On 9/11 anniversary, looking inward to explain terrorist attacks

Posted in Terrorism | 11-Sep-07 | Author: Jane Perlez| Source: International Herald Tribune

A woman looking out at the World Trade Center site beside a rendering of the Freedom Tower in New York on Monday.

LONDON: Since the terror attacks hit the United States on Sept. 11 six years ago, Europe has suffered far more than the United States from new attacks and reported plots.

There were the train bombings in Madrid three years ago that killed 191 people, the London transit attack two years ago that killed 52 commuters and a string of foiled plots. Then there were the arrests last week in a plot in Germany that the police said could have caused even worse carnage than in Madrid or London.

In response, Europeans for the most part are looking inward to explain why Islamic extremists have made the Continent a favored target, while the United States has been spared - despite its leadership and the anger it has stirred waging wars in two Muslim countries.

In that setting, questions about how minority populations of Muslims are integrated into the mainstream are coming to the fore, along with basic questions about Islam itself. Less attention is being focused on finger pointing at the United States, analysts say.

The German newspapers writing about the arrest of three men - two German citizens who converted to Islam and a Turkish resident of Germany - did not mention the Bush administration. Instead, the papers focused on the debate about tougher security measures and Islam itself.

The German mass circulation newspaper, Bild, wrote Friday: "There are no easy answers. But the 1.4 billion or so Muslims owe it to the rest of the world to at least try to give answers and find a remedy. A religion with bloody margins does not belong in a world that wants to and must move closer together."

France and Germany both opposed the war in Iraq and both countries have been targets of terrorist plots by Islamic extremists, said François Heisbourg, a French expert on terrorism and a special adviser to the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. "Bush is incredibly reviled in Germany, and Iraq is viewed as a total disaster, which it is," he said. "But it doesn't lead people to say we have terror because of Bush. Why? Because these guys strike a country that is against the Iraq policy."

A French government white paper in 2006 described 11 attempts by Islamic jihadists to blow up targets in France in the past 10 years, some of them before 9/11, he said. This showed, he said, that just because France has criticized the Bush administration and stayed out of Iraq, it had no immunity from terrorism.

The foiled terror attack announced by the German government last week was probably motivated by Germany's involvement in Afghanistan, said Jeremy Shapiro, a specialist in European affairs at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

German troops have been targets of the Taliban, and there are growing demands in Parliament to withdraw from the effort. A vote on German participation in the war is scheduled for next month.

As the Europeans search for the reasons for their vulnerability to terrorism, the German Marshall Fund of the United States released a survey last week that showed a sharp increase in the number of Germans who fear international terrorism.

The survey said that 70 percent of Germans felt they might suffer a terror attack, a 32 percent increase over 2005.

That brings the fear of terror among Germans close to the level of fear among Americans, which stood at 74 percent in a similar survey, said the director of foreign policy at the Fund in Washington, John Glenn.

The increased alarm in Germany followed a thwarted terror attack during the World Cup last year in which two suitcase bombs failed to explode on commuter trains. The Lebanese suspects in that plot were said to have been angered by cartoons published in a Danish newspaper that lampooned the Prophet Mohammed.

The growing anxiety of Germans could also reflect the stepped up warnings of the danger of attacks coming from the German interior minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. The most recent results by the Pew Global Attitudes Project show the United States being held in continuing low regard in Europe. In a survey conducted in 2006, in Germany, the percentage of people with a "favorable opinion" of the United States fell to 37 percent, from 61 percent in 2002; and in France the percentage with a good impression of the United States fell to 39 percent, from 63 percent. The first survey had a margin of error of 6 percent, and the latter, of 4 percent.

It is the Spanish who see the most risk from cooperating with U.S. policy.

A majority of Spaniards say they believe that if the former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar had not dispatched Spanish troops to Iraq in league with the Americans the terror attack on commuter trains in March 2004 would not have happened, said Juan Aviles, professor of contemporary history at the National University for Distance Learning.

Still, he said, a 2005 survey by the Royal Elcano Institute, a Madrid think tank, found that 63 percent of respondents felt Islamic terror sprung mainly from religious fanaticism, and only 17 percent said it was reacting chiefly to American policy.

Across Europe, a deep uneasiness about the spread of Islamic radicalism had taken hold, said Christoph Bertram, the former director of the Institute of International Security Affairs in Germany.

"There is a sense in our societies that the radicalism was not created by the United States but caused by the lack of integration," Bertram said. "One of the points we all recognize is that it has been extremely difficult to integrate the third generation."

Each European country was discovering its own set of problems trying to deal with its Muslim populations.

In France, for example, the riots in 2005 in Paris among mostly North African immigrants, many of them Muslims, were mostly about economic discrimination, Heisbourg said. In Britain, the Muslim population is overwhelmingly Pakistani and is reasonably well integrated economically, but many of the Pakistanis feel stronger cultural ties to Islam and to Pakistan than to Britain.

In response to the 2005 attacks on the London transit system by four suicide bombers, and before the foiled attack in Germany last week, the British and German governments were searching for ways to better integrate their Muslim populations.

Constanze Stelzenmuller, the director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Berlin said that earlier government attitudes of "indifference masquerading as tolerance" have now been shunted aside. Now, she said, there are German language courses offered to Turkish immigrants, particularly women, to better integrate those at the margins of the 2.7 million population of Turkish origin.

The core of the 9/11 attackers hatched the plan in Hamburg, so "no one is blaming the Americans," Stelzenmuller said. "A reasonable German on the street will say that the jihadists are brought on by their rejection of society, and that Western foreign policy is a root cause of that."

Ariane Bernard in Paris and Victoria Burnett in Madrid contributed reporting.