Denying Dangers of Terrorism Only Increases the Risks

Robert Stewart, an Army intelligence analyst from 1990 to 1994, served part of that time in Turkey. He is now a writer based in Washington.

Thursday’s terrorist attack in Istanbul and recent bombings in other Muslim or Arab 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 keep terrorism away. 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 bombings Saturday at two Istanbul synagogues and Thursday’s attacks at a London-based bank and the British Consulate in that city were apparently aimed at Jewish worshipers and British subjects, they occurred nonetheless in Turkey, not Tel Aviv and London.


Turkey seems to have forgotten the lesson of recent history. Throughout the 1990s, that nation’s security was plagued by a militant group known as the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. The southeastern part of the country became extremely dangerous, and the violence led several foreign governments to dissuade their citizens from traveling there. But rather than pull back and deny the existence of the threat, Turkey took the fight to the terrorists.

Those 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 off, a cease-fire was implemented and PKK activities were marginalized. Occasional attacks continue, but the PKK is a shadow of its mid-1990s self.

Although 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 its reluctance to join the coalition against Iraq, despite the dangers on its border, was but another sign of growing isolationism in the global war on terror.

Turkey, like Singapore and many other Islamic nations, has been whistling past the graveyard for too long. Hoping to forestall violence in their own backyard, Turks have been reluctant to take an active role in fighting extremists. They haven’t learned from Saudi Arabia, which has been complacent, if not coddling, in regard to the terrorists in its midst -- and has been rewarded with deadly attacks.

Diplomacy with blinders is a failure. There is no substitute for action against the certain menace that Al Qaeda embodies.

Nations can deny that such groups pose a danger within their borders or quibble about the immediacy of any threat. Saudi Arabia and others can pretend that terrorists will not bite the hand that feeds them. And leaders can hope that isolationist policies will keep death at bay. But they do so at great risk.


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.” World War II began a year later.

Appeasement is seen only as weakness in the eyes of Al Qaeda and other terrorist 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 London, the attacks in Casablanca, Mombasa, Riyadh, Baghdad, Istanbul and elsewhere won’t be prevented by ignoring the terrorist groups’ 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 stand by while terror rages around the globe. They cannot ensure they will be off-limits to a group of violent killers simply by waiting on the sidelines and hoping the problem will go away.

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 against terror is not just the best defense, it’s the only defense.