Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Jihad Euro-style

Writing in The Weekly Standard, Reuel Marc Gerecht has a couple interesting points about the evolution of radical Islam in Europe.

The effect of western culture on radicalized Islam:

In Europe as elsewhere, Westernization is the key to the growth and virulence of hard-core Islamic radicalism. The most frightening, certainly the most effective, adherents of bin Ladenism are those who are culturally and intellectually most like us. The process of Westernization liberates a Muslim from the customary sanctions and loyalties that normally corralled the dark side of the human soul. Respect for one's father, an appreciation for the human need to have fun, a toleration of eccentricity and naughty personal behavior, the love of art and folk music--all are characteristics of traditional mainstream Muslim society wiped away by the arrival of modernity and the simultaneous spread of sterile, esthetically empty, angry, Saudi-financed Wahhabi thought. In this sense, bin Ladenism is the Muslim equivalent of Western totalitarianism. This cleaning of the slate, this break with the past, is probably more profound in the Muslim enclaves in Europe--what Gilles Kepel called les banlieues de l'Islam--than it is in the urban sprawl of Cairo, where traditional mores, though under siege and badly battered by modernity, nevertheless retain considerable force.

Gerecht then seems to dismiss the "grievance factor":

Most intellectuals and politicians would prefer to see Islamic terrorism in Europe as a by-product of accumulated foreign grievances [Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Gulf Wars I and II, the current Bush administration]....Although some of the reasons put forth by Europeans to explain their Muslim problems are undoubtedly valid, a wise U.S. counterterrorist policy would downplay the external causes of Islamic activism in Europe. We should prepare for the worst-case scenario and assume that European society itself will continue to generate the most lethal holy warriors."

As as has been the theme recently, I don't know if Gerecht's approach of dismissing the "grievance factor" and getting ready for the worst is particularly sound. Maybe paying attention to this by trying to change minds is a waste of time? Maybe, as Gerecht seems to suggest, the "grievance factor" is tied to the fate of the Middle East:

There is no satisfying, expeditious answer to Europe's Muslim problems. If Olivier Roy is right--European Islam, for better and for worse, is now independent of the Middle East--then democracy could come to Muslims' ancestral homelands even as a virulent form of Islamic militancy persisted for years in Western Europe. But the intellectual and family ties with the Middle East are probably still sufficient to ensure that if the Middle East changes for the better, the ripples will quickly reach Europe. The democratic discussion in the Middle East, which is often broadcast through media headquartered in Europe, is becoming ever more vibrant and powerful. If Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt begins to give way to democracy, it's a very good bet that the discussion in every single mosque in Western Europe will be about the popular triumph and the democratic experiment beginning in the Arab world's most important country.

Amid all the ensuing political and religious debates and arguments, in the expectant hope that other dictators would fall, al Qaeda and its allied groups might find it even harder to attract recruits who would incinerate themselves for a revolutionary ideal increasingly at odds with reality. If the Bush administration wants to help Europe, it should back as forcefully as possible the rapid expansion of democracy in the Middle East. It would be a delightful irony if the more progressive political and religious debates among the Middle East's Muslims saved their brethren in the intellectually backward lands of the European Union.

I agree wholeheartedly, but I fear Gerecht is either to Muslim-centric in his analysis or he doesn't believe the state of Europe, with an ever-growing democratic and moral deficit, helps foster these enclaves of radical Islam. The people of Europe need to understand what is at stake in their own backyard. They need to know what is at risk and they have to ask themselves if they're willing to stand up and defend it. It would be great if the Middle East Muslim's can set an example for their brothers and sisters in Europe. Yet, it would be an even greater irony if the democrats in the Middle East prove to be a source of democratic inspiration to Europe as a whole.


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