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Europe Passing The Buck On Terror


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March 31, 2004 -- WHEN a bureaucrat wants to bury an issue, he refers it to a "special committee." And when heads of government wish to do the same, they call for a "special summit."

This is what the European Union leaders have just done with regard to their role in the global War on Terror. A ministerial conference last month failed to agree on a strategy, referring the whole package to the forthcoming "summit." But even then there is no guarantee that the E.U. summit won't try to pass the buck. Some E.U. members are already calling for the matter to be referred to yet another summit, this time that of the G-7 industrialized nations, meeting in the United States in June.

Those who are trying to pass the buck have a short memory: The G-7 have discussed terrorism at eight of their summits since 1976. The Halifax, Canada, summit in 1995 approved what was presented as an in-depth analysis of the threat that international terrorism posed to global stability.

The next year's G-7 summit (in Lyon, France) came up with a raft of measures to combat terrorism - which was designated as "a clear and present danger to international law and order." But only 11 of those 44 measures have so far been legislated by the nations concerned.

Why have the major powers been reluctant to treat the War on Terror as a genuine war? There are at least three reasons.

1) Many Western leaders can't free themselves from the philosophy of "One man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter."

This leads to a division of terrorist movements into good ones and bad ones. For example, successive British governments had no difficulty seeing the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as evil. But when it came to terrorist groups using British territory for planning and organizing attacks on other countries, the "freedom fighter" shibboleth quickly came to the fore. Until 9/11, visitors to London's Regent Park could see groups of bearded militants collecting money for terrorism in half a dozen Muslim countries while the British police watched with a straight face.

The French, for their part, wouldn't dream of classifying the Corsican terror gangs as "freedom fighters." But they turned a blind eye to terrorists who used French territory as a base for planning and financing mass murder in Algeria. Even when acts of terror were conducted on French territory, the authorities chose not to act for as long as the targets were not French citizens. (Between 1979 and 1997, for example, 17 Iranian opponents of the Khomeinist regime were murdered in France. The French didn't try to catch many of the culprits.)

In some cases, the Western elites manifest their pernicious admiration for some terrorist groups by using the phrase "resistance movement." A good part of the European media has banned the very term "terrorist" as an adjective for organizations that kill in the name of this or that cause, replacing it by euphemisms such as "militant," "radical" and (borrowing a term from Noam Chomsky) "people-based."

Few people noticed that Jose Luis Zapatero, leader of Spain's Socialist Workers' Party, used the term "Arab resistance" throughout the March election campaign in order to avoid the term al Qaeda, which had been favored by his rival, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

2) Many nations are tempted to obtain an opt-out from the terrorist threat.

France tried this in the 1970s when it secured an "opt out" from Palestinian groups that then specialized in hijacking passenger aircraft. (For a while, Air France became the safest carrier in Europe.)

In the 1980s, when the Khomeinists practiced a policy of seizing hostages against the West, the Germans secured an "opt out" from Tehran. The mullahs ordered the capture of hostages from 21 different nationalities, from Americans to South Koreans and passing by French and British. The Germans were spared. (To thank the mullahs, the Germans invited Iran's Minister for Intelligence and Security Ali Fallahian to pay a state visit to the federal republic in 1991.)

The "opt out" trick played a key role in persuading millions of Spanish voters to switch from the governing People's Party to the opposition Socialist Workers' Party. Many Spaniards deluded themselves into believing that by withdrawing their troops from Iraq, they would secure an insurance against future terror attacks.

3) Many of the Western elite believe that terrorists can be weaned away from their evil ways through negotiations.

Such a delusion is almost natural in the case of politicians and intellectuals educated in a democratic tradition. But when it comes to facing terror, it could weaken the resolve without which victory cannot be achieved.

Even in the best cases, negotiating with terrorists can't produce a dependable outcome. The IRA has entered into a power-sharing process with the British government and the democratic parties of Northern Ireland. But it has been careful not to jettison its military assets. In other words, it is committed to normal politics for as long as this suits its interests.

Sometimes, the illusion that terrorists can be integrated into the normal political process leads to absurd claims. For example, there are those who call for "some form of negotiations" with the remnants of the Taliban or even what is left of al Qaeda.

What these would-be deal-makers don't realize is that terrorists of the Taliban and al Qaeda type don't believe in compromise and give-and-take. They would not be satisfied even with an unconditional surrender on the part of their real or imagined adversaries. They want those adversaries to become robots that can be manipulated the way the sheiks and mullahs desire.

This was amply illustrated in Afghanistan in 1998, when the Hazara of the Bamiyan and Maydan provinces surrendered and negotiated a peace settlement with the Taliban. It wasn't enough: The Taliban wanted the Hazara to abandon their Islamic faith and convert to the cult of Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden. When the Hazara refused, they were massacred by the thousands.

FOR the global War on Terror to succeed, it is imperative that all those fighting it convince themselves that there is no good terrorism, and that the real or imagined nobility of a cause cannot justify the murder of innocent people.

Does this mean that armed struggle against oppressors should become something of the past? Not at all. Armed struggle obeys the rules of war, while terrorism recognizes no law. Also, armed struggle could be justified if it is in pursuit of goals that do not affect the freedom and dignity of individuals. Thus armed struggle to impose Taliban-style fascism on a whole people cannot be justified.

The major democracies must shed their illusions about ways of wiggling out of the War on Terror before they can mobilize the rest of the international community to face what is a serious threat to us all. The best insurance against terrorism is firm resolve.E-mail:


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