Association for International Affairs hosts debate on EU & US approaches to int'l terrorism


The Czech non-profit organisation the Association for International Affairs held a public discussion on Tuesday looking at differences in approach towards international terrorism between the United States and the European Union. Speakers were the editor of the right-wing National Review, John O'Sullivan, and French political scientist Dominique Moissy. For over an hour the two discussed differences between the US and the EU since 9/11, but, as Jan Velinger found out, their discussion quickly shifted to Iraq.

Jan joins us in the studio now to tell us his impressions.

J: "It was actually a very lively discussion ranging over many issues: many students, Czech and otherwise - interested in foreign policy and international relations - were in attendance at the Goethe Institut on Tuesday, the site of the debate, and they had some good questions for guest speakers John O'Sullivan and Dominique Moissy. In their papers both men quickly outlined differences between the US and the EU on terrorism.

Mr Moissy, for example, argued that on 9/11 terrorists "struck the least prepared country in the world" - at least psychologically, compared to a Europe grown used to decades of terror in its backyard. Since then, of course both Europe and the US have been involved to different degrees in Afghanistan and Iraq, with varying results. Both men discussed 'nation-building', even if they didn't use that term, especially when it came to Iraq. On this point, though, neither man was particularly optimistic: John O'Sullivan left the door ajar for some level of success for democracy there, and Mr Moissy's view was more bleak.

"I do not see a positive outcome: I see varying shades of grey, from dark to medium grey, but nothing else. Because, what we have favoured in Iraq, is the return to inter-community fighting. I mean, Iraq may have never existed as a nation, or as a state, and now we see the Shiite fighting the Sunni, the Kurds moving away, we have set a bad precedent. I don't mean by that that I regret Saddam Hussain. He was an awful man, he was a baroque leader, and we all played with him for far too long. We did, for decades."

Many analysts say that in trying to save Iraq, decision-makers have been distracted from the broader challenge of fighting terrorism worldwide. Was there a sense at the meeting that the so-called "war on terror" winnable at all?

J: John O'Sullivan thinks so, despite the difficulties. Here's what he had to say:

"I think you have to accept that this is a very long job. The loose structure of al Qaeda makes it a very difficult fight. On the other hand, I think that the actions of terrorists are alienating decent Muslims and provided that we behave sensibly and continue our cooperation, and provided we make it plain to Muslims that we want them to be an enthusiastic part of our society, then I think we'll win. But I don't think anyone should expect it to be an easy battle."

From Iraq to al Qaeda to terrorism in our midst - it seems a lot of ground was covered - what were some final ideas visitors could take away from Tuesday's debate?

J: In the discussion three things really came to the fore: the future of Iraq, terrorism in the West, and Muslim society in Europe - each could be applied in some sense to all. By way of example, the Czechs have a strong stake in the first two, the third to a lesser degree. The Czechs have contributed strongly to the reconstruction of Iraq and have strong ties there, plus they're playing a role - through police training - to help Iraq maintain peace. Then, Czechs like everyone else of course since 9/11 feel the threat of terrorism - it can happen anywhere, it can happen here, and we saw major emergency exercises were held in and around Prague to deal with such an eventuality.

The third issue, of identity and integration, is one that Czechs have perhaps felt less acutely but have observed in European countries with large Muslim populations, a small part of which have radicalised elements: neighbouring Germany, then France, Holland, Great Britain. Finally, of course, the there have been suggestions in terms of financing if limited for terrorism in the Czech Republic and movement of terrorists, as we saw with the infamous Mohamed Atta, who spent a day in the Czech capital. Terrorism is an issue - and it is one Czechs will be happy to see as much cooperation on between the EU and the US as possible to try and stamp it out.