Dominique Moisi talks sense

In the Herald Tribune:

March 11 forced Europeans to confront a tragic reality, which many of them had refused to see for too long: They too are at war, without any exceptions – both “new Europe” and “old Europe.” Islamic fundamentalism is at war against democracies, irrespective of their stand toward Washington. It is liberal democracy that terrorists want to punish, not our presence or absence in Iraq. In France, the law on the head scarf provides a convenient pretext for threatening a country that played a leading role in opposing the war in Iraq. If there was no such law, another pretext would be used by the extremists.

In reality, since March 11, we on both sides of the Atlantic are more clearly than ever in the same boat. But beyond the obvious and necessary immediate joint action against the terrorists, we continue to disagree on the best way to steer the boat through an ocean of perils. The danger is that each side may use the behavior of the other to confirm its prejudiced view of the other.

The rest is here.

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About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

9 thoughts on “Dominique Moisi talks sense

  1. It’s always tempting to atttribute to the opposition more planning and clarity of purpose than they really have, but it’s also tempting to the exact opposite. It seems to me that marginalised political force like Al Qaeda has a lot more to gain by uniting its enemies than by actually “punishing” anyone. It seems unlikely to me that anyone in Al Qaeda has ever considered their target to be anything so abstract as “democracy” or “civil liberties.” Conquering Europe is not a goal any of them are likely to take seriously – regardless of whether Osama bin Laden cites the Reconquista as one of his grievances against the west.

    There is a scene in the movie Die Hard where the clever German terrorist played by Alan Rickman makes a bunch of demands to the FBI involving a slew of imprisioned “freedom fighters” about whom he couldn’t care less. I suspect that whatever demands anyone from Al Qaeda makes fit the same category.

    I suspect this is much more about substantial issues of money and power. No one can seriously believe this is about weaking the resolve of the West or making any kind of meaningful political settlement. This all makes more sense as an effort to shore up the waning political power of the fundamentalists and forestall any kind of liberalisation in the Middle East of the existing regimes. If the fundamentalists are the only people percieved as doing anything about the Middle East’s problems, they gain.

    I imagine a lot of soft support for the IRA used to come from people who felt that they were the only ones taking action, even if they disagreed with many of their tactics and targets. I understand the same to be true of ETA and the PKK. Hitting Spain – or for that matter New York – makes little sense if you want to gain sympathy among the public in the West. Al Qaeda isn’t gaining public sympathy in the West, but the more the rest of the world seems unified against not only it but the whole Arab and Muslim world, the more they gain there.

    Better instead for the West to appear divided. It would be better if people saw that not everyone in the West is united, that most people here are sympathetic to the people Al Qaeda is trying to influence, not through abstractions like democracy or civil liberties but as real people.

  2. From paragraph quoted, you’d think it was Paris (“Old Europe”) that was struck, instead of (“New Europe”) Madrid.

    And if it was “Democracies” that Al Qaeda was targetting, What then is their beef with Saudi Arabia ?

    Also:
    Europe should not confuse its enemies – the threat is not Bush’s America, but barbarism. And the United States, with its responsibility as world leader, badly needs the support of its European friends – support that would be more respected and efficient if Europe could get its act together. European differences should be seen as irresponsible and childish behavior after Madrid.

    So what’s the answer if, as is the case, it’s Bush’s America that instigates the barbarism ? Should Europe then get its act together to support the United States just because it’s the World Leader ?

    Am I the only one for whom this came off as irresponsible and childish sophistry ?

    I think a lot of the soft support for Al Qaeda would vaporise if the U.S. were held to the same standards as used for Al Qaeda.

    Absent that, I think that Muslims are justified in thinking that Al Qaeda is being villified as a convenient pretext for threatening and attacking Muslim nations.

  3. “Conquering Europe is not a goal any of them are likely to take seriously – regardless of whether Osama bin Laden cites the Reconquista as one of his grievances against the west.”

    AND:

    “No one can seriously believe this is about weaking the resolve of the West or making any kind of meaningful political settlement. This all makes more sense as an effort to shore up the waning political power of the fundamentalists and forestall any kind of liberalisation in the Middle East of the existing regimes. If the fundamentalists are the only people percieved as doing anything about the Middle East’s problems, they gain.”

    This is going to sound rude, but it really isn’t meant to be. These paragraphs strongly suggest to me that you don’t understand the mind of a fundamentalist religious believer. “When God is with us, who can defeat us…” is a classic (and completely rhetorical) question among the more fundamentalist Christian groups. And they really believe that if they just got ‘right with God’ no one could defeat them. It seems to me that Al Qaeda is engaged in a war with the West because it intends to prove that they are committed to Allah. That will enlist his aid, and allow them to win. Whether or not the tip top members of the group believe it, they are well able to use that rhetoric to gain followers for their murderous ways.

    So you are right, they don’t want a meaningful political settlement. They want to win.

    Just because they are engaged in the impossible, doesn’t mean they realize that it is impossible.

    “So what’s the answer if, as is the case, it’s Bush’s America that instigates the barbarism ? Should Europe then get its act together to support the United States just because it’s the World Leader ?”

    Well, when it happens we can talk about it I suppose. So far I have seen two of the most barbaric governments around, the Taliban and Saddam’s Iraq, destroyed by the least barbaric wars in history. We may have to defer your question to when it has some relevance. My guess would be that it would be quite relevant if the US ever has a nuclear bomb go off in one of its cities.

  4. Well, when it happens we can talk about it I suppose. So far I have seen two of the most barbaric governments around, the Taliban and Saddam’s Iraq, destroyed by the least barbaric wars in history.

    How in the world do you figure that ?

    was it the humane shelling of civilian areas with cluster bombs ?

    The humane use of depleted uranium ?

    By the scrupulous adherence to the terms of international treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory ?

    By the low number of Iraqi civilian casualties ?

    Don’tcha think it’s kinda suspect that the U.S. military refuses to collect such statistics ?

  5. Sorry, I can’t argue with someone who doesn’t understand that depleted uranium has less radioactivity than the dirt many people’s back yard.

    Frankly if you can’t understand that the US in Afghanistan and Iraq have prosecuted two of the most humane wars in the history of both ‘humane’ and ‘war’, you just don’t know very much about the history of war.

    And yes, there was an amazingly low number of Iraqi civilian casualties. I would be completely unsurprised to find that more Iraqi civilians have been blown up by the terrorists since the end of the war, than were killed by Americans during it.

    I’m completely fine with someone who argues that getting rid of Saddam wasn’t worth it. But there is nothing to argue about when it comes to the actual execution of the war. It is a fact that no country the size of Iraq has been taken over with in a war with so little civilian bloodshed or suffering.

    But I knew I shouldn’t have brought up the topic. My point on understanding religious zealots was about 2 orders of magnitude more important.

  6. “But I knew I shouldn’t have brought up the topic. My point on understanding religious zealots was about 2 orders of magnitude more important.”

    There is nothing wrong with bringing up this topic: how you look at this “humane” war is crucial. I coukd not disagree with the attack on Taliban-Afghanistan. I did not agree on attacking Saddam’s Iraq but I argued before that comparing it with other wars it can be called humane inspite of everything that can and should be said of the suffering for innocent people and war crimes even by the US forces (a few days ago Dutch television broadcasted pictures take from a US helicopter not only killing suspicious but not fighting Iraqi’s but willfully killing a heavily wounded person too).

    Looking at these in a realistic but not cynical way one should also look at the giant problems that still exist in Iraq and GME. One thing is the records of the American efforts and mistakes another one is how these are perceived. Perceived in Europe and perceived in greater middle east!

  7. Sorry, I can’t argue with someone who doesn’t understand that depleted uranium has less radioactivity than the dirt many people’s back yard.

    I agree, that’s a silly argument; just because it’s not radioactive doesn’t mean that it’s not toxic.

    Frankly if you can’t understand that the US in Afghanistan and Iraq have prosecuted two of the most humane wars in the history of both ‘humane’ and ‘war’, you just don’t know very much about the history of war.

    Interesting how you are unwilling to discuss the military actions in these two very different countries separately.

    Could it be that you are uncomfortable defending the war on Iraq on its merits ?

    And yes, there was an amazingly low number of Iraqi civilian casualties.

    That’s an assertion for which you have absolutely no proof.

    I would be completely unsurprised to find that more Iraqi civilians have been blown up by the terrorists since the end of the war, than were killed by Americans during it.

    That still does not reflect well on the U.S. as the occupier of Iraq. Providing security for the populace is one of our responsibilities as occupier.

  8. I have no problem whatsoever defending Afghanistan and Iraq separately or together. I am happy to defend the Iraq invasion on the merits, and have done so repeatedly. But that isn’t even what I’m defending. I’m defending the assertion that the invasion even if unjustified by intellectual European standards, was STILL prosecuted as one of the most humane wars in the history of the word ‘war’. Civilians were not targeted (by the US, Saddam targeted his own civilians at times) and astonishingly did were not killed (by the US) in large numbers.

    “That still does not reflect well on the U.S. as the occupier of Iraq. Providing security for the populace is one of our responsibilities as occupier.”

    Yes I know, when civilians die in any context it must be the fault of the US. And once you can tell me how to ‘provide security’ against terrorists, I suggest you immediately contact all of the Western governments in the world. They would love to know. Especially the UK, which apparently invites the IRA to bomb their shopping centers, and Spain which practically begs Al Qaeda to kill 200 of their train-riders. And that explosion in Bali, don’t forget that.

  9. Civilians were not targeted (by the US, Saddam targeted his own civilians at times) and astonishingly did were not killed (by the US) in large numbers.

    I say again, that’s an assertion for which you have absolutely no proof.

    I say again, don’tcha think it’s kinda suspect that the U.S. military refuses to collect such statistics ?

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