The Sympathizers

THE SYMPATHIZERS....Timothy Garton Ash on jihadist terrorism in Europe:
The larger part of this struggle, and the more important in the longer term, is the battle for the hearts and minds of young European Muslims — usually men — who are not yet violent jihadists but could become so. All over the Continent, and around its edges, there are hundreds of thousands of young Muslim men who could be tomorrow's bombers — or tomorrow's good citizens.

The chemistry in Europe can be understood a little better by thinking back to the last wave of youth terrorism, in the "German autumn" of 30 years ago and Italy's Red Brigades. When I lived in Berlin in the late 1970s, I met quite a few people who told me, "You know, there was a moment when I could have gone either way." They could have slunk away to join the Red Army Faction, like those acquaintances of their acquaintances. Instead, they became journalists, academics or lawyers and are now pillars of a society under attack from a potentially more destructive wave of terrorism.

Of course, we cannot take the comparison too far, but one basic feature is the same: Beside the hard core of fanatics is a penumbra of people who could choose the wrong path. In Germany, they are called the sympathisanten — the sympathizers. Among European Muslims, they might very roughly be correlated with those who, in surveys, refuse to condemn suicide bombings. One analyst estimates that while the hard core may make up 1% of British Muslims, the sympathisanten make up perhaps 10% of German Muslims.

....Fortunately, there are also people who travel the other way. So much now depends on whether the 10% veer toward the barbaric 1% or rejoin the civilized majority.
The barbaric 1% are the targets of police, intelligence, and military operations. But all over the world, not just in Europe, it's the sympathetic 10% the rest of us should be paying attention to. They are Mao's sea in which the jihadists swim.

Getting out of Iraq won't automatically convert the 10%, but it's a good first step. The alternative is that we stay and the 10% turns into 30%. Or 50%. Then kaboom.

Like the old saw about planting trees, the best time to stop digging ourselves into a deeper hole in Iraq was four years ago. The second best time is right now. Then maybe we can start paying attention to what matters.