Friday, July 08, 2005

Plan C?

Many people have highlighted the impossibility of protecting every bus or train from people who are determined to explode back-packs or themselves in order to make a point. Yet, two commentators with different perspectives both point out that there is, of course, a possible defense against the type of attacks that London experienced yesterday or Madrid experienced 16 months ago

Both Robert Fisk and Tom Friedman note there is one option that has been, thus far, ruled out: total exclusion of people from the countries where this trouble originates and a clamp down on the civil liberties among those from the same group who already live among us. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating these policies, but I find it interesting that the possibility of such measures is rarely mentioned.

Here's Fisk:
Trains, planes, buses, cars, metros. Transportation appears to be the science of al-Qa'ida's dark arts. No one can search three million London commuters every day. No one can stop every tourist.

Some thought the Eurostar might have been an al-Qa'ida target – be sure they have studied it – but why go for prestige when your common-or-garden bus and tube train are there for the taking.

And then come the Muslims of Britain, who have long been awaiting this nightmare. Now every one of the Muslims becomes the "usual suspect", the man or woman with brown eyes, the man with the beard, the woman in the scarf, the boy with the worry beads, the girl who says she's been racially abused.
And, here's Friedman:
Because there is no obvious target to retaliate against, and because there are not enough police to police every opening in an open society, either the Muslim world begins to really restrain, inhibit and denounce its own extremists – if it turns out that they are behind the London bombings – or the West is going to do it for them. And the West will do it in a rough, crude way – by simply shutting them out, denying them visas and making every Muslim in its midst guilty until proven innocent.
Both columnists foresee a similar ugly scenario, but of course each has his own opinion of what needs to be done to avoid this. Fisk wants Tony Blair to opt out of the War on Terror and Friedman wants Muslims to tackle this problem themselves.

Of course, Fisk is right to a point. If the British opted out of Iraq and Afghanistan and everything else to do with the war on terror, it's quite possible that the jihadis would leave London alone – for a while. However, what Fisk (and others who peddle this line) never acknowledge is that this strategy is like devaluing your currency to get a competitive advantage.

If this worked for the UK/Europe, the US could trump anything Europe does in this regard. The US can withdraw from the Middle East and Europe, seal its borders and go back to happy isolationism and protectionism. Sure, there'd be a big price to pay, but it's possible that the American people will be willing to pay that price if the price of combating the jihadis alone is just too great. Let Europe deal with an eventual nuke-wielding bin Laden type character ruling over a new caliphate.

Friedman is much closer to the right answer. This is, mostly, a problem within the Muslim world. They need to sort it out. Iraq and Afghanistan are not the cause of this problem, they're a side-effect of the long overdue necessary treatment. In order to avoid the civil liberties nightmare, Muslims living in the west must fear doing nothing more than they fear turning on those in their midst who encourage/preach/endorse jihad. They must also speak loudly to their fellow Muslims living in penury and tyranny in the Middle East and elsewhere that there is a better way. They must become advocates for Islamic democracies.

Of course, if they fail we stand to lose a lot, but they stand to lose a lot more. No society has endless patience or good will. It would be nice to think that it's not so, but that sort of thinking is naive.