Europe is talking tougher against Islamic terrorism
John Vinocur International Herald Tribune
Monday, May 03, 2004
HAMBURG "The terrorists should know this," said Otto Schily, talking about Islamic fundamentalists: "If you love death so much, then it can be yours."
"What?" a reporter asked, seemingly startled. Germany's interior minister became even clearer. Two weeks after a tape attributed to Osama bin Laden warned Europe it would face war if it rejected an Al Qaeda "reconciliation" offer, and failed to pull its troops from Afghanistan and Iraq within three months, Schily said in substance that killing terrorists at home to save thousands of endangered lives was a possibility.
"We must and we will make a stand - if necessary in a manner that will not spare the lives of the terrorists," he explained.
The tone was harsher, more aggressive than most of what has been heard in Europe about fighting Islamic terrorism since the attacks on New York and Washington, Sept. 11, 2001.
In Hamburg, the city used as an operational base by Mohamed Atta to set up the Sept. 11 attacks, a Social Democrat wondered if the U.S. attorney general, John Ashcroft, had somehow gotten Schily's ear. A spokesman for the Greens, the Social Democratic Party's coalition partner, did not like what he said sounded like talk of "targeted assassinations."
But Schily's tone seemed reflective of a new context, apparent in France and Britain as well, that has developed since the Qaeda bombing in Madrid. This change means more European governments acknowledging in various ways that bin Laden's forces are an immediate European threat, that Islamic fundamentalist activists accompany them as a present danger, and that terrorists are testing whether the defeat of an American ally in Spain's elections is a sign - bin Laden's subsequent offer of a "deal" to Europe serves as prime example - Europe can be intimidated.
Schily, in a question and answer session with the magazine Der Spiegel, rejected the possibility of Europe seeking a free pass by bowing to a terrorist ultimatum that came from what he described as gangster bosses and criminals.
But Schily added, without referring to Spain's pullout of troops from Iraq, that Germany withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan would be a "debacle" of an impudence equal to doing a deal with the terrorists. German public opinion appeared to be modestly along the same line, with a Forsa poll in the current Stern magazine showing that 50 percent of the Germans reject the idea of countries pulling troops out of Iraq (no German forces are present) in the face of terrorist threats, while 41 percent approve.
Where Schily sounded as if he was really pushing the envelope of European political correctness was in statements that both questioned the possibility of a basic dialogue with large segments of Europe's Muslim population, and accepted the idea of clashes of civilization involving Islamic fundamentalism and the West as popularized by Samuel Huntington of Harvard University.
This was quite extraordinary stuff considering the heat of the denunciations in Germany and France of Huntington's thesis after Sept. 11 as a danger to European tranquillity (Huntington actually wrote that Islam itself rather than fundamentalism is the problem). The level of frankness was all the more striking since it came from an extremely popular politician, a Socialist Democratic Party member, and, close to 30 years ago, the former lawyer of Germany's own Baader-Meinhof terrorist group.
Indeed, the psychic context of Europe's approach to terrorism appears to be altering significantly.
In Britain, David Blunkett, the home secretary or interior minister, announced a national identity card plan that both horrified civil liberties organizations and went against British tradition, but that polls suggest met a wide margin of approval as a means to combat both terrorism and bum checks.
In France, the new interior minister, Dominique de Villepin, has ordered the expulsion to Algeria of an imam who the government said had preached stoning adulterous women and attacking American interests, while he maintained ties with terrorist groups. The deportation order was reversed by a French court, but President Jacques Chirac said last week the law would have to be changed to facilitate expulsions, and Algerian newspapers on Sunday praised France for finally abandoning what one called its "benevolence" over the years toward Islamic fundamentalist preachers.
Talking about the connection between Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism as if he had discovered the wheel, Villepin explained Saturday, "Here's today's reality: under the cover of religion, individuals present on our soil have been using extremist language and issuing calls for violence. These are statements that favor the installation of terrorist movements on French territory. It's necessary therefore to oppose this together and by all available means."
French media reports say the police put at 32 the number of mosques in the Paris region under the control of Islamic radicals at end of 2003. Villepin's remarks were addressed to the recently formed French Council of the Muslim Religion, which is meant to serve as a channel for discussion between the country's five to seven million Muslims and the state.
But Schily, in the Spiegel interview, expressed real doubts about the possibility of such a dialogue.
"That's a very difficult undertaking," he said. "Many Muslims want a discussion, but regrettably they're not willing to allow critical questions. At a Social Democratic Party get-together awhile ago I advanced an idea. It was that our way of seeing religious freedom meant including the possibility of saying all of Islam is a fallacy, or irrtum, in the original German. The reaction was rather strong - from enraged letters to an official dÃ©marche by an Arab government. All this upset over a basically harmless remark showed that the culture of dialogue is not very extensively developed."
Schily's view of the overall circumstances was not much brighter than Huntington's or perhaps Ashcroft's, although Schily chose the word battle over war in describing Europe's confrontation with terrorism, and said the mood in German mosques after the Madrid attacks had changed for the better since the type of jubilation that marked Sept. 11.
Nonetheless, he said, "We find ourselves in a basic conflict of civilization pitting Muslim fundamentalist extremism on one side, against a Western mode of life that is considered by the other side as decadent and rotten."
The situation was such, according to Schily, that in extreme cases involving the potential death of thousands, Germany had to decide "if killing a person is justified as an emergency protective measure."
All this was essentially in answer to an initial question asked Schily about bin Laden's offer to let Europe buy itself out of the sights of his bombers. Like the actions of his counterparts in France and Britain, Schily's response appeared part of a palpable European adjustment to reality. The bin Laden ultimatum runs out in mid-July.
The whole damn Islam problem could be eliminated in a couple of weeks, unfortunately many more will die before Muslims get what they deserve.