Jewish World Review Nov. 24, 2003 / 29 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Robert Stewart

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Isolationism does not breed immunity | Thursday's terror attack in Istanbul and recent bombings in other Arab and Muslim nations confirm that where terror is concerned, isolationism does not breed immunity.

Conventional wisdom in many countries around the world has often been that staying out of the fight will cause terror to stay out of the country.

Reality, however, disproves this theory. Staying out of the fight only shows weakness and unwillingness to confront those who pose an imminent threat. Isolationism puts a nation in an untenable position: terrorists avoid strength and attack the soft. Those who eschew the war on terror need to be mindful of recent violence and the susceptibility wrought by a laissez faire policy toward terrorists. Though the Istanbul attacks Saturday and Thursday were apparently aimed at Jewish worshipers and British subjects, they were nonetheless in Turkey-not Tel Aviv and London.

Turkey seems to have forgotten the lesson of recent history. Throughout the 1990's, Turkey's security was plagued by a militant group known as the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK). The southeastern part of the nation became an extremely dangerous place, and the violence led several foreign governments to dissuade their citizens from travel there. But rather than pull back and deny the existence of the threat, Turkey took the fight to the terrorists. Their actions, including cross-border raids into Iraq, paid off, culminating in the arrest of PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan by Turkish security forces in 1999. Since the arrest, attacks tapered, a cease-fire was implemented, and PKK activities were marginalized. Occasional attacks continue, but the PKK is a shadow of its mid-90's self. And since Ocalan's arrest the security situation in eastern Turkey has improved considerably.

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Though Turkey responded well to the PKK, it has since been reluctant to commit to a worldwide-or even regional-campaign against violent militants for fear of retribution. And their reluctance to join the coalition against Iraq, despite the obvious dangers on its border, was but another sign of growing isolationism in the global war on terror.

Turkey, like Singapore and other Islamic nations, has been whistling past the graveyard for far too long. Hoping to forestall the violence in their own backyard, they've been reluctant to take an active role in fighting extremists and murderers. They've not learned from Saudi Arabia, which has been complacent, if not coddling, of terrorists in their midst-and have been rewarded with significant, and deadly, attacks.

Blinder diplomacy is a failure, and there is no substitute for action against the certain menace al Qaeda embodies. Nations can deny that such groups pose an imminent danger within their borders or quibble about the immediacy of its peril. Saudi Arabia and others can pretend that terrorists will not bite the hand that feeds them. And leaders can deny a threat exists and hope that isolationist policies will keep death at bay. But they do so at their own peril.

History is clear: failing to act and opting for complacency in the face of a known danger is perilous. In 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain opted for blinder diplomacy in the face of the gathering Nazi storm and declared "peace in our time." The Second World War began a year later.

Appeasement is seen only as weakness in the eyes of al Qaeda and other terror groups. Suicide bombers don't respect national boundaries, national heritage or faith; they only aim to kill. A nation's isolationism is not reciprocated by those bent on international carnage. As President Bush said Wednesday in his speech in London, the attacks on Casablanca, Mombassa, Riyadh, Baghdad, Istanbul and elsewhere won't be prevented by ignoring their existence or failing to act. "The evil is in plain sight," he said. "The danger only increases with denial."

Arab and other Muslim nations cannot standby while terror rages around the globe. They are no longer off limits to a group of violent killers simply by waiting on the sidelines and hoping the problem will go away. It won't. If these nations hope to stem the rapidly growing tide of bombings, destruction and death, they must get off the sidelines and into the field of battle. Offense, in the current global fight is not just the best defense, it's the only defense.

JWR contributor Robert Stewart, a former Army intelligence analyst, is now a writer based in Washington, D.C. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2003, Robert Stewart