Daily Beast Editor Decries ‘Rampant Islamophobia’ and ‘Xenophobic Politics’ in Europe

Appearing on a special extended edition of NBC’s Today on Tuesday, Daily Beast world news editor Christopher Dickey fretted that “rampant Islamophobia” in Europe would intensify following the terrorist attacks in Belgium.

Talking to co-hosts Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer early in the 11 a.m. ET hour, Dickey warned: “It's a huge political issue because there already was rampant Islamophobia in this part of the world. And now, you have a situation where people who were not inclined to look suspiciously at Arabs and Muslims, now they're terrified.”

He claimed such a reaction would play right into terrorist hands:

This, by the way, all fits into a plan laid out more than ten years ago by an ideologue named Abu Musab al-Suri, who, in fact, laid it all out. He said, “We need to take the war to Europe. It’s the soft underbelly of the west. We do that, and we will create divisions and dissent and Islamophobia, and eventually we'll create a civil war.” Well, these are, in the views of ISIS, the first steps on that path.

Bringing Dickey back on the show later that hour, Lauer teed him up: “I spoke about the extraordinary changes taking place in Europe, the face of Europe changing, how does an attack like this impact those changes or accelerate those changes?”

Dickey proclaimed:

Well, it certainly is going to make it more and more difficult for Muslims and Arabs to integrate into European society. The level of suspicion is very high, and that translates into xenophobic politics. The kind of thing we see with Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, or Marine Le Pen in France, or the really, really fascist Nazi parties in Germany – not in Germany, but in Greece. So I think all of that translates into a situation of more and more of a cultural divide. Harder and harder to integrate people. And then that, of course, will be used for more recruiting by the jihadists.

Earlier on the morning show, correspondents Andrea Mitchell and Richard Engel worried that the attacks would enable the “rise of the right wing” across Europe and encourage efforts to “vilify all of the Muslim community.”

Here are transcripts of the two March 22 segments with Dickey:

11:13 AM ET

MATT LAUER: Let's turn now to NBC News analyst Christopher Dickey, world news editor for The Daily Beast. He is in Brussels. Christopher, I'm struck by the fact you were in New York not long ago and we sat in my office and we said that all too often when we get to see each other and speak, it's in the aftermath of a tragic event like this. And here we go again.

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY: Yeah, I'm afraid so. I think we also said there was going to be another hit and maybe more than one in Europe. In fact, it was just last week I was talking to colleagues at NBC and saying, you know, we’ve been lucky so far. And then this hit today.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: And at least on the part of French President Hollande, he looks at this, it seems, as a continuation, a long attack on Europe. And if you want to go back to the January Charlie Hebdo attacks, you want to go to the November attacks in Paris, and now here in Brussels, that it has been a sustained assault on western Europe.

DICKEY: Well, it's not only a sustained attack on western Europe, these are more and more competent terrorists. It's starting to look like almost an insurgency or guerilla war, which is exactly what the Islamic State wants it to look like. They are sending people here, using people here who turn out to be very effective teams. I mean, TATP is a crude – fairly crude explosive, but as Tom [Costello] was talking about, it's hard to make that into a bomb that's really effective, that can be stored. Now, we seem to have TATP bombs all over the place in Europe. And that means, among other things, there's probably a bomb-maker out there that the police and intelligence services would dearly love to catch.

LAUER: Christopher, I don't know if you were hooked up in time to listen to a conversation we just had with a guy who’s lived in Brussels for five years. He took some exception to the American news media's characterization of Brussels as being a hot bed of terrorist activity. You've spent so many years in Europe, you know it as well as anybody I've ever talked to, what's your characterization of Brussels?

DICKEY: Well, I don't think you can vilify all of Brussels, but it is true, that there are neighborhoods, like parts of Molenbeek – not even the whole neighborhood of Molenbeek, but parts of Molenbeek – that clearly have a lot of young, disaffected Arab and Muslim men in them who are perfect, perfect targets for jihadists who are looking to recruit. Like the guy, Abdu Salam, who was arrested. He ran a bar, he and his brother – he blew himself up – were running a bar. There was nothing Islamic about them. But in a critical moment, somebody approached them and recruited them. So to that extent, it's definitely true.

And I just talked to somebody in the U.S. intelligence service who said we ought to call this Raqqah, Belgium. But it isn't like that if you are around the city. You could go around the city, there's no hint of jihad in most of this city. But there are pockets of it that have become very dangerous and, in fact, a center for this kind of jihadist activity.

GUTHRIE: Yeah, those pockets obviously have become active and operational. I wonder, Chris, from your perspective as a watcher of Europe, whether there is kind of that soul searching and hand wringing that we're so familiar with here in this country after what happened here on 9/11, where you are balancing those competing concerns of wanting to go on with life and not wanting to surrender to fear and, yet, also being fearful, and for good reason. Are you seeing Europe kind of struggle with those issues, as well?

DICKEY: Well, it's a huge issue. It's a huge political issue because there already was rampant Islamophobia in this part of the world. And now, you have a situation where people who were not inclined to look suspiciously at Arabs and Muslims, now they're terrified. Now they’re just terrified. This, by the way, all fits into a plan laid out more than ten years ago by an ideologue named Abu Musab al-Suri, who, in fact, laid it all out. He said, “We need to take the war to Europe. It’s the soft underbelly of the west. We do that, and we will create divisions and dissent and Islamophobia, and eventually we'll create a civil war.” Well, these are, in the views of ISIS, the first steps on that path.

LAUER: Christopher Dickey in Brussels for us this morning. Christopher, thank you so much. Always good to get your perspective. I appreciate it.

DICKEY: Thank you, Matt. Thanks, Savannah.

(...)

11:44 AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Let's go back to NBC News analyst Christopher Dickey. He’s also the world news editor for The Daily Beast and someone we turn to unfortunately far too often these days, Chris. And you're there in Brussels and I know you spent a great deal of time there. What's the sense on the street now? How are people responding to what's unfolding these last hours?

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY: Well, I’d say it's very somber. I think there's a lot of confusion in the city because a lot of traffic has been rerouted. You have central parts of the city that are just cordoned off now. I think there was a lot of worry earlier today that there would be yet another attack. The problem, one of the sinister parts of a plot like this is that you just don't know when it's over. You can't be sure. For instance, in Paris, we know that the people who carried out the horrible attacks on November 13th were looking out – looking to carry out yet another horrible attack two or three days later. Fortunately, they were stopped. So all of that, I think, makes for a pretty grim mood in this city.

MATT LAUER: Christopher, you hear a couple schools of thought these days, especially when you talk about what's going on in Brussels. And some people say the intelligence agencies there are not up to snuff. That they are not doing enough to root out some of the people who are then exporting terrorism to other parts of Europe. And then you hear others say, well, the problem they have to deal with is far greater than, for example, what intelligence agencies in this country have to deal with. And in large part, that's due to the number of people, the sheer number of people, Europeans, who’ve traveled to places like Iraq and Syria and then come back to Europe to perhaps spread violence. What's your take on this?

DICKEY: Well, Matt, I'd say both things are true. I mean, clearly, the extent of the problem here in Europe is very, very extensive because there is a very large population of Muslim and Arab people, and also Turks, who have a lot of young men in their ranks who are very disaffected and unemployed and easy targets for the recruiters who come and preach jihad and say, “You're just a bum right now. We're going to turn you into a hero, fighting for God.” And there are going to a handful of people who will listen to that. Remember, we don't need to talk about thousands and thousands of terrorists to carry out something like this. We only need to see them recruit a few hundred. And that, they've been able to do here.

GUTHRIE: And, Chris, what about the response? I remember after the Paris attacks, the French President Hollande was very vocal about a muscular military response and deeper involvement in Syria and fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq. What do you think might be the fallout here?

DICKEY: Well, I think there is going to be a push for even more action against ISIS in Iraq and in Syria. And the net result of that is going to be to heighten the pressure on ISIS to carry out attacks in Europe and in the United States. So I think we're in for a very difficult time ahead. We can be winning the war on the ground in Syria and Iraq and, to some extent we are, and then we can be losing it by basically suffering terrible terrorist attacks in Europe and in the United States.

LAUER: And, Chris, last time we talked to you, and I spoke about the extraordinary changes taking place in Europe, the face of Europe changing, how does an attack like this impact those changes or accelerate those changes?

DICKEY: Well, it certainly is going to make it more and more difficult for Muslims and Arabs to integrate into European society. The level of suspicion is very high, and that translates into xenophobic politics. The kind of thing we see with Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, or Marine Le Pen in France, or the really, really fascist Nazi parties in Germany – not in Germany, but in Greece. So I think all of that translates into a situation of more and more of a cultural divide. Harder and harder to integrate people. And then that, of course, will be used for more recruiting by the jihadists.

LAUER: Alright, Christopher Dickey. Christopher, thank you very much. We will be talking a lot in the coming days. We appreciate it.

DICKEY: Thank you, Matt.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is the Senior News Analyst for MRC