The NY Times ran a predictable editorial Thursday about the presidential candidates’ response to the Brussels terror attack. It probably could go without saying that the Times is repulsed by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and heaps praise upon Hillary Clinton for her “smart, substantive rebuttal to Republican bluster.” In fact, the Times admits much of what Clinton offered was either vague or dubious in its own way, e.g. she suggested tech companies work more closely with government to counter online propaganda but the Times admits in passing she, “did not state a clear commitment to privacy and civil liberties.” Apparently, those are minor details if you’re a Democrat.
Much more interesting than the Times’ spin was an op-ed the paper published today by Jochen Bittner, political editor of the German paper Die Zeit. Bittner spends a while lamenting the possible dissolution of the European Union in response to the Brussels terror attack but eventually gets around to criticizing the “apathy and self-delusion” Europe has engaged in regarding radical Islam [emphasis added]:
So are Germany’s critics right? Is it reasonable to pull up the drawbridge?
In a way, the very question shows the disproportionality of the thought — unless you think it’s worth sacrificing 60 years of peace and international cooperation to the depredations of terrorists. It’s what they want; European disunity, confusion and extremism put them a step closer to the all-out war between Muslims and non-Muslims they so desperately seek.
And yet the opposite of anger, apathy and self-delusion, is also the wrong answer. For the sake of social peace, after the Sept. 11 attacks, and later after the Madrid and London bombings, we told ourselves that Islam and Islamism had nothing to do with each other. But sadly, they do. The peaceful religion can sometimes serve as a slope into a militant anti-Western ideology, especially when this ideology offers a strong sense of belonging amid the mental discomfort of our postmodern societies.
Sadly, they do. And even more sadly there are still lots of people eager to pretend they do not. The solution to this problem is, in part, better international coordination as Hillary Clinton suggested but also, as Ted Cruz suggested, more police and intelligence officers looking at isolated Islamic neighborhoods where ISIS is attracting literally thousands of recruits.
Intelligence services estimate that up to 6,000 jihadists from Western Europe have traveled to join the Islamic State. This enormous figure does not illustrate merely the failures of integration policy. It also shows the failure of mainstream European Muslims to keep their youth immune from extremism.
A result of this mutual apathy is too many Islamists, and too few police and intelligence officers — particularly in Belgium, but not just there. We may have a common European currency, but we still do not have a common European terrorism database. Islamists in Western Europe seem better coordinated than the European authorities hunting them.
The key point here is that both failures, the technocratic one and the cultural one, probably stem from the same reluctance to admit what Bittner does in his op-ed. We’ve seen this same impulse to avoid unpleasant realities at work in Cologne, Germany where hundreds of women were sexually assaulted by immigrant men as the police stood by unable to respond. As I wrote here, one of the women who came forward was later accused of creating anti-Muslim propaganda and had her address posted online. We saw a similar situation in Rotherham, England where a brutal sex trafficking gang escaped punishment for years, in part, because officials were hesitant to note the gang’s victims were mostly white teens and its leaders were Pakistani men.
The solution to Europe’s problems will not be found in a better database, not so long as the people tasked with keeping track of incipient terrorists are afraid to state the obvious.