You have picked the wrong Great Satan: a note to Anwar Al Awlaki

First, congratulations on having been selected by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assocation Michael Leiter, head of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center as “the most significant risk to the U.S. homeland.” Given your U.S. roots, this must be particularly gratifying. Your family must be very proud. I’m sure that the U.S. institutions of higher learning you ...

By , a former editor of Foreign Policy and CEO of The FP Group.
558029_110210_Cameron2.jpg
558029_110210_Cameron2.jpg
MUNICH, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 05: British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend the second day of the 47th Munich Security Conference at Hotel Bayerischer Hof on February 5, 2011 in Munich, Germany. The 47th Munich conference on security policy is running till February 6, 2011. (Photo by Miguel Villagran/Getty Images)

First, congratulations on having been selected by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assocation Michael Leiter, head of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center as “the most significant risk to the U.S. homeland.” Given your U.S. roots, this must be particularly gratifying. Your family must be very proud. I’m sure that the U.S. institutions of higher learning you attended-Colorado State, San Diego State and George Washington University-are all updating their websites right now. While you have achieved many such accolades in the past-from sources as diverse as soon-to-be-ex Congresswoman Jane Harman to “Investor’s Daily”-this most recent acknowledgement of your achievements as the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula must be especially gratifying.

Having said that, despite having spent your formative years in the American heartland (thus confirming my worst fears about the effects of extended exposure to country music), may I take this opportunity to point out to you that you guys have picked the wrong great Satan.

Have you seen what’s been going on in Europe lately. Over the weekend, David Cameron gave an address in Munich in which he decried the failures of British multiculturalism. In the audience listening to him was Angela Merkel, the German chancellor who had made similar remarks herself.  Shortly after he spoke, his remarks were embraced by Marine Le Pen, Princess of France’s ultra-right wing National Front Party that her father founded.   Le Pen said “It is exactly this type of statement that has barred us from public life [in France] for 30 years. I sense an evolution at European level, even in classic governments. I can only congratulate him.”

Now in my family we have a rule. If you receive a thank you note with a return address from the Le Pen family, don’t even open it. It can only be bad news. And since Le Pen’s warm French smooch on both of Cameron’s rosy British cheeks, the Prime Minister’s people have been taking pains to say that she misinterpreted him.

But Anwar, it’s really pretty hard to misinterpret what he said. On the eve of a major anti-Islamic rally in the United Kingdom, that country’s chosen political leader decided it was the right moment to suggest that “passive tolerance” had only served to encourage Islamic extremism. The Prime Minister was clearly attempting to have it both ways-playing the populist game of pandering to nationalist fears while also mouthing words about liberalism and implying that the alienation that produced radicalization was due to separatist policies within the Islamic community. In short, he was essentially saying “we’re to blame for our policies allowing them to be themselves.” 

But the bigger point isn’t whether Cameron made a rhetorical and political blunder but that his remarks echoed Merkel’s crowd-pleasing speech on the same topic in Potsdam days before. The Chancellor said, “(In) the beginning of the 1960s our country called the foreign workers to come to Germany and now they live in our country. We kidded ourselves a while. We said: ‘They won’t stay, [after some time] they will be gone,’ but this isn’t reality. And of course, the approach [to build] a multicultural [society] and to live side by side and to enjoy each other … has failed, utterly failed.”

She got a standing ovation. In Germany. Attacking foreigners. What a shocker, right?

And that’s my message to you. Why do you think America is your primary enemy when there is probably no non-Islamic country in the world in which the Islamic population lives with as much freedom and tolerance as in the United States? Why do you think America is your primary target when the inflammatory, insensitive and disturbing views expressed by European leaders are not a departure but are really European standards, old favorites that are played on the radio from generation to generation? Look at European attitudes toward immigrants from the Islamic world? Toward letting Turkey into the EU? Who’s doing the anti-Mohammed cartoons? Who did the crusades?

It is the Europeans (and their Eurasian cousins in Russia) that have a longer, more hostile history? Do you think any major country in Europe could elect a leader today whose middle name is Hussein? Do you think any major American political leader could survive five minutes in the media after spewing the veiled and not-so-veiled anti-Islamic, intolerant messages that are so popular in Europe today?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should direct your anger at Europe. The real work for Islamic leaders like yourself is fixing the Islamic world first-because the only places where there is less tolerance and where Islamic groups are more viciously targeted is in the Middle East. And the real need of the people for whom you are allegedly fighting is for real opportunity, education, economic growth and responsive, representative government at home. 

But still, if there is an East-West faultline that is growing more tense, you can look for it a lot closer to home.  Back where it has been for a couple thousand years. Back where it once made famous the Siege of Vienna and the Moorish conquest of Spain. Back in Europe where intolerance, nationalism and social polarization have given us many of the darkest stains on the pages of world history.

David Rothkopf is a former editor of Foreign Policy and CEO of The FP Group. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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