ROME, Sept. 16 (JTA) Europe’s differences with Washington over Mideast policy, its large Muslim populations and its dependence on Arab oil are leading the continent to temper American calls to avenge last week’s terror attacks in New York and Washington.
Europeans know that “war is not just hell, but that it is also extremely complicated,” The Associated Press wrote from Paris this week. “War is no casual metaphor on a continent where mighty neighbors have fought one another for a century at a time, where anyone over 60 has a living memory of war.”
As part of an extraordinary outpouring of solidarity immediately after the attacks, America’s NATO allies invoked the organization’s mutual defense clause for the first time in NATO’s 52-year history.
The attack on the United States, the organization said, was an attack on all of NATO. This opened the way for a possible collective response by the alliance.
And the first few days after the attack saw enormous outpourings of support across Europe, where tens of thousands observed three minutes of silence last Friday for the victims of the terror attacks that struck the United States.
But as the drums of war beat ever louder in Washington, European leaders increasingly are counseling caution rather than a hasty military reprisal that could play into the hands of the terrorists.
“Emotions, however justified and legitimate, must be avoided, as they translate into rushed or manipulated political decisions,” Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper wrote. “America has the right to punish the perpetrators and their accomplices. But it has an interest to do so only when it will have identified those responsible and furnished to the world documentary proof of their crimes.”
French and German political leaders also urged caution.
“The worst thing we could do would be for the West to go against the Islamic world,” German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said. “It is the goal of these criminals to provoke a war of civilizations. We must not push Islam in general into the corner of terror because that would just make matters worse.”
“Armed action is only one of the ways of responding,” French Defense Minister Alain Richard said. “What is necessary is a way that does not provoke other elements of instability.”
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Spain’s Javier Solana the former secretary general of NATO said that “without a doubt, it is necessary to create a grand international coalition to fight against this plague of terrorism.”
But he, too, warned against an excessive response that would “offend or humiliate” whole peoples or religions.
The attacks in the United States came at a time when many in Europe were deeply concerned that the Bush administration is disengaging from world affairs, pulling out of treaties and adopting a unilateralist policy.
Americans themselves, despite belonging to the world’s one remaining superpower, are considered by most Europeans to have little knowledge or interest about the world or the huge impact America has on other countries.
In recent years, Europe increasingly has been at odds with the United States over Middle East policy. Since at least 1967, Europe has been far more pro-Palestinian than the United States, and favors broadening links with countries such as Iran and Libya that Washington considers “rogue states” for their support of terror.
The European position is due partly to commercial and economic interests, partly to the fear of terrorism and partly to geography, as the Arab world is virtually on Europe’s doorstep.
“Everyone feels some vulnerability,” one Italian political analyst said. “Europe is deeply dependent on Arab states because of oil. They compromise and come to terms hoping to be spared terrorism. But there is a lot of ambiguity.”
The ambiguities are many.
France and Germany like Britain, Italy and other European states have sizable Muslim populations.
Several European Union states have seen a resurgence of sometimes violent xenophobia and racist incidents in recent years, and illegal immigration is a deep concern. For example, thousands of illegal immigrants, many from Afghanistan and other Muslim countries, arrive by sea in Italy each month.
Various European states have been the scene of terrorist attacks in recent decades, and suspects linked to Osama bin Laden or other terror groups have been identified as having lived in several E.U. countries. Some have been arrested or investigated.
“We the democracies must come together to defeat terrorism and eradicate it,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair said. “It is not a battle between the United States and terrorism, but the free democratic world and terrorism.”
Few contest the validity of this determination. Yet even in a continent that has seen the effects of both open warfare and terrorist attack, ambiguities exist here, too.
“How will the terrorist enemies in this war be defined?” a Polish observer asked privately. “What about the IRA? The Basque ETA? The Kurds? The Chechens? Will this new war on terrorism target them, too?”