- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 14, 2004

In the wake of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh’s murder by an Islamist extremist, the famously tolerant Netherlands exploded in violence last week with a rash of attacks on mosques and the firebombing of a Muslim school. In all, the Dutch sustained just one victim of Islamist terrorism — not the nearly 3,000 murders Americans sustained on September 11 — but that one death pushed the country from an extreme of nonchalance to a reaction unknown in the United States.

The good news is that the experience seems to be forcing some clear-headed thinking among Dutch elites. Over the weekend, dozens of suspected militants were arrested in a sign the government is finally taking the threat of Islamist terrorism seriously. We hope the rest of Europe is watching.

Dutch politicians previously known for their dovishness as well as the liberal media are calling for a tightening of the country’s laws on security and immigration. The cabinet is considering stripping dual citizens of their Dutch citizenship if they have criminal records. There is talk of bolstering budgets for the security services, too. But most telling is the about-face the murder caused in the country’s newspapers and overwhelmingly liberal commentariat. The country’s leading newspaper, the Telegraaf, last week made a call for action inconceivable in a pre-van Gogh Netherlands.

The Telegraaf argued for “a very public crackdown on extremist Muslim fanatics in order to assuage the fear of citizens and to warn the fanatics that they must not cross over the boundaries.” The editorial continued: “International cash transfers must be more tightly controlled; magazines and papers which include incitement should be suppressed; unsuitable mosques should be shut down and imams who encourage illegal acts should be thrown out of the country.” Extremists with dual nationality “have no business here,” the paper argued. “The range of extremists to be kept under surveillance needs to be expanded. If more money is required for all this, then that money must be made available. It is more than worth it for the sake of the citizens’ safety.”

The irony of all this is that the United States has been urging the Europeans to take many of those steps for years. For one, the Treasury Department and the CIA have long been urging movement on the international cash transfers question. As terror-financing expert Lee Wolosky told the September 11 commission last year, although cooperation had been improving, “America’s closest allies in Europe … [were] refusing to block bank accounts in some cases.” As an example of the prevailing attitude, he pointed to the EU’s policy of allowing fund-raising for Hamas’ “humanitarian” branches despite common knowledge that such funds were being used to support terrorist activities. That has to stop.

The attitude of blithe disregard for common sense should change. The Dutch government appears to be moving in the right direction in dealing with this problem. While it does so, it will also need to be be prepared to act forcefully against thugs and vigilantes who target innocent Muslims. Let’s hope the rest of Europe is watching, because the Dutch case shows that Islamist terrorism spares not even the most tolerant of countries.

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