If you've ever stood up to a bully, you know how this works. Confrontation tends to increase the chances of violence in the short term but decreases its likelihood in the long term. Any hunter will tell you that the most dangerous moment is when you've cornered an animal, and any cop will tell you that standing up to muggers puts you in danger. American colonists were less safe for standing up to King George III, and the United States was certainly safer in the short term when we stood on the sidelines while Germany was conquering Europe. Heck, we would have been safer in the short run if we'd responded to Pearl Harbor by telling the Japanese they could have the Pacific to themselves.
In other words, before Iraq became the cause celebre of jihadists, Afghanistan was. Does that mean we shouldn't have toppled the Taliban?
Going back further, it's conventional wisdom that we helped "create" Osama bin Laden, or his Taliban and mujahedin comrades, when we supported the Afghan resistance to the Soviet Union. So we shouldn't have done that either?
Every serious analysis of the Islamic world today describes a genuine tectonic shift in a vast civilization, an upheaval that cuts across social, religious and demographic lines. This phenomenon dwarfs transient issues such as the Iraq war. Are we to believe that once-moderate and relatively secular Morocco is slipping toward extremism because we toppled Baathist Saddam Hussein? Do we believe that those mobs who burned Danish embassies in response to a cartoon wouldn't have done so if only President Bush had gone for the 18th, 19th or 20th U.N. resolution on Iraq? Millions of young men yearning for meaning and craving outlets for their rage would have become computer programmers and dental hygienists if only Hussein's statue still towered over central Baghdad? Would the pope's comments spark nothing but thoughtful and high-minded debate from the Arab street if only Al Gore or John Kerry were in office?
Iraq is the excuse du jour for jihadists. But the important factor is that these are young men looking for an excuse. If you live your life calculating that it's a mistake to do anything that might prompt murderers and savages to act like murderers and savages, you've basically decided to live under their thumb and surrender your civilization in the process.
For me, the truly dismaying news this week didn't come from the NIE but from the German media. A German opera house announced that it would cancel its staging of Mozart's "Idomeneo" because Berlin police concluded that staging the opera — which includes a scene in which Jesus, Buddha, Poseidon and Muhammad are beheaded — would pose an "incalculable security risk" from jihadists. Germany, recall, proudly opposed the Iraq war — but still narrowly missed a Spain-style terrorist attack on its rail system this summer.
A leading Muslim spokesman in Germany explained that he was all for free speech, as long as it didn't offend Muslims. The Germans' all-too-typical appeasement of terrorism no doubt makes them "safer" and "creates" fewer terrorists.
And all it cost them — for now — is Mozart.