A specter is haunting Europe. The specter of Islam.
George W. Bush used to say that we had to fight the terrorists over there, in the Middle East, so we wouldn’t have to fight them here at home. A long period of relative security made that claim seem overblown, like a lame justification for interventionism. But it just might turn out that he was right, and that it is even more true for Europe than it is for us.
I was reminded of this reading about the curtailed New Year’s Eve celebrations in Paris.
About 60,000 police officers and troops were deployed across the country, and revelers said that made them feel safer. “The same troops who used to be in Mali, Chad, French Guyana or the Central African Republic are now ensuring the protection of French people,” said Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
In Belgium, the New Year’s Eve festivities were canceled entirely.
In Brussels, 2016 was rung in without the customary fireworks display and downtown street party…. Earlier this week, Belgian authorities announced they had arrested two men suspected of planning to stage attacks in Brussels over the holidays…. On Thursday morning, forklifts and trucks removed generators and other equipment from the Place de Brouckere, the broad square in central Brussels where the fireworks show was supposed to happen.
In Paris, they were significantly scaled down.
Paris canceled its usual fireworks display in favor of a five-minute video performance at the Arc de Triomphe just before midnight, relayed on screens along the Champs Elysee, where people chanted. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the show was aimed at “sending the world the message that Paris is standing, proud of its lifestyle and living together.”
Well, no, if Paris were standing tall, it would have had its usual celebrations. Fireworks have an interesting symbolism, recalling the sights and sounds of war. Presumably that’s the problem this year: fireworks would be good cover for another shooting rampage. In the United States, legend has it that the reason we have fireworks on the Fourth of July is to remember the wars we fought to gain and keep our independence — the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air. But you only want to remember that if you won the war. If you’re losing, I can see why you wouldn’t be so excited about the fireworks.
The most dispiriting thing said about Paris was from a Parisienne on the street: “It was a very strange year, and we just want 2016 to be different, simply a normal one. It does not need to be an excellent one, but just a normal one.” Way to aim high.
But I doubt 2016 is going to be a normal year for Europeans. German officials just admitted that a little more than half of a wave of attacks during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne were by North African and Middle Eastern asylum seekers who have flooded into the country during the Syrian civil war and have been welcomed under a foolishly, sanctimoniously overgenerous refugee policy.
The most disturbing thing about the Cologne attacks was the prevalence of sexual assault as a weapon, complete with gangs of Muslim men stalking German women through the streets, yelling obscenities at them and threatening them with sexual violence. Note to Western feminists: we finally found real “rape culture” for you. Unfortunately, it is not found primarily among middle-class American college boys, which is what you were hoping for.
This is “normal” — if that word can be applied here — in the Arab and Muslim world. Wherever large crowds gather, unaccompanied women are in danger. (Remember the brutal attack on CBS reporter Lara Logan during the Egyptian revolution.) This is a measure of the extent to which the culture of Islam, as it is practiced in much of the world, deranges and brutalizes its believers, particularly when it comes to their attitudes toward women and sex. This is what has now arrived in the heart of a free, civilized, enlightened Europe.
This is an inauspicious start to 2016 — but it is exactly what we should expect after 2015, which was the year the Specter of Islam rose to loom high over the capitals of Europe.
Last year was bookended by parallel events in France and the United States. The year began with the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, in which French jihadists with ties to ISIS wiped out the top staff of an irreverent magazine that had flouted Islamic restrictions — followed in March by the thwarted attack on Pamela Geller’s Draw Mohammed contest in Garland, Texas. The year drew to an end with a large, coordinated jihadist shooting attack on multiple targets across Paris, followed by the San Bernardino massacre in the US.
In these attacks, we can see three clear patterns.
First, radical Muslims attack the mind first, then the body. In a revealing statement, Secretary of State John Kerry blurted out that he found the Charlie Hebdo attacks understandable, with a “legitimacy” or at least a “rationale” about enforcing Islamic restrictions. But that’s an utterly false distinction. Yes, the jihadists’ first targets in the West are going to be those people who use words, ideas, and art to challenge Islam. But those are only the first targets, not the last. As the attacks at the end of the year demonstrated, the jihadists ultimately want to wipe out all the infidels, not just the outspoken few. And as the New Year’s Eve attacks demonstrate, their target isn’t just artists who draw provocative cartoons but women whose “provocation” is not to cover themselves in public from head to foot.
Second, the attacks in the US are smaller, less organized, and less successful than in Europe. This reflects the fact that Muslims in the US is a smaller percentage of the population and better assimilated to American values. Fewer are attracted to the cause of jihad, and they are less able to work with people around them to plan and organize. (And, as I noted after the Garland attack, America is generally a harder target.) But among the small number of violent radicals, the full murderous intent is there, even if the means are not as effective. Europe is the front line, but we’re not far behind.
This can be seen in the first Islam-inspired terror attack of the New Year: the shooting of a Philadelphia police officer by a man who pledged loyalty to ISIS and said he did it “in the name of Islam.” He will no doubt be dismissed as No True Muslim.
And that leads us to the third lesson: we have a president who is resolutely opposed to learning any of the other lessons. Instead, he is focusing all of his efforts on doing what little he can to disarm Americans. Unfortunately, judging from the presidential debates — in which the Democratic participants steadfastly refused to use the phrase “radical Islam” — we’re not going to get any better from the next round of Democratic candidates.
The rise of the Islamic State and its ability to inspire and organize terrorists attacks in the West, combined with the Democrats’ refusal to confront this threat, sets up one of the big questions for 2016, particularly as the Republican primaries actually go to a vote in the next two months. This must now be a national security election, and by that standard the only interesting debate is between Republican candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
I don’t expect our current president to do much of anything about the threat of Islam, or to help the Europeans with it, during his remaining term in office. Instead, we have the rest of this year to decide how we would like the next president to deal with it.
Because the specter of Islam is haunting us all.
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