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I Sit and Look Out

On one of our trips to the British Isles, Elaine and I visited the city of Durham in northeast England. One of the highlights was the cathedral, a most impressive building, located high above a river which ran through the city.

When we came to the great front doors, we saw a large knocker on one of them. This was the Sanctuary Knocker, a long tradition dating back to Anglo-Saxon times.

Like amnesty, which was discussed earlier in this series, sanctuary became a dirty word among some presidential aspirants who wanted to tarnish the reputation of Rudolph Giuliani when he was New York City's mayor.

Let me be very clear: As a native New Yorker, citizen and taxpayer, I lived through the Giuliani years. I have not forgotten the abrasive, arrogant and divisive man he was before Sept. 11. Nor have I forgotten the fine job he did on Sept. 11 and days thereafter. But I have also not forgotten nor forgiven his efforts to extend his term in office and forego elections for his successor.

Thankfully, we resisted such authoritarian moves and the proper democratic procedures were followed. Ed Koch put it succinctly when he said Rudy "is not a nice man." This is an instance in which Koch was given to great understatement.

I certainly do not agree with Rudy's joking approval of waterboarding, which is clearly torture. John McCain, who knows about such matters, has made that clear time after time.

Rudy was accused by some of his opponents as being a proponent of "sanctuary," although he became an opponent of a sensible immigration system.

Sanctuary is a bedrock of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence. One of the sources of my comments is the wonderful "Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable," first published more than 100 years ago.

The Right of Sanctuary in Anglo-Saxon England extended to all church yards, which generally provided refuge for fugitives for 40 days. Permanent refuge was available in what were called the Great Liberties, such as Durham. These were free from royal intervention in whole or part. The refugee had to come within the bounds of the refuge or, more dramatically reach the sanctuary knocker on the door of the church or cathedral.

Sanctuary for treason was ended in the 15th century when Henry VIII severely restricted the right. By the beginning of the 15th century, sanctuary for criminals and civil offenders was a thing of the past. But it had lasted for more than 1,000 years and the city of York was one of the refuge cities finally provided on the Biblical model.

Unfortunately, like amnesty, sanctuary has become a buzzword for those who deplore illegal immigration, but refuse to seek sensible ways to deal with it, as a bipartisan group in Congress tried to do in early 2007.

Sure Rudy and Mayor Michael Bloomberg can be accused of giving sanctuary to illegals, because they have tried to take a humane stance on the subject. In the broad context of how we deal with illegal immigration, we should not allow buzzwords to distract us from the necessity of humane and intelligent solutions to the problem.

I have little or no regard for Rudy, but I will defend his record as mayor on this matter. It gives me pause to do so, but it is, I believe, the honorable thing to do, even if he may have tried to renounce his actions.

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