Islamism - The New Totalitarian Threat ?

Posted in Broader Middle East | 18-Apr-04 | Author: Friedbert Pflueger

Dr. Friedbert Pflüger: "Let us cooperate with the Islamic world, but fight against Islamism"
Foreign Affairs Spokesman of the CDU/CSU in the German Bundestag

The wake-up call of 11 September 2001 roused us only for a short time. We quickly pressed the 'snooze' button and went back to sleep. The brutal terrorist attack on a synagogue in Djerba, in which 14 German citizens were killed, the attacks in Bali, in Mombasa, in Riyadh, in Rabat, in Jakarta, in Istanbul and Madrid - we jolt briefly awake and then doze off again. Even the atrocities of the suicide bombers who blow themselves up in school buses, at religious festivals or in department stores with as many civilian casualties as possible are now perceived by us as being almost everyday occurrences.

Over one hundred people died in a Moscow theatre; children, women and innocents are subjected to brutal violence in India, Kashmir, the Philippines and Indonesia. Violent Islamist cells are operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, in the failed state of Somalia, in Sudan, and also in Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria. Al-Qaeda has even gained a foothold in Latin America. Intelligence agencies fear that terrorists may be cooperating with drug traffickers and rebel organisations in Colombia and Venezuela.

Even if considerable regional differences exist and the violent acts of Islamist groups are often related to nationalistic regional conflicts (Chechnya, Kashmir, the Philippines), we are nonetheless observing a global attack by Islamist terrorist groups against Western civilisation. It is not a clash of civilisations, or a conflict between Islam and Christianity. It is an attack on the West by a totalitarian and militant Islamism. It is not Islam itself which threatens us, but rather its most extreme followers.

There is no doubt that the Islamist terrorist groups consider the United States of America and Israel their main enemies. However, it would be a fatal error of judgement for us Europeans to feel safe or to believe that we could avoid being targeted by distancing ourselves from America or Israel. It was largely by chance that the first attacks using airplanes were on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on 11 September 2001. As early as 1994, four members of an Algerian terrorist group hijacked an Air France airplane. The target was the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the terrorists were planning to carry out the same kind of attack which took place in the USA just under seven years later. However, the French police stormed the aircraft during a refuelling stop in Marseilles and killed the hijackers.

All of us in the Western world could fall victim to terrorism, for we are 'infidels' who are supposed to be fought and destroyed in the jihad, the 'Holy War', in order to establish a global caliphate. The overwhelming majority of Muslims throughout the world want nothing to do with terrorism against civilians. There are no passages in the Koran which justify such atrocities. But the terrorists of al-Qaeda, together with their leader Osama bin Laden and the terrorist groups which cooperate with this network see themselves as the vanguard of the putative claim to power of 1.3 billion Muslims.

In the past, war was a state affair. The traditional concept of war assumes that a declaration of war is made and that the resulting conflict then takes place between forces under state control, who can be recognised by their uniforms and who usually fight on open battlefields. Unfortunately, such wars will continue to take place in future. People forget too quickly the terrible lessons about the senselessness of wars of aggression against neighbouring peoples, whether for power and political reasons or out of nationalistic fervour. In his outstanding book 'All Quiet on the Western Front', Erich Maria Remarque created a lasting reminder, for all involved, of the horror of wars waged by criminal regimes.

Today, there is - additionally - a new form of war: 'asymmetric' warfare. It is not conducted by state actors but instead by small, secret groups. This threat is posed above all by Islamists. They search for the weak spots of the West's free, open societies, and attack them with the aim of killing as many 'infidels' as possible. The attacks on 11 September, when terrorists transformed a civilian airliner into a deadly precision missile, show that major terrorist attacks today already cause as much damage as attacks by regular forces in the past.

This is especially true from the USA's perspective. With the exception of the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor (Hawaii) on 17 December 1941, no state or non-state actor had managed to cause such suffering on American territory in the last two hundred years. It was the first time since the Vietnam war that the USA had lost so many citizens at once. The attack took place in front of running cameras in the heart of the USA. It was directed by the global network of the Islamist group al-Qaeda. The hijackers came from Saudi Arabia and Yemen; they received their military training in Afghanistan; Germany and Malaysia were used as a safe haven while preparations were made, and they took flying lessons in the USA. As the concept of war is not static, but has continued to evolve throughout history, one can rightly speak of a new world war, in light of terrorism's new characteristics and global reach.

There is proof that al-Qaeda has already been working to obtain weapons of mass destruction for a long time. It is now only a matter of time before terrorists, in cooperation with Islamist states or power-hungry dictators, possess and use biological, chemical and even nuclear weapons. The number of victims would then scarcely differ from the major wars of the past. On the one hand, there is an inexorable process of WMD proliferation, and on the other, groups exist with the criminal fanaticism to use them. This is no terrible exaggeration, but rather a description of the sad reality.

The Islamists' attack is directed against our Western civilisation, which is primarily based on ancient philosophy, Jewish traditions, Christianity, Roman law, the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment - but also on contributions from Islam. Like all major civilisations throughout history, ours is not immune to decay and decline either. It is more probable that, from a historical perspective, it will sooner or later be eclipsed by another civilisation. Al-Qaeda views its violence as setting the pace of such a development.

Osama bin Laden is not simply a crazy fanatic or a sadistic mass-murderer. Rather, he and the network he leads have a clearly recognisable religious and ideological vision. In a speech in the German Bundestag on 7 November 2002, I already described this as a "new totalitarianism". The Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Fischer, who initially considered this term "questionable", subsequently used it in his own Bundestag speech of 10 September 2003: "This terrorism is based on a new Islamic totalitarianism. It is not only aimed at the United States of America, but also at us."

Dr. Friedbert Pflüger at a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee: "The terrorism is based on new Islamic
The term "totalitarianism" largely goes back to C. J. Friedrich, Hannah Arendt and Karl Dietrich Bracher. According to Bracher, totalitarianism aims to eliminate all personal, inalienable freedoms and to obliterate the individual. Of course, there are differences between Fascism, Communism and Islamism. But there are also common structural characteristics: the rejection of human rights as defensive rights against state interference, of pluralism, multi-party systems and separation of powers; the creation of enemy stereotypes, in which one group is held collectively responsible for all problems (the capitalists, the Jews, the infidels); the pervasiveness of ideology in all areas of life; constant pressure to affirm publicly the ideological concept; the complete inclusion and indoctrination of children (Hitler Youth, Young Pioneers, Koran schools).

In all three totalitarian systems of thought, we also see the belief that 'the masses' are incapable of recognising what is in their best interests and that therefore a leader, caliph or revolutionary vanguard is necessary: in National Socialism this was the function of the 'Führer', as well as the SS, SA and the NSDAP; in Communism, the 'party of the working class' exercised the 'dictatorship of the proletariat'; and in the Islamist terrorist state of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Ayatollah attempted to set himself up as the new caliph, supported by revolutionary guards, the Pasdaran. Finally, the promise to release people from the constraints, conflicts and defeats of everyday life is also common to all three systems of thought. The Nazis promised that individuals would harmoniously merge into the Aryan 'national community', the Communists proclaimed a world where people would not be ruled by other people, and the Islamists are striving to create a global caliphate which will destroy or subjugate the infidels. All three ideologies promote a cult of martyrdom. Those who lay down their lives for the wellbeing of the community are highly honoured: whether through the Nazis' Horst Wessel Song, the countless memorials to Communist 'freedom-fighters', or the veneration of the Islamist suicide attackers, who are unable to verify while on earth the promise that many virgins await them in Paradise.

Therefore, our task today is to raise awareness of the military and ideological threat posed by totalitarian Islamism. The Islamists' global war has already reached our cities, where terrorist groups' sympathisers and 'sleepers' enjoy safe haven and are able to make preparations for their operations. In many cases, it is a misunderstanding of religious tolerance which allows Islamist groups to operate this freely. Frequently, no action is taken because people are unaware that ideological and organisational links exist. In many cases, however, people turn a blind eye out of a desire to avoid unpleasantness. No one wants any trouble, or to endanger their reputation as open-minded citizens: let others worry about what is taught in Bonn's King Fahd Academy or the mosque in Cologne. There are cases, though, where it is indeed fear which causes some people to turn a blind eye and remain silent: don't take on the Islamists; the more you do, the more likely it is that you will be targeted! Don't speak out against teachers wearing headscarves, you might be seen as intolerant! Better not take part in the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, or the reconstruction - that will just lead to reprisal attacks in Germany! Better to distance ourselves from America, remain neutral, then we will be spared!

What a mistake! We do not live on an island, we cannot keep out of these issues. Attempting to appease and pacify a totalitarian challenge has always been the worst strategy. It might be a way to gain a little time. In the end, however, it makes defeat all the more certain. It is highly probable that terrorists select wavering, frightened societies for their attacks. There, the fear caused will be far greater, and thus any action will also have far greater effects. By taking firm action, it is easier to impose one's will upon waverers than upon the resolute. Turning a blind eye and appeasement do not create any security.

The global military and ideological conflict between totalitarian Islamism and Western civilisation is particularly significant because the number of Muslims in the world is increasing disproportionately. In 1980, Muslims made up 18 per cent of the global population; today it is just under 25 per cent (1.3 billion people), and in 2025 almost one third of humanity will be Muslim.

In Europe, by contrast, populations are declining. Most nations are not renewing themselves, but are instead slowly dying out. Germany is particularly affected. We have constant negative population growth, and will see our population decline from 83 million today to less than 70 million in 2050. At the same time, population growth in the Arabic world, in Iran, Turkey or Africa's Muslim states is exploding and, according to the statistics of the German Foundation for World Population (DSW) in Hanover, over half of Muslims are under the age of twenty-one. In Europe, this age pyramid is turned on its head. Our societies are ageing. Quite apart from the economic and social consequences of such a development, this also influences, of course, Western societies' dynamism and ability to innovate.

Some observers recommend that we use immigration policy to counter this development. For this reason, they view admitting Turkey to the EU almost as a necessity, since the free movement of workers would then, in their view, produce sufficient employees, tax payers and people to support the welfare state. From an economic perspective, this calculation may even prove to be correct. However, given the unsolved problems which already exist today with regard to integration and the parallel societies which are developing, do we want to allow even more members of other cultures and religions into our country? By all means, if we had more viable concepts for integrating these people into our communities as our constitution envisages. The Basic Law enshrines the principle of religious freedom. Irrespective of skin colour, nationality and religion, all who obey our laws, learn our language, honour our customs and wish to integrate themselves accordingly are welcome. I oppose all forms of 'blood and soil' ideology. There are no ethnically pure states. But we must demand, more than we have done in the past, that those who come to our country also adapt to our civilisation's prevailing culture.

In the USA, immigrants keep their Chinese, Mexican or Cuban identity. They are proud of their Irish, Polish or German origins. But they nonetheless become Americans, joyfully singing the national anthem and honouring the American flag. Our mistake has been to neither demand nor promote integration. It is our mistake, because we have no clear national identity to offer. Is this perhaps because we ourselves do not love our country enough, or at least do not dare admit it? I love my country, and I wish we had some of the democratic patriotism of the Americans, French or Poles. Democratic patriotism for me is love for one's own country and its people, linked in their belief in the free constitution. Love of one's fatherland and constitutional patriotism should not be viewed as being at odds; they are related.

An attack on the West by totalitarian and militant Islamic radicals is an attack against the Western civilisation and values.
The darkest period in the history of our people, that of National Socialism, must never be forgotten. No line can be drawn under Auschwitz. But it would be wrong to reduce German history to those twelve years alone. Germans have achieved great things, both before and after that period: a democratic constitution, a rule-of-law state, the economic miracle and welfare state, reconciliation with the Jews, winning back the respect of the peoples of the world, a calculable policy of European integration and Atlantic partnership, the policy of ditente in Central and Eastern Europe, the peaceful revolution in the GDR, the free and peaceful reunification of Germany with the support of all our neighbours, enormous efforts to forge a common identity between the now reunited parts of our country - there is a great deal here of which we may be proud!

We can - and should - stand up for this country, with a relaxed approach, but without losing sight of the fact that we form part of a greater whole. We are not only living for the moment and for ourselves, but should also help responsibly to shape our future. It worries me that there are ever fewer Germans and that we are growing ever older. A society where all that counts is material fulfilment, pleasure and instant gratification has no future. We do not want a joyless society, a society where work is the only purpose of life. We do not want an ascetic society, or moralising Pharisees pointing fingers. But do we not sense that the excesses of our affluent Western society all but challenge another, younger civilisation to supplant us?

This is all the more the case, the more we give the impression that we are no longer defending ourselves against this possibility. We are neglecting our internal and external security and ignoring the link - constantly increasing in times of asymmetric warfare - between events in Iraq or Afghanistan and the activities of Islamist activists in our cities. In Europe, particularly in Germany, we are currently too preoccupied with ourselves to be able to make a contribution commensurate with our size and economic strength to the political and military struggle against terrorism.

In a rare moment of self-criticism, the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, Joseph Fischer, publicly admitted at the Conference of Ambassadors in early September 2003 that "the Europeans" had committed a major error, namely that they did not immediately enter into a comprehensive strategic debate with the USA after 11 September 2001. He conceded that too little understanding had been shown for others' views, that too little attention had been paid to what others were saying, and that this eventually produced the misunderstandings that led to the conflicts in the Atlantic alliance over the Iraq war. This book aims to promote mutual understanding.

In spite of all the regional trouble spots, and numerous national and ethnic conflicts of various kind, today there is again a central conflict, namely that between Western civilisation and Islamism (not Islam!). In this confrontation, we will only prevail if we do not downplay it, but instead look it in the eye and grasp that it is a major danger. We will only win if we in the West do not let ourselves be split. The Twin Towers in New York were destroyed on 11 September 2001. However, Osama bin Laden must not succeed in destroying the even more important Twin Towers, the alliance between Europe and North America. Only if we face up to the new challenge together will we keep the upper hand. The central task of German foreign policy is therefore to stick to the two basic pillars of our security: European integration and the Atlantic partnership. All Chancellors from Konrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt to Helmut Kohl have based their policy on these two pillars.

The task facing America and Europe is to develop a comprehensive and long-term strategic concept for the greater Middle East, from the Maghreb to Pakistan. This involves taking political, economic, social and cultural measures to stabilise the region on the basis of fundamental human rights, and in this way eliminating the breeding ground of terrorism and violence. From the very outset, we should also involve Turkey, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in this task, but above all also Russia, China and India. The latter three countries have growing Muslim minorities (in India alone almost 200 million people!) and they therefore have an enormous interest in the greater Middle East being stabilised and al-Qaeda successfully tackled.

There are strong indications that the USA is seeking a long-term, global strategic alliance with China. In any case, little is left of the 'rivalry' with Beijing that was loudly proclaimed at the beginning of George Bush's term of office, or of support for Taiwanese efforts towards gaining independence. If Europe remains as weak and split as it currently is, it will be threatened with global-policy marginalisation, with unforeseeable consequences for stability, prosperity and security in the 'old world'. Europe must finally wake up and make its contribution!

We are only at the beginning of a debate on how to handle Islam and Islamism, on preventive measures - both peaceful and military - to tackle terrorism, on long-term visions to solve regional conflicts, and on politically shaping the greater Middle East. It is my sincere belief that our Western civilisation has a chance of survival if it vigorously tackles these tasks. If we in the West do not let ourselves be split, we will also prevail over the third totalitarian threat to the free world.

The greater the threat becomes, the more the latent strength of Western civilisation will grow. We will again learn to distinguish between friend and foe. We will again value democratic loyalty to the alliance. We will defend freedom together with Muslims throughout the world. We must make our contribution to a just global order.

Friedbert Pflüger: "Ein neuer Weltkrieg? Die islamistische Herausforderung des Westens", DVA (German only) 2004; order here.