On the Brink
Al Qaeda In Europe: The New Battleground
of International Jihad
By Lorenzo Vidino
Prometheus, 384 pages, $27
While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is
Destroying Europe From Within
By Bruce Bawer
Doubleday, 248 pages, $23.95
As the divide between the West and the Islamic world daily and dramatically deepens, these two books by younger Western authors provide important reference points and testimony to what is now considered the primary terror battleground: Europe.
Lorenzo Vidino, a tireless investigator, offers us "Al Qaeda in Europe," a thorough and authoritative profile of the world's primary Sunni Muslim radical network as it has penetrated Western European countries and Chechnya.
Vidino's reportage covers such immediate issues as the ownership of freight ships by al Qaeda money managers, which means ports and shipping lanes throughout the world are vulnerable to terrorist infiltration and exploitation.
The author describes the alarming case of the Sara, a vessel registered under a "flag of convenience" - that of the South Pacific island kingdom of Tonga. Such a registry allows a ship to be operated with almost no significant international supervision. The Sara had a Romanian captain and a Pakistani crew, the latter including several probable terrorist operatives. The Italian government has determined that some of the Pakistanis were associates of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, a murderous Sunni radical grouping allied with Osama bin Laden that has shed lakes of blood. They were arrested, but the case ended without a trial.
Vidino also tell us about 74-year old Swiss resident Youssef Nada, whom the U.S. Treasury Department, and various other international agencies, have designated as a terror financier. For example, Nada is the mastermind behind the Taqwa Bank, which means "fear of God" in Arabic. Born in Egypt, but with Italian citizenship, Nada has moved terror funds around Europe for decades, but he's not the only economic operator associated with the business side of terrorism.
Vidino further develops a usefully broad examination of the clandestine organization Mohamed Atta, lead suicide pilot on 9/11, established in Germany. After that terrible day, the German authorities charged two of Atta's associates in Hamburg, Abdelghani Mzoudi and Mounir El Motassadeq, with complicity in the 9/11 attacks and participation in terrorism.
The Germans released Mzoudi because the United States would not make Ramzi Binalshibh,
, the al Qaeda plotter seized in Pakistan, available to the German court. According to Vidino's analysis, the weakness of the European political and judicial leadership in contending with the terrorist challenge is systemic.
He also presents prolific examples of potential terrorists who live in Europe unmolested. For example, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA in French) is one of the most fearsome terror groups spawned by the Muslim militant upsurge after 1979.
GIA's aspiring martyrs had been radicalized and poisoned by their involvement in the second Algerian war, a prolonged insurrectionary conflict, and are now spread out across France and beyond. As has become clear with the recent riots outside Paris, France has yet to find an effective solution to the radical divide between its majority Christian and minority Arab Muslim communities.
Bruce Bawer's work is everything Vidino's is not. Vidino's book is an encyclopedic account of radical Sunni Islam on the continent, based on news and official sources that are meticulously footnoted. Bawer, on the other hand, is a distinguished New York literary critic much older than Vidino, and his "While Europe Slept" is emotional and outraged. But his book is also a valuable examination of the environment from which the recent controversy over the Danish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad emerged.
Bawer first came to prominence as a writer for The New Criterion. He is gay, and after a time his personality led him away from the culture of the conservative intellectuals to the larger, more liberal social world of New York intellectuals. Eight years ago, Bawer moved to northern Europe, living in Amsterdam, the continental capital of gay rights, settling in Oslo, and traveling in other Scandinavian capitals, as well as Paris, Berlin and Madrid.
The pathos and torment of Bawer's narrative comes from the unfortunate fact that he chose to live in the European cities most attractive to the rising Muslim immigrant classes because of their prosperous economies.
In the European communities where he lived, Bawer also encountered hypocrisy among the non-Muslim locals, who claimed solidarity with America after 9/11, but then turned against the United States, supporting scurrilous charges of Jewish involvement in the atrocity. He was particularly shocked to realize how much urban life in Western Europe had been polarized, especially in regards to Muslim immigrants. In addition to being a source of social dislocation, the Muslims were only seen in their worst light, as gang members, honor killers, oppressors of women and, obviously, haters of open homosexuals.
Bawer had the further bad luck to experience 9/11 in Norway, a socialist-oriented little country that participates exuberantly in the Scandinavian sport of America-hating. The gloomy Nordics were quick to treat the horror of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon as something America had coming because of its global reach and assorted other sources of grievance. According to Bawer, European multiculturalism and hatred of America has opened the continent's gates to an Islamic wave that now threatens its majority with rioting, mass murder and an agenda for the establishment of a tyrannical religious order. His experience has driven him to affirm that Europe must break through appeasement to radical Islam and more effectively support the U.S.-led War on Terror, for its survival.
Each of these books represents a valuable X-ray of the Western response to the crisis of European-Islamic relations.