The war against Islamic extremism

Conflicting evidence about whether the West will awake to the danger facing it in time.

October 4, 2006 21:14
4 minute read.
muslim protest islam

muslim protest 298 88. (photo credit: AP)


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In an editorial published on September 11, this paper wrote that we are at a "dangerous point" in the war against Islamic extremism, with much of the West still unconvinced, five years after the Twin Towers were destroyed, that such a war even exists. And indeed, a glance at what has befallen the leaders of this war in recent years gives grounds for deep pessimism.

  • In March 2004, Spanish premier Jose Maria Aznar was voted out of power in direct response to a terror attack in Madrid three days earlier. This was a double victory for Islamic terror: Not only was Aznar, a leading member of the Western alliance against such terror, replaced by a man who prefers currying favor with the likes of Hugo Chavez, but it proved that terror could decide an election. Prior to the attack, polls had shown Aznar winning handily.
  • This summer, Silvio Berlusconi, another leading member of the alliance (and one of Israel's best friends in Europe), narrowly lost to a candidate who shares the French view of Europe as a counterweight to America rather than its main ally.
  • In Britain, Tony Blair's staunch pro-Americanism, eloquent defense of the war on terror and relatively (or, by European standards, extremely) pro-Israel stance have made him wildly unpopular at home. He was recently forced to promise to leave within a year, and whichever party wins the next election is certain to adopt a less pro-American, more anti-Israel and more anti-war line: Both the leader of the opposition Conservatives and the main contenders to succeed Blair within Labor have promised as much explicitly.
  • Finally, George Bush appears set to lose control of one or both houses of Congress this November to the Democrats, whose leadership remains largely unconvinced that the West is at war. Indeed, with the sole exception of Angela Merkel's narrow defeat of Gerhard Schroeder in Germany, the political scoreboard appears to be one long string of victories for those who deny the war's existence. YET IN recent months, there have been signs of a countercurrent emerging in Europe. In Spain, for instance, the bombing that brought Jose Zapatero to power also appears to have revolutionized Aznar's Popular Party. While in power, despite Aznar's alliance with Bush, this party adhered to the view that Israeli policy, rather than Islamic extremism, was the real Middle East problem. Indeed, under Aznar's leadership, Spain was one of the most anti-Israel countries in Europe. But Aznar, who has retired from politics and now heads a research institute, has since devoted himself to persuading the West that not only is Islamic "jihadism" a threat comparable to communism in its day, which must be confronted with equal resolve, but that Israel is part of the solution rather than the problem. As he put it in a speech in Jerusalem in March, Israel "is on the same side as Europe, the US, Japan and Australia. We defend the same values against the same enemies. It's that simple." Indeed, Aznar not only advocates redefining NATO's mission as fighting jihadism; he thinks Israel should join the organization. Moreover, he appears to have convinced his former party, which is still a major player in Spain. Thus when Zapatero not only publicly accused Israel in July of using "abusive force" in Lebanon, but agreed to be photographed afterward in a keffiyeh, the Popular Party's spokesman accused him of "anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and Israelophobia." This is probably the first time in Spanish history that a mainstream faction has considered "anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and Israelophobia" terms of opprobrium, and it represents a major shift in consciousness. Yet another encouraging development was the publication in Denmark last month of Islamists and Naivists, a book that equates Islamic fundamentalists with Nazis and communists and warns against Europe's complacency in the face of this threat. While Bush has made this analogy for years, in Europe, comparisons of Islamism to Nazism or communism were until recently confined to the fringes. This book's authors, however, are unassailably mainstream: Ralf Pittelkow, once an adviser to former Social Democratic premier Poul Rasmussen, is now a columnist for the paper Jyllands-Posten, while Karen Jespersen is a former interior minister and social affairs minister. The fact that the Nazi-communist analogy is going mainstream is critical to galvanizing support for the war. Also promising was last month's election of Fredrik Reinfeldt as Sweden's new premier. In an interview a week before the elections, Reinfeldt bluntly described Sweden under his predecessor as characterized by "very strong anti-Americanism and feeling against Israel," due to a leadership that "has been on the side of the Palestinians." Those views did not get him elected; the campaign revolved around economics. But precisely because Sweden has long been a bastion of the opposite views, Reinfeldt could, if he uses his new bully pulpit to speak out against these trends, encourage a shift in the European Union's positions. Finally, a survey conducted last month by the Washington-based Israel Project, which polled both the elites and the general public in Germany, Britain and France, found that a growing proportion, particularly in Germany, now views Islamic extremism, rather than Israel's policies, as the cause of the Middle East's problems. The figures show that the consciousness battle is far from won: Both the French and British elites, for instance, split roughly evenly between those who blamed Islamic extremism and those who blamed Israel. Yet the fact that all three countries registered rises in those who view Islamic extremism as the key shows that the tide is turning in the right direction. All of the above are mere straws in the wind, and they do not answer the big question: whether the West will awake to the danger facing it in time. The defeat of both Nazism and communism has created a myth of Western invincibility, but in World War II, the West's awakening came within a hairsbreadth of being too late. And this time, the West could yet oversleep entirely. Nevertheless, slowly, the wind appears to be shifting. And that, at least, offers grounds for hope.

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