Monday, August 01, 2005

Fighting words from a German 

Pretty strong words from Mathias Doepfner, chief executive of German media group Axel Springer, in today's "Australian":
These days, Europe reminds me of an old woman who, with shaking hands, frantically hides her last pieces of jewellery when she notices a robber breaking into a neighbour's house. Appeasement? That is just the start of it. Europe, thy name is Cowardice.
As I've written many times before, at the root this attitude is the belief that Al Qaeda is essentially a reactive force, with no agenda of its own, except to oppose certain Western actions (if, among other things, the existence of the state of Israel can be termed a "Western action") - hence, if only we did, or stopped doing, X or Y, everything would be fine, since "these people" have no quarrel with us per se, just with some of our policies.

But, the problem is, they do have a quarrel (see on that point a revealing post by Neuro Con, who peers inside the mind of one active British holy warrior). This is why concessions will not work - they never do, when you're dealing with a totalitarian mindset. It might be convenient and comforting to think that it's not our fight, or that it will all go away, or that if we stay away from problems, problems will stay away from us. Sadly, it just doesn't work that way, as Doepfner reminds us:
Appeasement cost millions of Jews and non-Jews their lives as allies Britain and France negotiated and hesitated too long before they realised that Adolf Hitler needed to be fought and defeated, because he could not be bound by toothless agreements.

Later, appeasement legitimised and stabilised communism in the Soviet Union, then in East Germany, then throughout the rest of Eastern Europe, where for several decades inhuman, repressive and murderous governments were glorified.

Appeasement similarly crippled Europe when genocide ran rampant in Bosnia and Kosovo. Indeed, even though we had absolute proof of continuing mass murder there, we Europeans debated and debated, and then debated still more. We were still debating when finally the Americans had to come from halfway around the world, into Europe yet again, to do our work for us.
I'll beg to differ with Doepfner on his middle example - in practical terms there was very little that the West could have done to prevent the Soviet domination over the Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the war. Facts on the ground largely dictated the outcome, and therefore I never blamed the Western Allies for not trying to roll back the Red Army - I blamed them for naivete in dealing with the communists. The time to strangle the Soviet communism was when it was in its cradle, in the first three years after the Bolshevik coup, when on occasions it was close to collapse. Again, for a whole range of reasons (including post-World War One exhaustion), very little was done.

But Doepfner's general argument is sound. It is never politically popular - though strategically smart - to deal with a threat when it is still small. But it's difficult to see how making concessions will not make the threat increase, that is how withdrawing Western presence from everywhere in the Middle East and the Muslim world broadly speaking, and giving Al Qaeda a free hand to subvert and overthrow all the current governments, which it considers heretical and treasonous, is going to make us in the West safer. There is indeed, a civil war going on within the Islamic community, and if you think that we don't have any stake in the outcome, just wait until the bad guys win. But by then it will be too late.


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