Last Nov. 2 Theo van Gogh, Dutch filmmaker and descendant of the painter, was cycling through Amsterdam. He was accosted by Mohammed Bouyeri, who shot him six times as van Gogh pleaded, “We can still talk about it! Don’t do it!” Bouyeri then cut his throat with a kitchen knife, practically severing his head. Bouyeri was not done. He then took a five-page Islamist manifesto and with his knife impaled it on van Gogh’s chest.
He feels instead glory. Van Gogh had made a short film about the oppression of Muslim women. Bouyeri was acting “purely in the name of my religion,” championing his faith by butchering a filmmaker critical of it.
Bouyeri is no newly arrived immigrant. Nor is he, like the Sept. 11 hijackers, a cosmopolitan terrorist sent abroad to kill. He was born and bred in Holland. Likewise, three of the four London bombers were second-generation Pakistani Brits.
The most remarkable discovery is that Europe’s second- and third-generation Muslim immigrants are more radicalized than the first. One reasonably non-political and non-radical Muslim activist, raised in the suburbs of Paris, explained himself (to the Wall Street Journal) as having “immigrated to France at the local maternity ward.”
The fact that native-born Muslim Europeans are committing terrorist acts in their own countries shows that this Islamist malignancy long predates Iraq, long predates Afghanistan and long predates Sept. 11, 2001. What Europe had incubated is an enemy within, a threat that for decades Europe simply refused to face.
Early news reports of the London bombings mentioned that police found no suspects among known Islamist cells in Britain. Come again? Why in God’s name is a country letting known Islamist cells thrive, instead of just rolling them up?
British Islamists had spoken of a “covenant of security” under which Britain would be spared Islamic terrorism so long as it allowed radical clerics free rein. Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed, for example, a Syrian-born, exiled Saudi cleric granted asylum 19 years ago, openly preaches jihad against Britain. He is sought by the press for comment all the time. And, a lovely touch, he actually lives on the British dole — even though he rejects the idea of British citizenship, saying, “I don’t want to become a citizen of Hell.”
One of the reasons Westerners were so unprepared for this wave of Islamist terrorism, not just militarily but psychologically, is sheer disbelief. It shockingly contradicts Western notions of progress. The savagery of Bouyeri’s act, mirroring the ritual human slaughter by Abu Musab Zarqawi or Daniel Pearl’s beheaders, is a return to a primitiveness that we in the West had assumed a progressive history had left behind.
Our first response was, therefore, to simply sweep this contradiction under the rug. Put the first World Trade Center bombers on trial and think it will solve the problem. Even today there are many Americans and even more Europeans who believe that after Sept. 11 the United States should just have done Afghanistan — depose the Taliban and destroy al Qaeda’s sanctuary — and gone no further, thinking that would solve the problem.
But the problem is far deeper. It is essentially a civil war within a rival civilization in which the most primitive elements are seeking to gain the upper hand. Sept. 11 forced us to intervene massively in this civil war, which is why we are in Iraq. There, as in Afghanistan, we have enlisted millions of Muslims on the anti-Islamist side.
But what about the vast majority of European Muslims, the 99 percent who are peace-loving and not engaged in terror? They must also join the fight. They must actively denounce not just — what is obvious — the terrorist attacks, but their source: Islamist ideology and its practitioners.
Where are the fatwas issued against Osama bin Laden? Where are the denunciations of the very idea of suicide bombing? Europeans must demand this of all their Muslim leaders. They must also dismantle and destroy all “known” Islamist cells before trains and buses are blown up.
A modest beginning might be removing the likes of Sheik Omar — and Bouyeri — from the teat of the infidel taxpayer: “He [Bouyeri] had the time to plan this,” van Gogh’s mother told the court, “because for three years he was on unemployment benefits.” Decadence is defined not by a civilization’s art or music but ultimately by its willingness to simply defend itself.
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