In the print edition of the Wall Street Journal, Walter Laqueur describes what’s coming:
The politicians … tell us that the great majority of Muslims have nothing to do with terrorism, which is perfectly true. But it is also true that many thousands of young men in these communities in Britain and France, in Spain and Italy, sympathize with the jihadis. Some of them know where the terrorists are hiding but won’t tell the authorities. Terrorists cannot exist in a vacuum; they need a periphery of helpers. That’s the main problem now facing the security services. But politicians are reluctant to press the point by strongly admonishing Europe’s Muslims to do their civic duty and cooperate in finding the terrorists.
According to the security authorities, between 600 and 3,000 people in Britain graduated from Osama bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan and could launch further attacks any day. (The higher figure is probably exaggerated.) But these people have been around for a long time and few people have interfered with their movements. They were given asylum and paid social benefits even if they had been sentenced for terrorist activities in their home countries. In this respect, Britain followed the most liberal policy in Europe.
Many Britons believed that the country would be safe if it showed tolerance towards radicals and suspected terrorists. No one went further in this respect than Ken Livingstone, the London mayor, who welcomed some of the gurus of the “militants” and claimed that they were harmless religious dignitaries maligned by Zionists and neoconservatives. George Galloway, Saddam Hussein’s greatest admirer this side of Baghdad, was recently elected to the British parliament from a racially-mixed precinct in East London.
Several days have now passed since the bombs went off in London. At first, excitable postings on the Web claimed the attacks struck at the heart of the Unbelievers. Few will be able to argue this now. In fact, it has become less and less clear what the terrorists wanted to achieve. Before the attacks of 7/7, there was a growing number of people in Britain, as in the U.S. and Europe, claiming that the terrorist threat had been greatly exaggerated. Why devote so much time and money and energy combating an enemy that wasn’t so dangerous, they said. Such a reaction was in many ways natural. There had not been an attack on the scale of September 11 for almost four years. BBC television screened a three-part documentary, widely praised and given international awards, that more or less implied that terrorism was largely a myth, invented by George W. Bush and neoconservatives inspired by Leo Strauss.
Demands grew that antiterrorist laws promulgated in recent years be abolished, or at least modified because they weren’t necessary. This was only yesterday. The London attacks came as a serious setback for the let-us-not-be-too-beastly-to-the-terrorists brigade. And the damage caused to the Unbelievers has not been tremendous. Even the stock market, tending towards hysteria in such cases, barely took notice.
If so, why didn’t the terrorists wait until they had weapons far more deadly than the present ones, and until vigilance in the West had further declined? Could it have been political stupidity on their part, or “actionism” — the need to demonstrate to their young cadres that they were still in business?
Whatever the underlying reasons, the focus should now be on the future. It is impossible to prevent all attacks, but it’s still possible to make life much more difficult for the terrorists. This cannot be done in Europe within the existing legal framework. Of nearly a thousand suspected terrorists who were arrested in the U.K., only a handful was brought to trial and even fewer sentenced. In Germany, the figures were even more striking. The hands of American judges are tied in similar ways.
As a result, hundreds of terrorists reside freely in European cities, moving from one country to another. This could be stopped, but it would mean implementing controls that are vehemently opposed by some on human-rights grounds. In Britain, even such innocent measures as the introduction of identity cards have been bitterly opposed.
Governments are responsible for the security of their citizens. Yet they can’t move too far ahead of public opinion. As long as it is not generally understood that restrictions and controls will be inevitable in the future to safeguard society from far worse disasters, terrorists will have a (relatively) free run. In the case of future major attacks, public pressure for such measures will be overwhelming. If such attacks do not occur, we shall be able to sleep in peace and quiet, lucky to enjoy both security and all our liberties. The prospects of this scenario coming true aren’t brilliant.
The terrorists’ incubator.