Henryk M. Broder, the editor Spiegel Online, argued that many European intellectuals have responded to an attack on Kurt Westergaard the author of the “Mohammed Cartoons”, by a Somali with links to al-Qaeda, by “de-escalating” their profile rather than denouncing the attack, in contrast to the somewhat vigorous defense of Salman Rushdie 20 years ago. Broder writes that “the West is choked with fear”. The attack on illustrator Kurt Westergaard wasn’t the first attempt to carry out a deadly fatwa. When Muslims tried to murder Salman Rushdie 20 years ago, the protests among intellectuals were loud. Today, though, Western writers and thinkers would rather take cover than defend basic rights.
The attack on Westergaard is a textbook application of terror. Even the weapons chosen — an axe for example — contributed to instilling fear. Although Westergaard himself escaped unharmed, every European writer knows that the next victim may not be so lucky. And that next writer may be himself. The Somali also demonstrated the second object lesson of terrorist pedagogy. They reminded the world that they never forget. Salman Rushdie is still on the run. Westergaard will have to be guarded until the day that he dies. There is no statute of limitations on al-Qaeda’s anger. Blasphemy is forever.
And it works. By slow degrees the intellectuals are being cowed into silence. John Brennan, the President’s counterterrorism adviser, thinks that closing Guantanamo prison is necessary to avoid giving al-Qaeda “a propaganda victory”, when from al-Qaeda’s point of view the closure itself is probably regarded as the victory. In denying al-Qaeda one sort of victory, Obama is giving them another and more valuable one: it is subconsciously indoctrinating into the public an almost subconscious fear of “giving offense” to Islam that is more powerful for the fact that it may eventually be instinctive. Which is the point.
…But the Westergaard attack and to an even more important degree, the Northwest Airlines incident hold another important lesson. Private initiative, exercised within the law has proved as important as official action. Westergaard hardened his premises against attack. He had a sanctuary room and an alarm system and it saved him. On the Northwest Airlines flight, the passengers were their own air marshals. Today many school administrators plan to respond to a Beslan style attack by locking kids down in the classrooms which may only gather the targets in one place. Maybe the students will have the sense to scatter in all directions instead of turning off the lights, locking the door and hiding the corners. Although Gordon Brown in the UK is unwilling to raise a squeak against a group of extremsts who are going to march through the funerary route of British dead returned from Afghanistan to brand them as baby killers and rapists, the population itself is raising a howl against it. That may give politicians the pretext they need in order to appear bold. A British police spokesman said: “If a march is believed to be likely to result in serious disorder, disruption or damage, then the police can impose conditions upon the organiser. In exceptional circumstances, police may apply to the local authority for an order prohibiting such a march.” It’s OK Gordon. The polls say you can do it.
Terrorism doesn’t care a fig for the denunciations of intellectuals. Intellectuals are easy to cow and terrify. What they fear most is the thousand suspicious glances; the parted curtain looking down from every window; the telephone call made just after they leave; the revolver in the drawer in the little old lady’s house. Then the terror goes the other way because every shadow, every sound, every look acquires pervasive menace. The blade often cuts both ways.
Just as the result of political correctness isn’t tolerance but debased public speech, the consequence of official timidity taken too far may eventually be a breakdown in civil society and a return to tribalism. Ultimately attempts to impose an artificial consciousness on the public lead instead to the development of a revolutionary consciousness. Appeasement to terrorism in the west can eventually become a challenge to the legitimacy of the elites themselves. Either the king provides the king’s justice or the crown slips off. The Chinese have a proverb. “Kill a chicken to frighten the monkey.” But there is another proverb, “monkey see, monkey do”.
What terrorism ultimately threatens is the fabric of civilization. Given the chance they will rip it up. The destruction of the Golden Mosque in Samarra was an act of terror against the Shi’a which ultimately recoiled not only on al-Qaeda but upon many innocents. Extremism often overplays its hand. It serves the cause of tolerance to ensure that they cannot. It is useful to remember that if you bend over backward too far eventually you fall over.