We Need To Get The Queen Bees

Richard Nixon once remarked that had Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew lived in a different country in a different time, he would have achieved the status of a major historical figure--a Churchill, Disraeli or Gladstone. Lee recently turned 80, having for 45 years carefully observed international trends and maneuvered to keep his city-state secure and prosperous. While in Singapore last week, I asked him what he made of the European-American divide so evident in London. "The Europeans underestimate the problem of Al Qaeda-style terrorism," he said. "They think that the United States is exaggerating the threat. They compare it to their own many experiences with terror--the IRA, the Red Brigade, the Baader-Meinhof, ETA. But they are wrong."

He went on: "Al Qaeda-style terrorism is new and unique because it is global. An event in Morocco can excite the passions of extremist groups in Indonesia. There is a shared fanatical zealousness among these different extremists around the world. Many Europeans think they can finesse the problem, that if they don't upset Muslim countries and treat Muslims well, the terrorists won't target them. But look at Southeast Asia. Muslims have prospered here. But still, Muslim terrorism and militancy have infected them." Lee pointed out that Singapore and Thailand have both been targeted in recent years, though neither has mistreated its Muslim populations.

"The Americans, however, make the mistake of seeking largely a military solution. You must use force. But force will only deal with the tip of the problem. In killing the terrorists, you will only kill the worker bees. The queen bees are the preachers, who teach a deviant form of Islam in schools and Islamic centers, who capture and twist the minds of the young." Lee pointed to the trial of Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, one of the plotters of the Bali bombing, sentenced to death by an Indonesian court. On hearing the sentence he said, "I'll be happy to die a martyr. After me there will be a million Amrozis."

Lee contrasted Amrozi with the charismatic religious leader Abu Bakar Bashir, spiritual head of Jemaah Islamiah, the group that many of the Bali bombers belonged to. "Men like Bashir are the real force behind the terror," said Lee. "It is Bashir who churns out these kinds of people. But he was acquitted on the serious charges and was convicted on minor offenses for a four-year term."

I asked Lee how to handle this broader problem. "Well, America can't do it alone," he said. "You can't go into the mosques, Islamic centers and madrassas. We don't have any standing as non-Muslims. Barging in will create havoc. Only Muslims can win this struggle. Moderate, modernizing Muslims, political, religious, civic leaders together have to make the case against the fundamentalists. But the strong, developed countries can help. The NATO allies must, as they did during the cold war, present a solid block. Muslim modernizers must feel that the U.S. and its allies will provide the resources, energy and support to make them winners. No one wants to be on the losing side."

Lee was critical of both sides of the Atlantic alliance on Iraq. "When America and Europe are divided, when Japan is hesitant, the extremists are emboldened and think they can win against a divided group. The terrorists' tactics for the time being are to hit only Americans, Jews and America's strong supporters, the British, the Italians, the Turks, warning the Japanese but leaving others alone. They intend to divide and conquer."

In an essay in Forbes last May, Lee criticized France and Germany for continuing to publicly oppose the United States over Iraq. "They help Islamic extremists recruit more terrorists," he wrote. But he then urged Washington to use the United Nations, predicting (accurately) that "if the U.N. is not involved in postwar Iraq, Islamic extremists will exploit what will be portrayed as an American-British colonial occupation of Iraq. If, on the other hand, the Atlantic allies get their act together in the United Nations, it will signal to the world that they have set aside their differences to work for a higher cause--that of bringing peace and stability to the Mideast."

I asked Lee what to do in Iraq. "Iraq has become a test of American perseverance," he said. "You must see it through, and I believe that you will. It is related to the larger struggle. You must put in place moderates who can create a modern society. If you walk away from Iraq, the jihadis will follow you wherever you go. You may think you've left them behind, but they will pursue you. Their ambitions are not confined to any one territory or people."