Hawks Are Right: Paris Terrorists Hated Our Way of Life

Paris France
A young man looks out over the skyline of Paris, France from the Arab World Institute (Unsplash/Gwendal Cottin)

When terrorists strike, hawks always say it is our freedom and our democracy they despise.

This weekend was no different. After more than 130 people were killed in terrorist attacks across Paris, the Front national in France itself, the right-wing press in the United Kingdom and Republicans in the United States all gave the same explanation: The terrorists struck because they hate us for who we are.

It is not always that simple. But they are not altogether wrong either.

The leaders and ideologues do resent Western civilization and what it stands for. Their foot soldiers in the West are driven to madness less out of conviction than spite. Read more “Hawks Are Right: Paris Terrorists Hated Our Way of Life”

Leaders Must Take Arguments Against Immigration Seriously

The American Interest‘s Adam Garfinkle makes much the same point as this website did last month: that it’s not prejudiced to question the entry of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers into Europe but only prudent to wonder if the effect on European society might not be altogether negative.

Garfinkle makes the argument more elegantly. Read more “Leaders Must Take Arguments Against Immigration Seriously”

Why the West Shies Away from Fighting Islamic State

An American F-16 fighter jet takes off from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, May 23
An American F-16 fighter jet takes off from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, May 23 (USAF/Joseph Swafford)

After Friday’s deadly terrorist attacks in France, Kuwait and Tunisia, calls to step up the fight against the Islamic State militant group are likely to grow louder.

But except for the occasional lone-wolf attack, the group does not pose an organized threat to the West. Its territorial ambitions — which are unlike those of other Islamic terrorists — more directly menace Western allies in the Middle East.

Even if it was unclear if the group — which controls land in the east of Syria as well the west of Iraq — coordinated all three attacks, its call to jihad (holy war) and the one-year anniversary of its declaration of a caliphate could have inspired the various gunmen involved.

The Islamic State did claim responsibility for a suicide bombing in Kuwait that killed 27 and left more than two hundred Shia Muslims injured. But a shooting in a Tunisian resort town the same day and an attack on a gas factory in Lyon, France did not seem directly related.

The group’s military successes against the Iraqi government have inspired would-be jihadists in the West. In the last year alone, lone radicalized Muslims have staged attacks in Copenhagen, Ottawa and Sydney.

Some argue the West should do more to defeat the militants.

Michael Petrou criticized American president Barack Obama in Canada’s Maclean’s magazine for not believing that defeating the Islamic State is worth the investment and sacrifices involved.

His priority is striking a nuclear deal with Iran. Defeating Islamic State, he says, will take a long time and already his presidency is winding down. He inherited a war in Iraq he didn’t want. So will his successor.

According to The New York Times, American fighter jets carry out around fifteen strikes against the Islamic State per day. That compared to some 800 daily strikes during the 2003 Iraq War.

Planes often return to base without releasing their bombs because pilots cannot identify targets or aren’t given approval to hit them.

Other Western powers don’t carry out attacks in Syria at all because only the Iraqi government has given them to permission to operate in its airspace.

Former intelligence analyst and Naval War College professor John R. Schindler argues that the Islamic State is more dangerous than other militant Islamist organizations, like Al Qaeda and the Taliban, because it combines religious fervor with two elements that are unique to Iraq: Sunni sectarian resentment and the experience of former Saddam Hussein officers.

Many of the self-proclaimed caliphate’s commanders are veterans of the Iraqi military and intelligence services “who know their ground and know how to fight,” according to Schindler.

The group also feeds on Iraqi Sunnis’ dissatisfaction with the way they are governed. The former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was blatantly pro-Shia and purged Sunni officers and officials from the army and state during his eight years in power. The incumbent premier, also a Shia, has promised to do better but the central government in Baghdad is still dominated by members of his sect.

This is not to say that the Islamic State cannot be defeated by less fanatical American troops, writes Schindler. “They would meet the same end that the Japanese did on Okinawa in the spring of 1945.” But the longer the United States and their allies wait before fully committing to the war, the better it will get at conquering and perhaps even governing territory.

Allowing [Islamic State] to become a serious threat to order in the Middle East was foolish. Permitting them to grow into a serious fighting force whose combination of fanaticism and tactical ability can test the skills and resolve of Western militaries is a tragedy because it’s needless.

Aside from the question what the West could have done to “disallow” the Islamic State from undermining the Middle East’s state order — which was crumbling before the group ever came into being — Schindler seems to underestimate the region’s ability to arrest the Islamic State’s ascendancy.

The Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven A. Cook cautions at the National Journal against the typical American inclination to see every problem in the Middle East as one it must solve. The struggle against the Islamic State, he argues, “is a political and theological fight that is largely beyond the United States.”

Washington has a responsibility to help its allies, but the stakes are so high for the local actors that American efforts to influence the trajectory of politics in the region are unlikely to be successful.

Moreover, while Petrou and Schindler are right that America has the capacity to defeat the Islamic State, they never convincingly argue that such an effort would be worth the risks.

Ryan Bohl argues at Geopolitics Made Super that it isn’t. America has the power to destroy the group, he writes, “but is using only measured amounts because the threat doesn’t warrant much more.”

If NATO began a total war on ISIS, it would collapse rapidly and disappear into an underground movement. But that wouldn’t be worth the costs; the only sure way to guarantee they wouldn’t return, or that they wouldn’t be replaced by something worse, would be a long-term, neocolonial occupation of their territory whereby the West would slowly set up the state institutions necessary to keep those kinds of forces at bay. Because the Islamic State has not captured a major city besides Mosul, and because it has yet to replicate its blitzkrieg from last summer, it’s clear that, for now, the cost-effective method of combating ISIS is combining the military strategy with the soft power one.

The Islamic State may be extremely dangerous in the short term but it is unlikely to be around for long.

Bohl points out that its seventh-century ideology marginalizes half the population (women) and values brutality and religious learning over creative thinking and compromise. These aren’t the qualities of a long-term state project.

The American Interest‘s Adam Garfinkle has similarly argued that the Islamic State represents the last hurrah of political Islam and will ultimately destroy itself.

This is the end. It can’t get any more radical, primitivist, delusional, nihilistic and self-destructive. When it crashes and burns, nearly every sentient Muslim will see clearly that Islam, in this distorted militarized form, is certainly not “the answer.”

There is little America can do to speed up the process. But there’s much it can do to stave off the reckoning by inadvertently discrediting modernizers and reformers who would gain little from being seen as puppets of the West.

European Right is Allowing Putin’s Friends to Monopolize Anti-Islamism

French president François Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council president Donald Tusk march with other world leaders in Paris, January 11
French president François Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council president Donald Tusk march with other world leaders in Paris, January 11 (Bundesregierung)

By continuing to denounce “Islamophobia” even after the bloody attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Europe’s mainstream right is allowing nationalists who also sympathize with Russian president Vladimir Putin to monopolize popular resistance against radical Islam.

In France, Socialist Party president François Hollande failed to invite representatives of the far-right Front national to a national remembrance ceremony for those killed by Muslim extremists in attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper and a Jewish supermarket in Paris last week.

Yet it is the Front that sees its anti-Islamism vindicated by the attacks. Party leader Marine Le Pen, who is more popular than Hollande according to polls, urged the French not to mince words. “This is a terrorist act committed in the name of radical Islamism,” she said. “Denial and hypocrisy are no longer an option.”

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat, has censured anti-Islam demonstrations and accused their participants of racism. Numbering in the tens of thousands, the protesters, who call themselves Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes, say they fear an “Islamization” of Germany as a result of high immigration from Muslim countries.

The movement’s demands look far from extreme. It calls for immigration and integration policies to mirror those of neighboring Switzerland and the Netherlands.

The German political and media establishment’s reaction to the protests has been way out of proportion to what they call for. Rather than taking seriously the concerns of voters and admitting the real impact immigration has on housing and welfare policy as well as policing, Germany’s leaders compare citizens who are peacefully demonstrating in the streets of Dresden with Nazis. In doing so, they are only confirming the protesters in their anti-establishment views and convincing others, who might share their worries, that there is no hope of achieving change through the established parties.

If Lutz Bachmann, the anti-Islam movement’s founder, is to be believed, the German “patriots” not only seek tighter immigration controls and better integration of newcomers into German society; they also want an “end to warmongering, among other things against Russia.”

It is unclear to what extent anti-Islam and pro-Russian sentiments overlap in Germany. It is clearer they do in other countries.

Le Pen openly admires Putin and her party got an €9 million loan from a Russian bank last year. Pierre Lellouche, a mainstream conservative French politician, told NPR in December “there is a mix of exalting nationalism, exalting the church and Christian values” in Russia that appeals to European nationalists. Moreover, he said, Russia was presenting itself “as the ultimate barrier against the Islamization of the continent.”

Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, has also expressed admiration for Putin while the Austrian Freedom Party defended his occupation and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

Notably absent from Putin’s European fanbase is the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders. Although the anti-Islam politician blamed the European Union more than Russia for instigating last year’s unrest in Ukraine, his party also sharply criticized Putin after the downing of a civilian airliner over eastern Ukraine in July in which almost two hundred Dutch passengers died. The rebels who shot down the aircraft were likely armed by Russia.

Wilders, who allied with Le Pen in last year’s European Parliament elections, has been critical of Islam since before he became a Euroskeptic and the Netherlands coped with rising anti-immigration sentiment more than a decade ago when populist leader Pim Fortuyn first suggested multiculturalism had failed as a policy.

Like Germany’s anti-Islamists today, Fortuyn was denounced as a racist and a xenophobe by much of his country’s establishment. After he was killed in 2002, however, right-wing parties began to co-opt his policies. Multiculturalism was recognized for what it was: an excuse for doing nothing at best; an excuse for relegating foreigners to big-city ghettos at worst. Learning Dutch became a requirement for citizenship. History and values courses were introduced. Immigration was curtailed and police began to specifically target repeat offenders from ethnic backgrounds, something that would previously have been considered racist.

Mainstream right-wing parties in France, Germany and elsewhere should take a lesson from their Dutch counterparts. The Netherlands’ Christian Democrat and liberal parties cannot outbid Wilders’ anti-Islamism but they can give voters who worry about Muslim radicalization and the existence of a permanent migrant underclass that strains the country’s welfare system a better choice. Between Wilders’ proposal to shut the borders and the left’s refusal to see the problem — although even the Labor Party has come around to Fortuyn’s views — the Christian Democrats and liberals offer a workable policy of tackling radicalization and improving the integration of mainly Muslim immigrants and their descents into Dutch society.

Chancellor Merkel recognized in 2010 that multiculturalism has “utterly failed” yet she has since given the Germans no alternative. All she says now is that fears of Islamization are tantamount to racism.

President Hollande, while offering valiant defenses of French democracy and freedom, insists fanaticism and terrorism “have nothing to do with the Muslim religion.” The fanatics and terrorists, of course, disagree and so do shockingly many other Muslims in Europe who would never turn to violence but do believe blasphemy should be punishable by death and that Western Islamophobia is as much to blame for last week’s horrors in Paris as is the perversion of their faith.

As long as European leaders — like Merkel — won’t come up with answers to radical Islam and the failing integration of many Muslims into Western society, or — like Hollande — deny there is even a problem, far-right parties will turn to the uncompromising Russian president for protection and more and more voters will turn to far-right parties as the only ones offering any kind of response.

The obvious solution is for conservatives and liberals — and preferably leftists, too — to stand up for European values and demand that those who want to make a life here share those values. To those who won’t, they should say, as the Labor Party mayor or Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, did last week: “Pack your bags and leave.”

Some Good Might Come of the Islamic State

The Iraqi and Syrian fanatics who call themselves the Islamic State are quite possibly the most brutal and murderous lot political Islam has produced, at least in living memory. But the ordeal they have wrought on everyone who doesn’t their zealotry could have a silver lining, argues Adam Garfinkle at The American Interest.

Garfinkle, a Middle East expert, believes the Islamic State represents the last hurrah of militarized political Islam. Read more “Some Good Might Come of the Islamic State”

Erdoğan Victory Reinforces Turkey’s Islamization

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is almost certain to win his country’s first direct presidential election on Sunday.

A victory for Erdoğan, who has ruled Turkey for more than a decade, would likely reinforce the NATO member state’s Islamization and exasperate opponents who have proven unable to thwart what they perceive as a drift toward authoritarianism. Read more “Erdoğan Victory Reinforces Turkey’s Islamization”

Crossed Swords? Rethinking the “Clash” of Christians and Muslims

Two Faiths One Banner cover
Ian Almond, Two Faiths, One Banner: When Muslims Marched with Christians Across Europe’s Battlegrounds (2011)

Since Samuel Huntington unveiled his “Clash of Civilization” thesis in a 1993 Foreign Affairs article, a cottage industry of critiques have emerged to challenge it. Great thinkers, such as Amartya Sen, Amin Maalouf and Edward Said, have expended time and ink to refute Huntington’s controversial thesis. For the most part, these works have presented rationale critiques that focus on theoretical problems raised by Samuel Huntington’s board game like simplification of geopolitics and global history. Few of these critiques have, however, tried to counter Huntington’s argument with primary source research or been as readable as Ian Almond’s Two Faiths One Banner: When Muslims Marches with Christians Across Europe’s Battlegrounds (2011).

In this slim book, Almond shows that European history is far more muddled than Huntington’s depiction of one overarching “clash” between two visions of Abrahamic monotheism. Indeed the individual motivations and allegiances proves far to complex to paint with even the most vivid neoconservative or Marxist brush strokes. In making this argument, Almond cuts across wide historical periods, as well as the politics of several different centuries, demonstrating a mastery of facts, figures and a flair for colorful details. Read more “Crossed Swords? Rethinking the “Clash” of Christians and Muslims”

Morsi’s Downfall Forces Islamists to Rethink Strategy

Night falls on Al-Azhar Park in Cairo, Egypt, March 13, 2010
Night falls on Al-Azhar Park in Cairo, Egypt, March 13, 2010 (Vinicius Batista)

President Mohamed Morsi’s removal from office this week jeopardizes his Muslim Brotherhood’s goal of creating an Islamic state in Egypt. But the army’s political intervention might have an impact beyond the country.

The Brotherhood’s experience in Egypt forces likeminded political groups across the Middle East to assess the value of obtaining their goals through a democratic process over means of armed aggression. Abiding by the democratic process got the Brotherhood ejected from the system while the Afghan Taliban’s commitment to armed resistance got them a seat at the negotiating table. Read more “Morsi’s Downfall Forces Islamists to Rethink Strategy”

Despite Interventions, Libyan, Malian Islamist Threat Rising

Despite Western military interventions in both African countries’ civil wars, the Islamist threat in Libya and Mali is rising, Britain’s The Guardian newspaper reported on Sunday.

According to Afua Hirsch, the paper’s West Africa correspondent, “The security problems in northern Mali, where militants have lost their grip on towns but large weapons caches are believed to be hidden in the desert, have dampened the jubilant spirit that arose when French forces swept into the region in January.”

Timbuktu and other towns in the north of the country, where Islamists, in alliance with local Tuareg secessionists, carved out an independent state last year, are regularly rocked by suicide bombings, “previously unheard of in the country.” Read more “Despite Interventions, Libyan, Malian Islamist Threat Rising”

Islamist Power Struggle Behind Egypt’s Embassy Riots

Cairo Egypt
Night falls on Al-Azhar Park in Cairo, Egypt, March 13, 2010 (Vinicius Batista)

Quiet appeared to have returned to the streets of Cairo, Egypt on Monday after nearly a week of unrest that was allegedly sparked by an American anti-Islam film. However, the fierce embassy protests may also have been part of a political struggle in the country between the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and more radical Islamist groups. Read more “Islamist Power Struggle Behind Egypt’s Embassy Riots”