Adam Balcer, Krzysztof Blusz, PaweĹ‚ Zerka
After the terrorist attacks in Paris, the big “if” remains whether Europeans will refrain from hasty conclusions and a simplifying view of the world. Nowadays the Old Continent is threatened not only by terrorism but also by the rising xenophobia. It was the long-lasting demobilization of Europe’s political centre that largely contributed to both phenomena.
Huntington ever alive?
Dantesque scenes in Paris last Friday remind many of Michel Houellebecq’s last novel, “The Submission”. The French writer described the mechanism of yielding to the lure of the Islam by a European, post-Christian society enfeebled by years of progressive decadence. In the background, there were terrorist attacks in the heart of Paris to which people gradually were getting used. With no doubts, Houellebecq's interpretation of Islam is very simplistic. But in recent days, more than one of his readers probably wondered whether the Frenchman wasn’t right?
However, if a spectre of submission is haunting Europe, it is about a submission of entirely different sort. Last week's attacks were “a grist to the mill” of those European politicians who oppose the reception of Syrian refugees by the EU. One didn’t have to wait long for their statements. Bavarian Finance Minister, Markus SĂ¶der, said over the weekend that ‘Paris changed everything’, marking the end of ‘uncontrolled immigration’ to Europe. He was echoed by right-wing party leaders as well as several government officials from the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. In addition to the anti-migrant rhetoric, we have seen many in Europe “speaking Huntington” again, resurrecting the disputable thesis of the clash of civilizations.
In this context, it is easy to come to terms with the conviction that Europe must now defend itself against “them”; that it must protect the Western civilization against Islam explicitly associated with the Barbarians. It's easy to bring Islam into a single and homogeneous category, presenting it as a civilization conflicted with “us”. At the same time, it becomes ever harder to remember things that otherwise should be obvious: that not all Muslims are terrorists; that not all terrorists are Muslims; that the world of Islam is very diverse; and – last but not least – that the majority of Syrians are fleeing to Europe precisely because such a Paris as we have seen on November 13th they face at home daily.
Meanwhile, the presence of Muslim communities in European countries is a complex and multidimensional problem. Without this deeper insight we cannot expect to find an effective policy response to the current problems of public safety. Of course, the Islamic fundamentalism is a challenge, especially since it is supported by some European Muslims who reject the Western values a priori. And of course, we should not ignore the security dimension of the current wave of migration to Europe. Still, it is worth to deconstruct a number of myths. The majority of terrorists responsible for Paris bombings were not refugees but citizens of France and Belgium. Therefore, part of the blame lies with public policies of certain European countries which, through discrimination or due to colonial baggage, failed to adequately integrate groups of Muslims inside their societies. They let many young people in the suburbs to become increasingly alienated and some of them radicalised.
But again, the situation of Muslims in Europe differs significantly depending on the European country and the country of origin. For example, Turks living in Europe have never made any terrorist attack and they do not organize riots with burning cars in the suburbs. Turks with German passports are well represented in national and local politics, which cannot be said about citizens of Muslim origin in France.
Two different threats
The rise in xenophobia and nationalism strengthens the political position of extreme right and nationalist parties, which anyway are gradually succeeding to break into the mainstream politics of many European countries. In France, the National Front is expected to achieve a good result in regional elections in just three weeks, while its leader, Marine Le Pen, is a strong candidate for presidential elections in 2017. The extreme right is rising in Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, even in Germany, not to mention Hungary. Slowly but surely, the European mainstream politics is turning right, legitimizing those attitudes and opinions which until recently would have been considered too extreme and unacceptable. This is the real threat to European common values, such as openness and religious as well as civic tolerance.
From the point of view of Europe’s security, the Islamic State is without doubts one of the most serious threats of the day. But while taking a military offensive against this organization or reforming the EU's migration policy, Europeans should definitely beware of a simplistic, black-and-white rhetoric. We cannot put in the same category oppressors from the Islamic State and their victims, which include many Syrian nationals. If we yield to this rhetoric, showing “submission” to the growing racism, xenophobia and a Manichaean description of the world, we may put European values in danger. Not so much as a result of external aggression, but by inviting xenophobia and nationalism through the backdoor.
The responsibility of the centre
Both Europe’s turn to the right and the rising threat of terrorism are largely a consequence of a long-lasting demobilization of the mainstream parties.
They are responsible for serious neglects in the European Neighbourhood Policy, failing to react in time to an outbreak of several conflicts just outside the EU borders. It is also them who chose unilateral or coalition-of-the-willing military actions in Iraq, Libya or Syria, thereby undermining political efforts to establish a common EU security and defense policy.
Finally, the political centre is responsible for negligence in the field of public safety. The frequently mentioned opposition between migrants and security is a false dilemma. Instead, the true one is about how to ensure public safety without harming human rights. This is the challenge that Europe will have to face over the coming months, after the Paris attacks.
Europe's response can no longer be “more of the same”. It is necessary to push forward European integration in the field of security policy, by – inter alia – broadening the activities of Frontex and strengthening the coordination of national anti-terrorist services. To be sure, this may imply greater public interference in the zone of privacy, and therefore will have to be subjected to detailed monitoring in terms of democratic legitimacy and potential abuse. But still, the desire to ensure public safety can no longer be paralyzed by mere political correctness.
European governments cannot jeopardize either the collective security of Europeans, or the right to a safe life of refugees who arrive at the Old Continent. Those who seek their own political interest in Europe’s rising disintegration and in the radicalization of public sentiments may not be very helpful in finding solutions to Europe’s real problems.