain after the Madrid bombings and all but apologize to the terrorists for making them go to the trouble of building bombs? Will we react like Israel, long accustomed to domestic terror, and look to focus our retribution? Perhaps our model will be England, which after the Blitz in World War II and years of attacks from the Irish Republican Army has a tradition of emotionally proportionate responses. After the subway and bus bombings of July 2005, the British just went about their business without panic or rioting. They neither apologized nor raged. They stayed in character, which showed their great character. We, too, need to take measures for our emotional preparation for the inevitable. Some boxers who taste their own blood fall into despair and give up. I do not see this in us. Some go into a rage and lash out, forgetting all their discipline and training. This seldom helps them obtain their goals. This I do fear. We will need to focus our rage on those who have hurt us, and not simply people we see as members of their clans, tribes or co-religionists. We will need to focus on the nations that harbor, support, train and fund those who hurt us. The paranoids and conspiracy buffs will speculate that an attack will have been allowed by the White House because it helps Republicans. Other cynics will be equally certain that another outrage will inure to the benefit of the Democrats since it will prove that the Republicans were unable to protect us. Needless to say, some will see Israel and the Mossad behind it, while others will identify all evil as coming from Iran. The argument against such cynicism is simple: No one really knows how we will react, who will be blamed and who empowered. Only the terrorists themselves believe that they will benefit. There will be great clarion and contradictory calls for every kind of reaction – from sensible and prudent to outrageous and dangerous. Keeping our balance will be difficult. In an election year, it will be hard to keep politics, spin, partisan advantage and “gotchas” out of this. But for the sake of our precious democracy, we must try. The old Soviet Union, with its thousands of nuclear weapons and ICBMs, posed an existential threat to us, meaning they threatened our existence as a nation. The terrorists can hurt us and harm us. They may strike with planes, dirty bombs and, some day, nuclear devices. They may attack iconic structures or set off bombs in a dozen theaters or stadiums. But for all their potential for damaging us, they do not, in the foreseeable future, pose an existential threat. Our land can survive their attacks. Our national soul is more in the balance. These are indeed the times that try the soul. Jonathan Dobrer, a professor of comparative religion at the American Jewish University in Bel-Air, blogs at insidesocal.com/friendlyfire. Write to him by e-mail at [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! We do not know when or where the attacks will come. I use the plural “attacks” because multiple simultaneous strikes are the signature of al-Qaida. We do not know how destructive and deadly they will be. These are certainly important questions, but they are not, I think, the most important questions. Bad things happen to good people and to good nations. We do not and cannot live in a cocoon. The great question is one of character and how we, as a nation, will react when we are struck again. On 9-11, we were gut-punched. We had not been meaningfully assaulted on our mainland since the War of 1812. We were like a boxer who tastes his own blood for the first time. We reacted in shock and with understandable rage. We also reacted domestically with remarkable and admirable restraint. While some of us behaved badly, that number was incredibly small. Good people of all backgrounds worked actively to protect Muslims and people who seemed to be of Middle Eastern origins. I hope we will be able to be as disciplined the next time, but I have my doubts. The next time we should not be surprised. We know there are people bent on our destruction, and they will literally stop at nothing to hurt us. They will use planes, boats, trucks and trains. They have shown their willingness to use Red Cross-marked ambulances, to tie bombs to their own children and to co-opt doctors as agents of death instead of life. We may be hurt, but we mustn’t be surprised or shocked.