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Europe’s Eager Islamism Understanders

After more than 25 years of Islamist killings in Europe, isn’t it time to stop blaming Israel or George W. Bush?

January 18, 2015

Frederic Legrand - COMEO /

Time stands still in la rue Nicole Appert, an unfashionable part of Paris. This is the place where they came to kill the cartoonists, writers, an economist and a shrink – a Jewish woman, of course – because. Stop there.

Second part of this essay

France and its Jews

Because why? Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly, was at best a gadfly on the fringe of French media.


In the German language, there is a new term for those ready to explain and justify any and all aspects of Russian President Putin’s behavior. They are called the “Putinversteher” – literally, the Putin understanders.

These people are not quite apologists or appeasers for the Russian leader and his behavior. They are nevertheless ready to leap into print or go on television to explain why opposing Putin is dangerous.

More tantalizing yet, they manage to explain why history, geography, the behavior of his opponents (or whatever) are the real cause of his actions. Putin, in short, is always forced to act in a certain manner because of the actions of others.

In Europe, we now have a similar class of “Islamismusversteher” – those instinctively ready to find fault with the democracies under attack and eager to explain why Islamist killers have to do what they do.

In the first few days, it was kind of hard for journalists across Europe to forgive the slaughter of their confrères. But soon enough, the European press was full of arguments to help us to a greater understanding of the Islamist position.

No war, no problem

Rationalization No. 1 was that, without the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, none of this would have happened. Britain’s The Guardian newspaper likes this rationalization in particular.

But what these understanders of Islamism overlook is that Islamist violence predates the arrival of George W. Bush in power.

The 1995 Paris Metro bombing, the 1997 Luxor slaughter of 60 Swiss tourists or indeed the murder of journalists at Algeria’s “Hebdo libéré” in 1994 happened well before the wave of confrontational militarism brought on by American neo-conservatives after 9/11.

Charlie Hebdo was wrong

Rationalization No. 2 is to blame “Charlie Hebdo” for its mocking of religion. Britain’s conservative papers like the Daily Mail enjoyed this line of argument with some remarkably vicious denunciation of the Paris weekly. They almost went as far as arguing that Charlie deserved what it got.

An equally unappealing variation of this was Pope Francis’s view, expressed during his Asia trip, that mocking religion deserves a “punch on the nose.” So much for press freedom.

Israel to blame?

Rationalization No. 3 is, predictably enough, that Israel is to blame. Again, it is reasonable to criticize the current Israeli government’s refusal to make bigger efforts to pursue a two-state solution.

But, wait a moment. It was just in December that French deputies voted to recognize Palestine, as did British MPs, the Belgian parliament and the European Parliament. These European actions no doubt reflected deep frustration with the policies pursued by Israel.

Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, has called Gaza a “prison camp,” in effect repeating standard Islamist propaganda lines.

Never mind that European states, directly or via the EU, provide most of the money that allows the Palestinians to survive.

These actions would seem to make it near inexplicable, even via the mouths of the always eager understanders of Islamism, that, despite rejecting Israel’s position at the UN and putting no pressure on Arab states or the Palestinians, it is the nations and citizens of Europe who seem the target of choice for Islamists.

It is true that the 2,000 people reportedly killed by Boko Haram in Nigeria or school children slaughtered in Pakistan do not receive lasting coverage. Neither do the Jews murdered in Israel by Islamists. They too are quickly forgotten.

Time to shift the blame

But after more than 25 years of Islamist killings in Europe – often aimed at European Jews – surely someone might stop blaming Israel or George W. Bush?

One would like to believe the long slumber of Europe about Islamist ideology is about to end. To paraphrase Pastor Dietrich Bonhöffer, when they came for Anwar Sadat, we thought it was an internal Egyptian fight. When they came for Algerian journalists in the 1990s or Tunisian leftists in 2013, we thought it was revenge for authoritarian regimes.

When they came for tourists in Luxor, well, that was Mubarak’s repressive regime and the poverty of Nile delta peasants. When they came again and again for Jews in Israel, that was about the 1948 Nakba. When they came to Madrid in 2004 or London in 2005, that was just insane criminality. And so on.

No one wants to admit that Islamism is an ideology with a deadly world view and it will no more make concessions than Stalin or Hitler did in the 1930s or Mao in China in the 1960s.


Islamism, an ideology with deadly world view, will no more make concessions than Stalin or Hitler did in the 1930s.

After more than 25 years of Islamist killings in Europe, surely someone might stop blaming Israel or George W. Bush?