The West at war

We stand with Britain's people, and encourage them to stay strong in the face of barbaric attacks.

Gordan brown 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Gordan brown 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
After two car bombs were dismantled in London, and terrorists attempted a third car bombing at Glasgow Airport, the United Kingdom has put itself on "critical alert" - the highest level, warning of "imminent" terrorist attacks. As Israelis, we stand with the people of Great Britain, and encourage them to stay strong in the face of these barbaric attacks. Britain's new prime minister, Gordon Brown, reacted much as the leader of any free nation should: "It's obvious that we have a group of people - not just in this country, but round the world - who are prepared at any time to inflict what they want to be maximum damage on civilians, irrespective of the religion of these people who are killed or maimed... "And so, we will have to be constantly vigilant... The message that's got to come out from Britain, and from the British people, is that, as one, we will not yield. We will not be intimidated and we will not allow anyone to undermine our British way of life." It might seem that such a message would go without saying. Yet, as in other democracies under attack, there will be those who blame the victim, who say that this is the natural result of British support for the US in Iraq, of knighting Salman Rushdie, or other acts that can be construed as "anti-Islamic." Brown is right to reject this approach out of hand, and to point out that al-Qaida is operating in some 60 countries, including countries with Muslim majorities. Yet there are respects in which Brown's response falls short - not in the sense of being less forthright than other Western leaders, but because the typical Western response to Islamist terrorism is itself insufficiently coherent. Brown, for example, spoke vaguely of "extremists," without saying who these extremists are and what they are trying to do. We understand and agree that democratic leaders should not blame Islam as a whole or all Muslims for such atrocities. By the same token, however, it is necessary to say, as Brown's predecessor did, that the enemy is "reactionary Islam," rather than the generic "extremists." Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, also explained why we must be more explicit. Speaking of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said last August, "We could have chosen security as the battleground. But we didn't. We chose values. We said we didn't want another Taliban or a different Saddam. Rightly, in my view, we realized that you can't defeat a fanatical ideology just by imprisoning or killing its leaders; you have to defeat its ideas." But how do you defeat the ideas of a militant, totalitarian, death-worshiping ideology like Islamo-fascism? First, you have to be willing to speak about them, not just about "extremists." But you also have to admit that the battle is not just an educational one in the conventional sense. Brown, in his reaction to the weekend attacks, suggested that what is needed is a "cultural effort - almost similar to what happened in the Cold War in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, when we had... to explain to people that our values represented the best of commitments to individual dignity, to liberty and to human life being taken seriously." This is fine, as far as it goes. The West should stand up for, rather than blame, itself - this much is clear. But this is a bare prerequisite. It is not enough. We also need to fight back. The West must defend itself by using all of the tools at its disposal - economic, diplomatic and, if necessary, military - to force rogue nations to stop fomenting hatred, supporting terrorism and building nuclear weapons. Defeating amorphous groups like al-Qaida may be difficult even if they can be deprived of state sanctuary and the growing prospect of a nuclear umbrella. But defeating them without addressing these key elements of sponsorship - including the billions of dollars still flowing from Saudi Arabia and other countries in support of radical Islamist schools - is not possible. However successfully they were foiled, the latest terrorist attempts against the United Kingdom demonstrate that no wide open society can hermetically seal itself off. There is no escaping the overarching truth: We, the West, are under attack, and will continue to be until we not only recognize that war has been declared against us, but act decisively and collectively to win that war.