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2004-03-23

Yassin assassination, terrorism 

I slowly come to think that a large part of the European debate about muslim terrorism is indeed misguided and illusionary. On the occasion of Sheik Yassin's assassination by the Israelis, Jack Straw's statement was quite comprehensive. It expressed understanding for the Israeli situation, denounced the violation of international law, and expressed a political evaluation (in this case, that the assassination would hurt Israel). Unfortunately, Javier Solana's statement additionally expressed "sadness" over the assassination, which would hurt the peace process, as if to extend condolences to the Sheik's followers. This really steps over the line.

There is one issue of legality in the fight against terrorism. Democratic states with a rule of the law are called to respect legality. The US and Israel, and to a lesser extent countries like Britain have abandoned this principle, claiming that they are leading an asymmetric "war" against terrorists.

But, the issue of using maximum force against terrorist mass-murderers must be seen as a separate issue from the legality issue, and every democrat should support a fierce response to terrorists in principle. Pandering to terrorists like Yassin or Al-Kaida is spineless - and also self-destructive, when one is dealing with fundamentalists whose goal is nothing less but to annihilate parts or the whole of Western civilisation. Unfortunately, many Europeans are not immune to this error, and this tends to provoke observers from the US and Israel a lot.

Read, for just one example, the article by social-democrat left winger Caspar Einem in DerStandard. Einem portrays what he considers a successful Austrian policy of dealing with islam both within Austria and internationally. The policy, he says, consists of political dialog and engagement, combined with a warning to the muslim political activists that violence will not be accepted. He contrasts this with the countries in the US-led coalition, who allegedly are not interested in the political dialog and engagement, and who do not allow peaceful political activism by muslims within their borders. As long as there is no violence in Austria itself, each and every political activist seems to be welcome to Einem.

But surely not every country can hide like this behind other countries that fight terrorism more aggressively - somebody will have to shoulder the burden to address those who plan or committ the actual attacks. And if they did not, even with Austria's policy the country would still be in the first line of targets for the next Al-Kaida terrorist act. In fact, there is speculation in the blogosphere that Vienna might be one of the next logical targets for fundamentalist muslim terrorism due to the battle over Vienna which the Turks lost in the 17th century.

Inciters to terrorism must be isolated and fought. The challenge is to do this in a discriminate way. The attack on Yassin killed nine people, not just one, and in other incidents countless innocent civilians have been killed by the Israelis and the US-led coalition. This is a huge tragedy and policy failure in each individual case. A democratic country, even if it has abandoned the rule of international law in its struggle with terrorism, must not allow itself to become careless about human life. This is one of the real scandals that is addressed far too little in either the Israeli, the US- or for that matter the European debate.


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