Byline: Fareed Zakaria
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 …