Friday, November 16, 2007


November 16, 2007 The First Post skip to nav
Counter-terrorism: the Italian lesson
Italy’s common-sense approach to surveillance would work in Britain too, argues edward luttwak

From 2001 to 2006 Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi did everything possible to provoke Islamist terrorists. He loudly and frequently proclaimed his devotion to George Bush, sent thousands of troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, and often boasted that he was Israel's best friend in Europe.

After September 11, 2001, he missed no opportunity to denounce not only al-Qaeda but also Hamas and Hezbollah.

Given Italy's vulnerabilities, all this provocation was quite unnecessary. To begin with, Italy's illegal immigration is completely out of control. In the UK, illegals mostly come legally and then overstay. In Italy that happens too but, in addition, illegals comfortably cross on foot from Slovenia or pay for the brief passage from Tunisia on a Sicilian fishing boat.

Also, Italy is blessed with an abundance of extremist political parties. Al-Qaeda as well

Berlusconi’s provocations failed to bring on the terrorist attacks that would have ensued in Britain

as Hamas and Hezbollah can count on the sympathy of the ultra-ultra left because they are anti-American, and of the ultra-right because they are anti-Jewish. Thus Islamist terrorists have quite a few political supporters in Italy, a real rarity in Britain.

Finally, Italy has three different forms of organised crime plus a civic culture remarkably disrespectful of the law; even common criminals are armed with fully automatic weapons and explosives.

This combination of vulnerabilities and political provocation should have made Italy the scene of terrorist attacks and mass-murder spectaculars. Instead nothing happened. Why? Or, to be more precise, what did not happen and why? For terrorists certainly tried to stage attacks, but they were invariably foiled, mostly in their early stages.

One would think that British security agencies would have descended on Italy to find out how it was done. But apart from the routine exchange of intelligence, and a certain degree of liaison, they have not.

Whatever the reason, it is time to

learn. Instead of imposing huge costs by adding yet more air travel restrictions every time something happens, instead of boasting of brilliant after-the-fact investigations, the British should imitate the Italians, who believe in prevention instead.

The Italian approach to counter-terrorism is actually very straightforward, and fully compatible with European human rights laws.

In the first place, any formal or informal preacher who shows any sympathy for any form of armed Jihad anywhere in the world is swiftly and legally deported by order of the Ministry of the Interior (one was kidnapped illegally, but by CIA agents now being prosecuted). That simple measure removes figures who could in themselves serve as terrorist meeting points, even if they neither recruit not direct active terrorists.

Second, in issuing visas to Muslims, Italians disregard the invariably secular appearance of the men and look at their wives. If they wear the hijab it is assumed that both would be uncomfortable in Italy with all its exposed bosoms and bare midriffs.
If they wear the hijab it is assumed they would be uncomfortable in Italy

Third, Italians know that most Muslims are law-abiding but also recognise that Muslim males below the age of 40 are responsible for roughly 99 per cent of all terrorism worldwide from Thailand to Britain.

Accordingly, all Italian police forces monitor, scrutinise, question and if necessary stop for interrogation any person who fits that definition if he arouses suspicion. That way attacks can be foiled in their earliest stage: when terrorists came to check out potential targets, they were checked-out themselves, and felt too exposed to persist.

The Italians believe in discriminatory police surveillance; they know it would be idiotic to devote equal time to elderly Japanese tourists, gay paraders, Scandinavian pensioners and hundreds of other definable categories of visitors to sunny Italy.

Effective foreign intelligence and home security outfits have also helped to intercept terrorist threats, just as in Britain.

But it is the vigilance and activism of rationally discriminatory policing that has made the difference.