Europe’s sad ‘new normal’

Published November 21, 2015

SADLY, angrily, Europe is moving towards a “new normal”. It’s a traumatic time of terrorist carnage in stadiums, concert halls and restaurants, shoot-outs between terrorists and policemen and increased security and surveillance.

The new era is not proving pleasant for any one. But it is becoming even more difficult for the continent’s Muslim communities and the hundreds of thousands of refugees, mainly from the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan, now making their way to Europe.

It will get worse. Like it or not — want it or not — Europe’s already-grim view of Islam and Muslims is becoming even grimmer.

Reports that one of the terrorists involved in the massacre in Paris had a Syrian passport and had entered Europe pretending to be an asylum seeker have not been fully confirmed. But that has not stopped the EU’s increasingly popular Far Right parties from demanding a clampdown on those seeking safe haven in Europe.

And it’s not just the newcomers who will be hit by Europe’s darker anti-Muslim mood. The massacre in Paris also threatens to turn back the clock in the slow and painful process of integration for many of Europe’s 20 million-strong Muslim minority.

European Muslims and those who believe in a multicultural and multifaith Europe are hoping to stop the toxic fallout from the Paris massacre. But they face a tough task.

According to Europol, the EU’s crime-fighting agency terrorist attacks by the self-styled Islamic State are going to continue. After the Paris atrocities, it is reasonable to assume “without any recourse to exaggeration, that further attacks are likely”, Rob Wainwright, Europol director has warned.

Like many others, Wainwright has called for better intelligence-sharing between crime- and terrorism-fighting agencies, noting links between the IS and the organised underworld.

But in just a few days, the many freedoms we have taken for granted for so long, including the seamless travel between countries under the EU’s “Schengen accord”, are giving way to reinstated border controls, passport checks and frontier police.

True, French President Francois Hollande has said his country will take in 30,000 Syrian refugees despite allegations that one of them from a previous batch may have been involved in the Paris attacks.

Life should resume fully, Hollande told a gathering of the country’s mayors, adding: “What would France be without its museums, terraces, concerts and sports competitions? France should remain as it is. Our duty is to carry on with our lives.”

“We have to reinforce our borders while remaining true to our values,” he said.

Equally strongly, European Commission President Jean-Claude has warned that attackers in Paris and Middle East refugees should not be mixed up. Juncker has called on EU governments — especially in eastern Europe — not to reject people who are fleeing from the same terror that shocked the French capital on Nov 13.

“Those who organised these attacks [in Paris] and those that perpetrated them are exactly those that the refugees are fleeing and not the opposite,” Juncker said.

“The one responsible for the attacks in Paris ... he is a criminal and not a refugee and not an asylum seeker,” Juncker added, saying there is no reason for Europe to change its refugee policy.

So far, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is also standing by her open-arms policy after the attacks, despite growing political pressure from her coalition allies in recent weeks to seal the border. Germany is a favourite destination of refugees, with 800,000 expected this year.

But many Europeans — and not just those on are Far Right — are not convinced of the need to keep Europe’s doors open.

Poland’s new Europe minister, Konrad Szymanski has said “no” to accepting its share of an EU-wide relocation of refugees while Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, whose country is to challenge the refugees relocation plan in court, has warned of “enormous security risks linked to migration”.

French National Front leader, Marine Le Pen, British Independent Party head, Nigel Farage and Dutch Freedom Party founder, Geert Wilders, are among the politicians making headlines and gaining more followers as they demand the power to limit whom to let in and what rights to extend them.

Hungarian leader Viktor Orban has also used the attacks in Paris to justify erecting fences on Hungary’s Serbian and Croatian borders to stem the flow of people.

Here in the usually quiet Brussels, Molenbeek, one of the 19 municipalities of the Brussels metropolitan area, has gained international notoriety as the “Jihadi capital” of Europe.

Many of the terrorists involved in recent attacks are believed to have either lived in Molenbeek or bought guns in the district. Islamic extremism has also become a subject of much concern in Belgium because over 440 Belgian citizens who have travelled to fight in the Syrian civil war. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has said his government will introduce laws to jail “foreign fighters” returning from Syria, ban hate preachers and close down unregistered mosques. Those who say the IS wants to destroy Europe’s values of tolerance, inclusion and diversity are right. Their attacks target places where Europeans of all cultures, colour and religion meet to watch football, eat, drink and listen to music. Muslims are among those tragically murdered in Paris — and before that in London and Madrid. And there are Muslims in the security forces which engage in battle with the terrorists. As Europe enters a new, darker period, these are facts worth remembering and highlighting.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels.

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2015

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