Published 11 Sep 06
By Abigail R. Esman
World Defense Review columnist
Five years later – Are we safer?
My cousin Jessica and her family were among the last passengers out of Heathrow before terror alarms turned that airport into chaos last August 10. Within days, over twenty suspected terrorists, accused of planning to blow up as many as ten planes enroute from London to the USA, had been arrested. More remain at large.
Now Britain's MI5 has taken into custody sixteen others suspected of terrorist activity unrelated to the airplane plot. Like those alleged to have planned the earlier event, most of these are British citizens.
And in all of this, overlooked, somehow, in the chaos surrounding London, two bombs were found on trains traveling out of Cologne, Germany on July 31. Both failed to detonate, but not to create terror throughout the country. Two men are believed to be responsible; one has been arrested – a Lebanese student known as Youssef Mohamad E.H.
At the five-year anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, we – the media, the experts, the people in the street – keep asking ourselves: are we any safer now? And the answer comes back, over and over again: no. In fact, we are likely at greater risk than ever; and the foiled London plot – never mind the very real bombs that by some lucky fluke failed to detonate in Germany – only hints at what still may be ahead.
September 11 shocked us with the discovery that a distant enemy could reach us here at home. Now, as we are slowly learning, that enemy is a lot closer than we thought.
What the 7/7 London bombings, Theo van Gogh's murder, the bombs in Germany, and the latest U.K. threat demonstrate, of course, is that Islamic militancy is no longer an import that can be stopped by closing Western borders. Europe is radicalizing. Or, that is, Europe's Muslims – many of them – are joining the ranks of radical Islamists, Muslims who use Islam as a political tool for theocratic ends. Of the 24 arrested in conjunction with the August plot (fifteen of whom have been charged), most were British-born, and at least three were recent converts to Islam. Mohammed Bouyeri, van Gogh's assassin, was born and raised in Holland, as were most of the members of the terrorist group to which he still belongs. Dutch officials, moreover, estimate a total of at least twenty such groups in the Netherlands. In France, where five thousand of the country's five million Muslims are said to be extremist, according to an interview with French Secret Service director Pierre de Bousquet de Florian that appeared earlier this summer in Le Parisen, Muslim youth – even secularized French citizens – can be converted to extremist thought in only weeks.
So acute is the problem that some have even coined the term "Generation Jihad" to describe what Bill Powell, writing in Time magazine, called "Young Muslims living in cities all over Europe – including many who were born and raised in the affluence and openness of the West, products of the very democracies they are determined to attack."
Surprising? Not really. Dutch newspaper de Trouw reported earlier this summer on a conference of young Muslim leaders sponsored by the American Society for Muslim Advancement and held in Copenhagen on July 7, the anniversary of the London bombings that left 56 dead (including the bombers) and as many as 700 wounded. Speaking at the conference, British Islam expert Aftab Malik remarked, "It is nonsense that Muslim extremism is the consequence of Western foreign policy; there have been extremist branches of Islam since the beginning." Reports de Trouw: "Pretty much no one reacted [to the statement] – nor did they respond when Malik mentioned how furious he becomes at the sight of Islamic children laughing at beheading videos they download to their mobile telephones."
Much of Europe has understood this by now: Peter Clark, who heads up Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch, speaking on the BBC, observed, "What we've learned since 9/11 is that the threat is not something that's simply coming from overseas into the United Kingdom. What we've learned, and what we've seen all too murderously, is that we have a threat, which is being generated here within the United Kingdom … The number of people who we have to be interested in are into the thousands. That includes a whole range of people, not just terrorists, not just attackers, but the people who might be tempted to support or encourage or to assist."
But in America, we're not paying quite as much attention. And we should be: Earlier this year, Joseph Braude reported in The New Republic, "Many of those recently held out as moderate leaders of the American Muslim community--and embraced as such by American politicians--are anything but. For over a generation, supporters of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah have promoted their views and solicited support in numerous U.S. mosques, Islamic centers, and convention halls …"
For many, this is hardly news.
What is news is that so many others are just finding out. Where has the US media been all this time? Where have the mainstream media reports been on the abuse of Muslim women in Western Islamic homes? Why so little talk of the honor killings – as many as 15 a year or more in the Netherlands alone? Is there a reason you haven't read the story in your local paper, or watched the report on the nightly news, about the current best-selling books among Muslim communities in Europe like Holland's How To Be A Good Muslim – books that explain in no uncertain terms how homosexuals should be punished (thrown headfirst from tall buildings and then stoned if they manage to survive the fall), and that Jews are to be killed; or books like How to Raise A Muslim Child, which advocate hitting women? Where has the attention been while European Christians are converting to Islam (it's rarely Jews, for obvious reasons), only to find themselves targeted on online messages boards by recruiters for violent jihad? And who is doing anything about it? Anyone? Clearly not enough. Visit many of these sites and you can watch the entire process: the radical guy who comes in now and then with news stories – most propagandistic lies, though not all – about Jews, Americans, infidels; who gets into bulletin board arguments and articulately, persuasively, often dramatically, expresses his opinions on the issues; who gradually, still, forges bonds with other members of the online community, coaxing them, befriending them, in between the tales of how Americans rigged the 9/11 bombings (or Israel did, or both), of how Hitler (and I am not making this up – I've seen it posted) deliberately created the Holocaust at the request of the Jews, who wanted to found Israel and wipe the Palestinians from their land and knew that this was a good way to make it happen.
But you don't hear other voices. You don't see the posts of wiser, respected, so-called "moderate Muslims," never mind the voices of Muslim heretics. I don't mean the confrontational ones, the Ayaan Hirsi Ali's; I mean those – most of them unknown – who can as deftly manipulate the conversations, the ideas, the principles, being fostered in these venues as do those who use them to recruit their armies for jihad. In a war of ideas, where is the army for our side? Where are our "thousands" who "might be tempted to support or encourage or to assist" in spreading Enlightenment ideas, encouraging freedom, not "submission"?
Over the past year, I've written from time-to-time about various endeavors to counteract the efforts of Islamic militants to hijack the hearts and minds of (mostly younger) Muslims in the West: Faysal Ramsis, who has created web sites for young Muslims opposed to violence and terror; Senay Ozdemir, who embraces Muslim women in a magazine supportive both of their religion and of their right to liberty, to the advantages non-Muslim women ordinarily enjoy. Farhana Ali, a Pakistani-American anti-terrorism expert at the Rand Corporation, a Washington, DC-based think tank, points to British-Pakistani Raza Jaffrey, who runs a Muslim youth hotline in the U.K.
Of course, there are others. And if readers know of any of them, I hope you'll write in and tell me. We need such efforts desperately – and we will need to give them all the attention and support we can – both to safeguard younger Muslim hearts and lives, and to protect our own.
— Abigail R. Esman is an award-winning author-journalist who divides her time between New York and The Netherlands. In addition to her column in World Defense Review, her work has appeared in Foreign Policy, Salon.com, Esquire, Vogue, Glamour, Town & Country, The Christian Science Monitor, The New Republic and many others. She is currently working on a book about Muslim extremism and democracy in the West.
Visit Esman on the web at abigailesman.com.
© 2006 Abigail R. Esman
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