Monday, January 30, 2006

To Europe, Bush is Only Creating More Terrorists

by William Pfaff
International Herald Tribune
January 29, 2006

PARIS - The difference between official American and European perceptions of terrorism has serious practical consequences for trans-Atlantic cooperation.

At the police and intelligence level, all goes reasonably well, or did until the public uproar in Europe about alleged official cooperation with the CIA's secret "rendition" and interrogation operations.

On the other hand, last Monday, France blocked a proposed NATO-European Union meeting on terrorism because NATO "was not intended to be the world's gendarme." It is a military defense alliance of equal partners. A French diplomat said, "we do not wish to have NATO involved in everything, or imposing its agenda on the EU."

This is part of France's consistent opposition to equally consistent American efforts to turn NATO into an agent of U.S. policy, and to convince the EU's members that NATO should be the exclusive security organization of the Western alliance, and that Europe should abandon its embryonic independent security policy and European rapid reaction force.

There is nothing new in this this trans-Atlantic disagreement, but it does point to a serious terrorism issue: how the threat is to be defined, which in turn implies how it should be met.

The Bush administration is firmly committed to the notion that Al Qaeda presents a military problem that requires a military solution. It has to stick to this story or else it has no explanation for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. So President George W. Bush keeps making speeches about Al Qaeda's supposed conviction that it could go from success in Iraq to mobilizing all of Islam, restoring the Grand Caliphate of the eighth and ninth centuries, and conquering the world. That's a military problem.

The Europeans, in general, think otherwise. Rik Coolsaet, of Ghent University and the Belgian Royal Institute for International Relations, notes that while some European analysts agree with Washington's position, most see terrorism in Europe as "a patchwork of self-radicalizing cells with international contacts," lacking central direction.

Addressing The Transatlantic Dialogue on Terrorism at The Hague in December, Coolsaet said that at most European terrorism is described as an affair of "concentric circles around a still lethal Al Qaeda core." The first circle is composed of "more or less structured" organizations, surrounded by a loose and informal third circle of freelance militants.

International counterterrorism is said to have been successful in "degrading Al Qaeda as an organization and in decreasing its ability to conduct massive attacks." What survives is "a patchwork of homegrown networks and 'lone wolves,' where almost everyone can be linked, at least indirectly, to almost everyone else," but in casual and nonoperational ways.

Thus the phenomenon of Muslim extremism in Europe is largely back to what it was before 9/11 and the panicked international reaction that followed, "unduly exaggerating the importance of Al Qaeda."

Coolsaet notes that European security agencies have reported "a growing tendency of self-radicalization and self-recruitment." The latter is now thought to be more important in producing jihad candidates "than any organized international network," possibly excepting the networks recruiting for Iraq.

This radicalization of young Muslim militants in Europe is superficially religious, but usually takes place outside mosques and "more often than not involves individuals with college education."

The sources of extremism are social and political alienation, exclusion (and unemployment) among the offspring of immigrant communities, but the international drama mobilizes them.

Coolsaet says that when Bush declares that America is fighting jihadists in Iraq so as not to fight them at home, most European counterterrorism officials find that just the opposite is true: The more the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan intensifies, the more the number of would-be terrorists in Europe increases.

He has a reassuring comment, however, on the trajectory of terrorism. To reidentify himself as a jihadist, the recruit must dissociate himself from his own society, politicize his views and look for groups with a similar radicalized worldview. "Groupthink gradually eliminates alternative views, simplifies reality," and causes the candidate-terrorist to "dehumanize" all who disagree - especially his fellow-Muslims.

"Ultimately, this strategy is self-defeating and will signify these groups' defeat, as was the case with Europe's left-wing terrorist groups in the 1970s, and the anarchist terrorists in the 1890s." It isolates them from the community on whose behalf they think they are acting.

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