A New Churchill Needed for Europe?

The tide has now largely turned on the Madrid bombings of two weeks ago. Fewer commentators are willing to assert that the Spanish electorate, in voting out the conservative Aznar government in contradiction to what opinion polls had previously indicated would happen, capitulated to terrorist threats to inflict more of the same on their country in the hope that they would instead be left alone. Instead, most now ascribe Aznar’s loss to his government’s alleged attempt after the attacks, but before the election, to point the blame for them to what for him would be the more politically-advantageous culprit, the Basque terrorist organization ETA.

This is not the case in the Czech opinion-weekly Respekt, though, where in his cover-story commentary Before Terror Annihilates Us Teodor Marjanovic declares that “Europe today needs its own Winston Churchill” in response to the terrorist threat. Are Czech editorial writers merely lagging behind their counterparts further west? I’ll let you judge that in what follows; in any case, Marjanovic raises some good points ordinarily overlooked by many, and does so rather pungently.

APPEASEMENT AFTER ALL

Yes, what the Spanish voters demonstrated by voting after the terrorist attacks on the Madrid trains to oust a government that had been willing to send troops to Iraq, in favor of one that wants to withdraw them (under certain conditions), was appeasement, Marjanovic declares. The same goes for the reactions of some leading politicians in the wake of those attacks, particularly the already often-quoted observation by EU Commission President Romano Prodi that “it is clear that the use of force is not the answer to the question of how to resolve the conflict with terrorism.” No, what Europe needs is its own new Winston Churchill, to thunder “We will never surrender!” in the face of this new threat. But there’s no one out there now who even remotely fits this description; so instead Europe these days resembles, he writes, those huge ancient statues that used to stand in Afghanistan, until three years ago what he calls “hairy Taliban radicals” decided that they were inconsistent with Islamic tradition and blew them up.

Now that the terrorists have found that they can easily influence elections the way they want, which election is next? Marjanovic asks. Well, there’s a referendum coming up soon in Slovakia, next month, in which voters there will decide whether to have early general elections, i.e. to give themselves an early opportunity to dismiss the current government – which supported the War in Iraq and has also contributed troops to the occupation. Sure enough, the opposition there has explicit reservations about whether such support has been a good idea. Granted, Marjanovic hastens to add, an attack on Slovakia seems unlikely if only because of that country’s relative political and military insignificance, just as it seems unlikely to happen against certain other states who have also supported coalition actions in Iraq: Bulgaria, Latvia, Hungary. But nowadays you just never know; and that is Marjanovic’s point.

IRAQ DOES NOT EQUAL “FIASCO”

Now the new government in Spain will be of the Socialists, headed by José Luis Zapatero, who called the War in Iraq a “fiasco” and prescribed a healthy dose of self-criticism for its leading protagonists, George W. Bush and Tony Blair. But the War in Iraq has demonstrably not turned out to be a fiasco, Marjanovic points out, something that can be seen in a brace of public opinion polls carried out there by various Western news organizations, whose results were released just last week. These surveys are the largest-scale that have yet been carried out among Iraqis, 6,000 of whom were questioned, and 57% judged their lives to be better than under Saddam’s regime, with 70% professing themselves to be optimistic towards their future.

These are results to be proud of, Marjanovic makes clear, to stand behind – and not to disavow or simply abandon as Western societies come under attack. Sadly, though, European efforts to react – meaning especially continent-wide, EU efforts – are likely to remain insufficient. You see, top officials have met before in a crisis atmosphere to try to better coordination among separate, i.e. national law enforcement and intelligence agencies. That was after September 11, 2001; but, as Marjanovic writes, ultimately “nobody wanted to be coordinated.” The proposal for a European-wide arrest-warrant did originate there, which would enable the swift transferral of a suspect apprehended in one European state to another to answer for his alleged crimes there. This was supposed to take effect last year; but it remains a dead-letter, because some states have yet to write it into their law. (Marjanovic fingers here Britain, Italy, Austria, Luxembourg, Greece, and yes, the Netherlands. It hasn’t happened Italy for special reasons, involving the personal fears of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi; this is perhaps grist for a future weblog entry.) At a more prosaic level, turf-protecting and national secretiveness continue to hamstring European efforts to track the terrorists in our midst. Marjanovic mentions here that it has come to light that German police authorities held off on sharing with the Spaniards intelligence they possessed on the specific type of explosives the terrorists had used in the Madrid bombings – even as the Spanish police were trying to find out, as soon as possible (because, as we know, it had political implications) who was behind these crimes.

NURTURING INTOLERANCE IN OUR MIDST

Better European efforts to track the terrorists in our midst are vital, not just in general, but also due to the key fact that Europe is where they have their bases – not in the Middle Eastern countries of these people’s origin. For example, those who carried out the September 11 attacks did so, we know now, from bases in Germany (Hamburg) and Spain. How could this be? In his final section (sub-headed “Tolerance and Hate”), Marjanovic cites a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal Europe from Prof. Bassam Tibi, Islam expert, university lecturer, and of course an Arab himself. Writes Prof. Tibi, “Under the pretense of being politically persecuted, Islamic asylum-seekers gain all the social benefits which Western European states are famous for granting. Islamists are masters in manipulation, and know well how to exploit European feelings of guilt over their past colonial sins.” In sum: “The Islamists build up, thanks to European tolerance, intolerance,” meaning for example those mosques and other religious institutions in Western Europe which preach hatred toward Western European society.

This “tolerance of intolerance” Marjanovic also equates with appeasement, and again calls for a Churchill figure, or at least “Churchill-like speech,” to bring attention to it so something can be done. Churchill – or perhaps Pim Fortuyn? The Western European welfare state, and the haven this part of the world has historically offered for the politically persecuted, used to be things about which people could be proud: no one would go sick, cold, or hungry here – or tortured. Must we give this up, as Marjanovic writes in his title, “before terror annihilates us”?

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