swiss Iran deal 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Four years ago, in one of his sporadic communications to the outside world, Osama bin Laden proffered a peace offering of sorts to Europe.
In it he declared that "in order to deny war merchants a chance and in response to the positive interaction shown by recent events and opinion polls, which indicate that most European peoples want peace, I ask honest people, especially ulema, preachers and merchants, to form a permanent committee to enlighten European peoples of the justice of our causes, above all Palestine."
This week, the al-Qaida leader had a very different message for Europe, in reaction to last month's reprinting in several Danish newspapers of the same satirical cartoons targeting Islamic extremism and violence that caused riots across the Muslim world three years ago.
This was, he declared a provocation in "the framework of a new Crusade in which the pope of the Vatican has played a large, lengthy roleâ€¦ You [Europe] went overboard in your unbelief and freed yourselves of the etiquettes of dispute and fighting and went to the extent of publishing these insulting drawingsâ€¦ This is the greater and more serious tragedy, and reckoning for it will be more severe."
Bin Laden didn't specify how that reckoning would come, although it is likely that one of his purposes was to spur members of Europe's large Islamic population into action - such as the murder plot that was uncovered earlier this year against one of the Danish cartoonists by a radical Islamic cell in Copenhagen.
At the time when the caricatures were first published three years ago, the political figure most vigorously fanning the flames of violence across the Muslim world was Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"Now in the West insulting the prophet is allowed, but questioning the Holocaust is considered a crime," Ahmadinejad declared. "We ask, why do you insult the prophet? The response is that it is a matter of freedom, while in fact they (who insult the founder of Islam) are hostages of the Zionists. And the people of the US and Europe should pay a heavy price for becoming hostages to Zionists."
This week, as the forces of radical Islam were again directly threatening Europe, at least one of its nations was indeed paying a heavy price to Iran: Switzerland, which signed a $28 billion deal to import gas from the Iranians, at a time when the US and other European states are trying to use economic sanctions to rein in Teheran's nuclear ambitions.
Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey even donned a headscarf to meet with Ahmadinejad and seal the deal. Regarded as a feminist leader in her own country, Calmy-Rey defended her action by saying she was simply trying to show respect for Iranian hosts, who in return have shown little interest in mutually respecting European traditions of tolerance and freedom of expression.
No one in Europe, or the entire world for that matter, has ever looked to Switzerland as an exemplar of moral courage.
But too many in Europe have in recent years demonstrated an attitude that, when it comes to the threat of radical Islam, seems to echo the historical Swiss tendency of believing one can hunker down and act purely in narrow national self-interest while protected by geography and neutrality.
However, Europe, the Swiss included, do not have that luxury this time. One reason of course is the large Muslim immigrant population scattered across that continent, which decades of official neglect and indulgence have allowed to become festering recruiting pools for radical Islamic networks.
The result is that virtually any high-profile European critic of Islam deemed too "disrespectful," such as the Danish cartoonists, the murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, or Dutch politicians Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders become a target of violence and attacks - as do even those European public figures, such as Pope Benedict XVI, who try to take a more conciliatory approach.
What's more, any European nation that fails to see the connection between doing business as usual with the Iranian regime and the growing threat of radical Islamic elements both within and without its borders that directly threaten European values and lives will end up paying a far heavier price than the Swiss did this week to Teheran.
Europe today does have leaders, including Britain's Gordon Brown, France's Nicholas Sarkozy and Germany's Angela Merke1l, who at least rhetorically have shown greater awareness of the scope of the challenge that Islamic extremism poses to their societies.
Yet on the main literal battlefield where European forces are facing off directly against this enemy - Afghanistan - even these key NATO states have thus far fallen short in providing the kind of manpower needed to score a decisive victory in this theater of that war.
In the meantime, Osama bin Laden still sits in his cave somewhere near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and threatens a severe reckoning against Europe as long as it insists on the right to count itself among the free nations of the world.
Switzerland may sit at the heart of Europe - but this is a moment in history when its European neighbors will need to find the kind of heart the Swiss have yet to demonstrate, to secure their own future as the continuing cradle of the Enlightenment.