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November 22, 2004

Europe Starts to Wake Up?

The Wall Street Journal carries a long article today about how the murder of Theo Van Gogh has apparently awakened Dutch authorities to the fact that yes, Virginia, there really is a problem with Muslim extremism.

"We have to fight terrorism," says Hans Luiten, a 39-year-old socialist alderman who sends his young son to school with mostly Muslim pupils and decorates his office with pictures of mosques. "The war on this small group of terrorists has to be very severe."

Mr. Luiten's resolve follows the murder early this month of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was shot, stabbed and slashed across the throat by a suspected Islamic radical. The killing set off a wave of attacks on mosques. It also triggered a surprising shift in a country where, like elsewhere across much of Western Europe, America's "war on terror" has often been derided as too crude and too brutal.

"People here thought that terrorism was for other countries, not for the Netherlands," says Stef Blok, a member of parliament and chairman of a commission that reviewed policy toward immigrants. "This is a rude awakening."

Alarm over terrorism hasn't halted European public opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But just as happened in the U.S. after Sept. 11, the political debate in the Old World is being reshaped here by growing evidence of an Islamist terrorist network that sees Europe not only as a base, but also as a target. In March, Muslim radicals killed 191 people in bomb attacks on Madrid's commuter trains. Police in France and Britain say they have since foiled several terrorist plots aimed at the local population.

The soul-searching has challenged a belief at the core of Europe's liberal political consensus since World War II: that violence and other crimes flow from poverty, discrimination and similar ills. Europe isn't about to ditch a wide, if increasingly frayed, social welfare net. But it is doubting whether a system built after 1945 in part to blunt the appeal of communism can help block Islamic extremism.

The article details the steps that the traditionally tolerant, and recently unconfident Europeans, are taking.

Since the van Gogh murder, the Dutch government has announced plans to boost funding for the security service, known as the AIVD; to close radical mosques that disrupt public order; and to make it easier to detain terror suspects. Some politicians want to ban foreign preachers and put mosques under state supervision -- a modern replay of old battles between European rulers and the Catholic Church.

Other European countries are also taking a tougher approach in recent days. In Berlin, for example, the head of a city district this month declared multiculturalism dead, asserting that excessive tolerance had led to the creation of parallel societies. Prominent German politicians have called for rules requiring that imams preach in German, not Turkish or Arabic, so that society can monitor radicalism. Britain's home secretary said yesterday the government is considering setting up special terrorism courts without juries and allowing wiretap transcripts to be used as evidence.

Belgium, meanwhile, has said it will crack down on Arabic-language radio stations and Web sites accused of spreading anti-Semitic and anti-Western views. The country's justice minister has been given round-the-clock protection after she received a letter threatening her and two colleagues. A Belgian senator critical of Islamic attitudes toward women went into hiding last week after a threat to "ritually slaughter" her. Police Friday said they had arrested a Belgian convert to Islam for the threat. And mosques have also been attacked over the past two weeks in Belgium and Germany.

The Journal notes van Gogh's "many enemies." Apparently, though, only one of them decided to kill him:

Mr. van Gogh had many enemies. His poison pen led to a raft of defamation suits over the years. In writings and speeches he made crude jokes about Jews and riled Muslims with scatological insults. A few months before his murder, he attended a debate called "Happy Chaos" organized by students and a leftist magazine. It descended into rancorous chaos when Mr. van Gogh called a Muslim leader the "prophet's pimp." He often praised Pym Fortuyn, a hugely popular anti-immigration politician killed by an animal-rights activist in 2002.

The story is complete with the by-now-typical European bungling of a terror-related investigation and surveillance:

AIVD, the Dutch intelligence service, has been monitoring the mosque [Al-Tawheed] for several years. The security service, according to a report submitted recently to parliament, worried about the mosque's "ultra-orthodox message," which it judged in part responsible for a small but radical group of Dutch Muslims "who regard violent jihad sympathetically." But authorities shied away from firm action.


Mr. Bouyeri first came to the attention of Dutch antiterrorist officers in September 2002 when they noticed his name on an article in Over't Veld, a newsletter supported by local authorities. The article urged young people to behave better and struck a moderate tone. But it caught the eye of the AIVD security service because of its frequent references to the Quran, according to an AIVD official. Mr. Bouyeri wrote several more articles over the next six months, growing steadily more dogmatic.

AIVD also came across Mr. Bouyeri's name during an investigation into a Dutch-Moroccan man named Samir Azzouz, one of a pair of Dutch Islamists arrested in Ukraine en route to fight in Chechnya. After his return to the Netherlands, Mr. Azzouz was picked up by Dutch police last fall on suspicion of planning terrorism. He was released and then re-arrested after police searched his residence and found plans of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, a nuclear-power station and buildings in The Hague. His lawyer declined to comment.

Mr. Azzouz, along with several other members of what police call the "Hofstad Group," made several visits to Mr. Bouyeri's ground-floor apartment in a sleepy residential area of Amsterdam. Neighbors remember Mr. Bouyeri as young man who kept to himself except for late night calls by bearded friends.

One such visitor, say Dutch authorities, was a 45-year-old Syrian preacher named Redouan al Issar, who has now vanished. He is wanted by security officials in both Holland and Germany, where he settled in 1995 and lived off monthly welfare payments, according to a German official. He was arrested last year in Germany for using a false passport. He was released and, say Dutch officials, then re-arrested in Holland later in the year for suspicion of planning bomb attacks. But he was released again and deported back to Germany.

Finally, the Journal notes that Van Gogh's killing, "set off outrage, introspection and a wave of further violence." While there appears to have been mutual violence, introspection only appears to be happening on one side. At least it's asking how far Europe has to go to stop extremism, and not how much it has to offer. In the meantime, there's no mention of any Muslim introspection about how their community spawned this monster.

Secondly, this seems to be a purely defensive Fortress Europe sort of strategy, not one that addresses the international sources of terrorism. In that sense, Europe is still where we were a few years before 9/11. Europe's complicity in Iran's nuclear program is evidence of that. Perhaps this is a necessary first step. A Europe that feels less beholden to extremist elements at home may believe it has a freer hand to address those elements abroad. If this truly is an awakening by the institutional left (as opposed to the Intellectual Left, which is beyond hope or help), Europe may be coming to realize it has more in common with us than it thought.

Posted by joshuasharf at November 22, 2004 06:46 PM | TrackBack

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