Friday, June 06, 2008

Britain vs. Islamism

When political scientist Samuel P. Huntington wrote his seminal "The Clash of Civilizations" in the Summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs, he took academia and the punditocracy by storm. The Berlin Wall had come down (1989), the Soviet Union had collapsed (1991) and the Cold War, which had divided nations over ideology and economic philosophy, had ended.

Since politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, Huntington forecast another great clash which would be dominated less by ideology than by conflicts over culture, religion and tradition. Islam factored into his analysis, but was by no means central. He advocated that America spread its values and pursue a policy of accommodation where possible, but not shy away from confrontation where necessary.

The article appeared after the first attack on the World Trade Center in February 1993. Since then, Muslim extremists, whether inspired by Shi'ite Iran or Sunni al-Qaida, have sought to prove that their ideas are ascendant within Muslim civilization.

Day in, day out since "Clash" was published, Islamist violence has been ubiquitous, even outside the horrors perpetrated against Israel: Two deadly attacks against Jewish targets in Argentina (1992 and 1994); a Paris metro bombing (1995); attacks against tourists in Egypt (1996 and 1997) and Africa (1998); the crash of an Egyptian airliner off the US coast (1999) and the assault against the USS Cole (2000), culminating in the September 11 atrocities of 2001.

After 9/11, the rationale for these attacks came into better focus, yet many in the West remained in denial. Still the violence continued: Daniel Pearl's murder (2002); the Bali bombing (2002); more attacks in Riyadh (2003); the schoolhouse slaughter in North Ossetia, Russia (2004); killings of Christians in Indonesia (2005); the storming of the Washington state Jewish center (2006), and suicide bombings in Algeria (2007).

Six months into 2008, the onslaught continues. In May alone, Islamists carried out over 100 attacks in some 18 countries.

WESTERNERS in general, particularly Britons, have found it hard to internalize the nature of the aggression. The UK is a multicultural, post-modern and largely post-Christian society, much of whose political and media elite lack a useful frame of reference for analyzing violent religious zealotry. Now, though, Britain just might be taking a lead in confronting the danger.

The challenge has been direct and acute: On July 7, 2005, a series of coordinated bomb blasts carried out by Islamists killed 52 commuters and shut down London's transport system. On a summer morning in 2006, London's Heathrow Airport closed down after police uncovered plots to use liquid explosives to blow up a dozen trans-Atlantic airliners. And last year, Muslim terrorists struck at Glasgow airport using a jeep loaded with petrol. Others left a car bomb to explode in London's West End.

Some Britons, mobilized by a minority of academics, radical Muslims, the hard Left and its gormless fellow-travelers, blame British domestic and foreign policy for Muslim "discontent." These elements are also behind the renewed effort by the University and College Union (UCU) to boycott Israeli academics.

But others are beginning to understand what they are up against, and what they must do to preserve liberal society and the British way of life. Part of the solution relates to security, hence the government's moves to map the clustering of Islamist-oriented populations. Security officials have also called for terrorist suspects to be detained for up to 42 days.

Equally important, however, is empowering moderate Islam. Yesterday the Home Office announced a £12.5 million "de-radicalization" plan targeting Muslims who have been co-opted by radical Islam - people who have "already crossed the line" in terms of ideology, but not yet committed violent acts. The program offers mentoring and a form of amnesty for participants. British-born Muslim scholars would be called upon to teach the Islamic path toward tolerance and non-violence in state schools. The goal is not to have Muslims abandon their religion, but to systematically offer them a more moderate interpretation.

It is not clear whether Gordon Brown's shaky government will be able to implement these proposals, or even whether such brave and moderate Muslim educators can be found. But on the 15th "Clash of Civilizations" anniversary, Britain appears, finally, to be recognizing the menace radical Islam presents and willing to do something smart about it. The rest of the free world has an immense stake in its success.

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