Opinion The Terror in Our Cities
Israel is the first democracy to have extensive experience with Islamist terrorism. Before recent attacks on our own soil, Europeans loved nothing better than scorning the Jewish state's efforts to address terror. In the future, we may need to turn to the Israelis for advice.
The new Greek finance minister once called the West Bank security fence, built by Israel to protect its people from terrorist attacks, a "concrete monster." The barrier is always a key issue when critics of the Jewish state launch into their tirades.
But the jump from outrage over the wall to sympathy for terrorism is a small one. In comments made on radio in 2005, left-wing superstar Giannis Varoufakis said we shouldn't be surprised when Palestinians strap on explosives belts. It's the kind of thing people say whose only experience with terror are occasional blowups with the spouse at home.
But perhaps we will soon be viewing things differently in Europe. Thus far, we have told ourselves that jihad is only a problem for countries that are less thoughtful or accommodating in their treatment of their Muslim minorities. Now, though, the war has irrevocably arrived in our cities.
The shots fired in Copenhagen provide sad confirmation that the attacks in Paris were only the beginning. We will soon come to recognize that there is a major difference between reading about a religious attack in the news or having to assume that you are at risk of becoming a victim yourself just because you attend the wrong event or visit the wrong café.
The Enemy Is Now in Our Midst
It has always been an open question how European democracies would defend themselves if the kind of Islamist terror Israeli society faces becomes part of everyday life.
In the two years prior to the erection of the controversial border installations, Israeli authorities counted 89 attacks, with 305 deaths and 4,942 injuries -- a significant number for a country with a population of just over 8 million. The number of casualties only began to fall after the construction of the wall. It's a success story that has never been viewed as such outside of the embattled country itself.
In Germany, we won't be able to build walls through our major cities in order to protect ourselves. The enemy we are dealing with doesn't live on the other side of the desert, it lives in our midst. We are left to rely on the acumen of people who have been trained to detect evil before it is too late.
Unfortunately, we are poorly equipped for the task. Germany's Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the country's domestic intelligence agency, is in an extremely poor state -- as any official there would confirm. It is only with great effort that domestic intelligence agents are able to track jihadists who have returned home from war zones. Cases where they succeed in neutralizing these fighters before they take up arms and engage in holy war in Pforzheim or Dinslaken, tend to be the result of a chain of lucky circumstances rather than of systematic investigation.
Pacifist Thinking a Threat to Our Safety?
"If we treat our police, domestic intelligence and foreign intelligence agents like fools -- if we treat them like people we must fear because they constantly undermine our rights -- then we shouldn't be surprised when they might be unable to protect us the way we need to be protected to ensure that our freedom is truly guaranteed," German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said a few weeks ago.
Schäuble used to be interior minister, which makes his quote worth repeating. Few have a better understanding than Schäuble of the damage that lasting demoralization can do to an agency. What kind of work can we expect from an institution whose employees are constantly subjected to hostility and ridicule? The only people who would apply to work at Germany's domestic or foreign intelligence services today are those who have no other career option available. Yet what these agencies actually need are our best and brightest.
The value that a state places on its institutions can be seen in the budget they are given. The funding Germany's domestic intelligence agency currently lacks was negotiated away to expanded social services when Chancellor Angela Merkel was putting together her current coalition government. Pension benefits to women to took time off to raise children, for example, or payments to mothers choosing to stay home rather than put their little ones in daycare. It says something about a country's pacifist streak when the well being of its senior citizens is seen as being more important than protecting society from enemies to democracy. Let's just hope that this isn't a luxury that we will soon live to regret.