What will be the long-term impact of the Boston Marathon attack that left four dead and injured 260, followed by an action movie-style chase?
Let’s start with what its impact will not be. It will not bring American opinion together. If the “United We Stand” slogan lasted only months after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, consensus after Boston will be even more elusive. The violence will not lead to Israeli-like security measures in the United States. Nor will it lead to a greater preparedness to handle deadly sudden jihad syndrome violence. It will not end the dispute over the motives behind indiscriminate Muslim violence against non-Muslims. And it certainly will not help resolve current debates over immigration or guns.
What it will do is very important: It will prompt some Westerners to conclude that Islamism is a threat to their way of life. Indeed, every act of Muslim aggression against non-Muslims, be it violent or cultural, recruits more activists to the anti-jihad cause, more voters to insurgent parties, more demonstrators to anti-immigrant street efforts, and more donors to anti-Islamist causes.
Education by murder is the name I gave this process in 2002. We who live in democracies learn best about Islamism when blood flows in the streets. Muslims began with an enormous stock of good will because the Western DNA includes sympathy for foreigners, minorities, the poor and people of color. Islamists dissipate this good will by engaging in atrocities or displaying supremacist attitudes. High-profile terrorism in the West — September 11, Madrid, London and elsewhere — moves opinion more than anything else.
I know because I went through this process firsthand. Sitting in a restaurant in Switzerland in 1990, Egyptian-born author Bat Ye’or sketched out for me her fears concerning Islamist ambitions in Europe, but I thought she was alarmist. National security author Steven Emerson called me in 1994 to tell me about the Council on American-Islamic Relations, but I initially gave CAIR the benefit of the doubt. Like others, I needed time to wake to the full extent of the Islamist threat in the West.
Westerners are indeed waking up to this threat. One can get a vivid sense of trends by looking at developments in Europe, which on the topics of immigration, Islam, Muslims, Islamism and Shariah (Islamic law), is ahead of North America and Australia by about 20 years. One sign of change is the growth of political parties focused on these issues, including the United Kingdom Independence Party, the National Front in France, the People’s Party in Switzerland, Geert Wilder’s Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the Progress Party in Norway and the Swedish Democrats. In a much-noted recent election, United Kingdom Independence Party came in second, increasing its share of the vote from 4 percent to 28 percent, thereby creating a crisis in the Conservative Party.
Swiss voters endorsed a referendum in 2009 banning minarets by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin, a vote more significant for its ratio than its policy implications, which were roughly nil. Public opinion polling at that time found that other Europeans shared these views roughly in these same proportions. Polling also shows a marked hardening of views over the years on these topics. Here (with thanks to French videographer Maxime Lepante) are some recent surveys from France:
67 percent say Islamic values are incompatible with those of French society.
70 percent say there are too many foreigners.
73 percent view Islam negatively.
74 percent consider Islam intolerant.
84 percent are against the hijab in private spaces open to the public.
86 percent are favorable to strengthening the ban on the burqa.
As Soeren Kern notes, similar views on Islam appear in Germany. A recent report from the Institut fur Demoskopie Allensbach asked what qualities Germans associate with Islam:
56 percent: striving for political influence.
60 percent: revenge and retaliation.
64 percent: violence.
68 percent: intolerance toward other faiths.
70 percent: fanaticism and radicalism.
83 percent: discrimination against women.
In contrast, only 7 percent of Germans associate Islam with openness, tolerance or respect for human rights.
These commanding majorities are higher than in earlier years, suggesting that opinion in Europe is hardening and will grow yet more hostile to Islamism over time. In this way, Islamist aggression ensures that anti-Islamism in the West is winning its race with Islamism. High-profile Muslim attacks like the ones in Boston exacerbate this trend. This is its strategic significance. It explains my cautious optimism about repulsing the Islamist threat.
Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum.