Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Shaking things up

Anne Applebaum explains in the Washington Post (via Instapundit) what should be apparent to anyone here in the Old World:
In fact, the fuss over the Deutsche Oper and its bloody heads demonstrates that Germany, like much of Europe, remains totally unprepared for the reality of modern terrorism.
As a Washingtonian who has always been skeptical about the need to examine every child's backpack at the entrance to the National Air and Space Museum, I can say the near absence of security at museums and monuments in Berlin is delightful. I'd feel a lot better, though, if I was certain that the absence of metal detectors reflected the absence of threats.
In truth, the fact that Germany still hasn't experienced a Madrid- or London-style bombing is thanks to good luck, not good planning. As recently as July, German police discovered two unexploded -- because of poor design -- suitcase bombs on a train.
That Germany contains the kinds of radicals who could and would carry out such a threat is beyond doubt: Mohamed Atta, leader of the Sept. 11 hijackers, studied in Hamburg. That Germans don't want to think about this is beyond dispute, too: More than 80 percent have told pollsters that they don't feel personally threatened by terrorism at all.
Thinking about what are, unfortunately, many Germans' current beliefs and attitudes tends to make me queasy. On the other hand I have no good proposal to counter the appalling trends.
However, maybe the Pope (and I'm not necessarily a fan of the Vatican) is on to something. According to an intriguing analysis from Stratfor (quoted by Melanie Phillips – btw, do read her whole post which makes several interesting points), he knows exactly what he's doing:
It is obvious that Benedict delivered a well-thought-out statement. It is also obvious that the Vatican had no illusions as to how the Muslim world would respond. The statement contained a verbal blast, crafted in a way that allowed Benedict to maintain plausible deniability. Indeed, the pope already has taken the exit, noting that these were not his thoughts but those of another scholar. The Pope and his staff were certainly aware that this would make no difference in the grand scheme of things, save for giving Benedict the means for distancing himself from the statement when the inevitable backlash occurred. Indeed, the anger in the Muslim world remained intense, and there also have been emerging pockets of anger among Catholics over the Muslim world's reaction to the pope, considering the history of Islamic attacks against Christianity. Because he reads the newspapers — not to mention the fact that the Vatican maintains a highly capable intelligence service of its own — Benedict also had to have known how the war was going, and that his statement likely would aid Bush politically, at least indirectly. Finally, he would be aware of the political dynamics in Europe and that the statement would strengthen his position with the church's base there.
The question is how far Benedict is going to go with this. His predecessor took on the Soviet Union and then, after the collapse of communism, started sniping at the United States over its materialism and foreign policy. Benedict may have decided that the time has come to throw the weight of the church against radical Islamists. In fact, there is a logic here: If the Muslims reject Benedict's statement, they have to acknowledge the rationalist aspects of Islam. The burden is on the Ummah to lift the religion out of the hands of radicals and extremist scholars by demonstrating that Muslims can adhere to reason.
From an intellectual and political standpoint, therefore, Benedict's statement was an elegant move. He has strengthened his political base and perhaps legitimized a stronger response to anti-Catholic rhetoric in the Muslim world. And he has done it with superb misdirection. His options are open: He now can move away from the statement and let nature take its course, repudiate it and challenge Muslim leaders to do the same with regard to anti-Catholic statements or extend and expand the criticism of Islam that was implicit in the dialogue.
The pope has thrown a hand grenade and is now observing the response. We are assuming that he knew what he was doing; in fact, we find it impossible to imagine that he did not. He is too careful not to have known. Therefore, he must have anticipated the response and planned his partial retreat.
If that is the case then he would be doing not only the West but even the Islamic world an enormous favour. It will be interesting to see how things play out on this front.

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