The first front
The rise of radical Islam in Europe described by Bruce Bawer which was the subject of the previous post, is amplified in a Wall Street Journal article by Frederick Kempe. Entitled the U.S. Sees Europe as New Front Against Islamist Extremism, the article says that:
The Bush administration has quietly opened what senior officials consider a third front in a global campaign against Islamist extremism, this one aimed at the rising threat from Europe. ... The administration's evolving thinking came into sharper focus last week during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing at which Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Daniel Fried said: "While Islamist extremism is a global phenomenon, we find the nature of the problem in Western Europe to be distinct -- both in its character and its potential to threaten the United States."
What makes the challenge so complex, Mr. Fried said in a subsequent interview, is that the U.S. can't address it through arrests, military campaigns or even greater democracy, but needs to launch a generational "battle of ideas" that would be no less critical in importance than that against communism after World War II. It ultimately will have to rely on European allies who mostly have failed to integrate Muslim minorities.
While Islamist extremism is a global phenomenon, we find the nature of the problem in Western Europe to be distinct – both in its character and in its potential to threaten the United States. Many, perhaps most Muslims in Western Europe are outside the mainstream in several respects. They are a minority, and even the third generation is still predominantly viewed as “foreign.” Muslims’ struggles with unemployment, discrimination, and integration have created an audience potentially open to receiving an extremist message. In many countries, this is compounded by legal institutions that struggle with the challenge of free speech that is exploited by extremists, thus leading to the phenomenon sometimes called “tolerance of intolerance.” Add a deeply negative perception of U.S. foreign policy among Western Europe’s Muslims, and relative freedom of movement across the Atlantic, and you have a particularly dangerous mix.
Moreover, European institutions -- in Fried's estimation -- do not know how to respond to the Islamic growth within it, or rather have responded as they would to other European ideas.
Many European governments hesitate to take action against extremist preaching in the name of defending religious tolerance and free speech. They often fear that crackdowns will only drive radical elements underground. Extremists take advantage of European freedoms to proselytize and recruit from radical mosques and they have taken over several major mosques. In the early 2000s, London’s Finsbury Park Mosque was attended by Algerian-born UK citizens loyal to Chechen Shamil Basayev, who claimed responsibility for the September 2004 Beslan school attack in Russia. In February 2006 a judge sentenced the mosque’s former imam, Abu Hamza al-Masri, to prison for inciting followers to kill non-Muslims. French citizen Zacarias Moussaoui attended London’s Brixton Mosque for a time but was eventually expelled for exposing younger members to his extremist views. Brixton was also attended by “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. Mohammed Atta and other Hamburg Cell members began attending Hamburg’s Al-Quds Mosque in late 1997.
The European debate can fall into a trap of seeking a defensive solution, such as formulas to define and ban hate speech. These kinds of legal bans may well be a dead end. A better solution is to develop norms that challenge and expose extremist thought as with other forms of anti-democratic ideology.
Fried's call to develop "norms that challenge and expose extremist thought" are on closer inspection nothing less than a call to ideological confrontation, chiefly remarkable for being exactly what European societies do not intend to do. Realizing that the European institutions will not confront Islamic ideology directly, the WSJ article describes State Department attempts to engage extremist ideology directly by sponsoring meetings between "moderate" American Muslims and their fire-eating European counterparts.
The evolving U.S. approach adds soft power to the hard power of expanding law-enforcement and intelligence cooperation with European states through increased efforts to combat extremist ideology. That involves engaging the moderate Muslim majority by, among other measures, bringing more Muslims into such existing trans-Atlantic exchanges as the high-profile Fulbright academic-exchange program and the International Visitors Leadership program, whose aim is to identify and cultivate emerging leaders. The State Department also has launched initiatives to bring together U.S. and European Muslims.
U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Tom C. Korologos in November convened what he called the first-ever people-to-people exchange between American and Belgian Muslims, who compared notes on coming to terms with secular Western societies. The Islamic Society of North America, the largest U.S. Muslim organization, announced internships, scholarships and exchanges for Belgian imams and Muslim leaders, teachers and students. The mayors of Dearborn, Mich., and Genk, Belgium, formed a sister-city relationship to help link their communities.
As a program it seems hopelessly inadequate; and whether the exchange will moderate European extremists or radicalize American moderates remains to be seen.
If developing "norms that challenge and expose extremist thought" are a prerequisite to challenging Islamic extremism then the road will be long and hard. Intellectual challenges to radical Islamism have largely been the effort of outcast intellectuals like Oriana Fallaci, Bat Y'eor, Hirsi Ali and others like them. They live in a shadow world, "scorned by the academic establishment for their politically incorrect views", as Bruce Bawer puts it; and literally on the run. Fallaci in fact, has been ordered to stand trial for "defaming Islam" in her native Italy. Hirsi Ali leads a precarious existence under round-the-clock protection from the Dutch government. On the other hand, as Bawer also notes, European intellectuals like Timothy Garton Ash who argue for submission, who say that "for this increasingly Muslim Europe to define itself against Islam would be ridiculous and suicidal" are free to move, speak and publish. Ash is a professor at "Oxford, where he directs the European Studies Centre, and is a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. He is considered a world-class expert on Europe and its future, and he refers frequently in his book to his participation in glamorous-sounding international conferences on weighty topics. In short, he is at the heart of the European academic elite". Islam's intellectual challengers live a fugitive existence while its defenders move in a celebrity world. If challenging Islamic extremism intellectually is a necessity then the enterprise has gotten off to a bad start.
In fact, there nothing remotely approaching a consensus in Western politics on the need to fight totalitarian Islamism physically or intellectually. Even in America Iraq has become the "unnecessary war"; Guantanamo Bay the unnecessary prison. Wiretapping Al-Qaeda, worrying about the Iranian nuclear weapons program, even building a border fence are all unnecessary acts. And they are superfluous precisely because the notion of opposing radical Islamism is itself an unnecessary idea, inexpressible even as a cartoon. The problem with opening a Third Front in Europe is that the cart may have come before the horse. The truth may set you free, but first you must have truth.