The focus on terrorism is obscuring the issues of refugees, and it is important to consider its impact on Europe, after the shock of Paris.
Of course, the impact of terrorism in the daily life of ordinary citizens is going to increase the culture of checks and control in place since September 11, 2001. Since the New York massacre, the 10,000 planes that take off daily carry citizens who go through vexing security check, and cannot bring liquid on boards, etc. Bin Laden has changed totally our way of travelling. It is no small achievement, and Paris will increase that trend.
Let us not forget that we have ample literature from ISIS, which makes clear that its strategy is to get the West to react against the Muslim living in its countries, by erecting a wall of distrust and discrimination, so as to radicalise them as much as possible. There are 44 million Muslim living in the West: if they all felt shunned and discriminated against, they would be a formidable force, well beyond the 50.000 fighters who now carry the ISIS project of domination. Since at least 50% of them now come from the West (there were only Iraqi and Syrians at the beginning), the jihad is becoming much more globalised Estimates say now that ISIS is recruiting about 3.000 foreigners every month. And they may be right: anti-Muslim acts are on the rise in Europe. In France these went from 110 in the first nine months of 2014, to 330 between January and September of 2015: three times more. The massacre of Paris will only increase this confrontation.
Writing in the Washing Post’s opinion pages last weekend, counterterrorism analyst Harleen Gambhir said ISIS has set a dangerous trap for Europe with the Paris attacks. He recalls that, after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, its website said that such attacks “compel the Crusaders (the West) to actively destroy the grey zone themselves… Muslim in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatise…or they will join the Caliphate”.
The fact that near one of the kamikaze was found a Syrian passport that could show that he came as a refugee is going to have a deep impact on the present policy on refugees. In the US, already 13 republican governors have declared that they will not admit Syrians. And Polish Prime Minister, Beata Szydlo, has already declared that in view of the Paris attacks Poland will not accept EU quotas for asylum seekers.
This is a final blow for the Syrians. They have lost 250.000 people during the war, and they have now over 4 million refugees. To view all of them as terrorists is a total nonsense. But it is a nonsense which plays well in the hands of xenophobic and right wing parties, which have sprouted all over Europe, as well as of the Republicans during the US electoral campaign. In the polls, Le Pen, Salvini and all right wing parties, with their speeches on security and controls, are finding consensus among a scared population. The German nationalist party will now certainly sit in the Parliament. Xenophobes and nationalists play a very irresponsible game, but it pays, and that is enough. No media are debating the ISIS trap, busy with their ritual stories on Paris. But this is medium term problem.
In the short term, Europeans will probably lose the benefits of the Schengen agreement: free circulation inside Europe. France has re-established border controls, as have Sweden, Germany and Slovenia. Hungary built a fence to protect its border with Serbia, and now Austria is doing the same. And, if Europe becomes a fortress and closes its borders, thousands of refugees will remain blocked in the Balkans, exasperating an already difficult situation. Eastern Europe has made clear that they will resist EU quotas. But the EU plan of resettlement of 120,000 men and woman, has so far resettled a grand total of 327 people all over Europe. The chairman of EU, Juncker, has calculated that at this speed it will take until 2100 to implement the plan…
And Europe, even with right wing parties in power, will have to conduct a very difficult war with terrorism and refugees, at the same time. Until now it gave to Syrians priority in entering Europe. The Syrian passport found near one of the kamikaze is going to reopen that rule. It is irrelevant that the Syrian refugees are the consequence of a conflict started by Europe (like Libya). Fear will win over solidarity, if the latter was ever really available. A sense of guilt and remorse are hardly visible in European history…
We have now 60 million refugees. They would make the 23rd country of the world. But refugees are coming not only from war, but also because of sex discrimination (homosexuals in Africa, girls in Boko Harama and Yazhid territories); religions (just think of the Rohinga in Myanmar); climate refugees (they will grow exponentially, after 2020, since the coming conference of Paris will not solve climate warming). Today, somebody from Yemen is not accepted as a refugee. Yet there is a war, which is destroying its cities, under Saudi bombing… And Europe sticks to the definitions of refugee as somebody escaping conflicts, then decides which conflicts are acceptable… And what about economic migrants, who escape hunger, not war? Does the distinction between refugees and immigrants make sense any longer?
By now, we know that the second or third generations of immigrants do not accept hardship for integration as their parents did. They are educated to a European standard of life and, if left out, they feel humiliated. The Caliphate becomes a way to get dignity, and escape the sad frustrations of a life without a future. And the reality is that Europe is not culturally prepared to accept people from different religions and different cultures. There is a longing for a homogeneous Europe (very much the way Japan goes). Of course, in schools that is changing, but young people are not in power… The demographic decline of the continent (it would lose 10% of its population by 2030, according to UN projections, without immigrants or refugees), does not seep into collective consciousness. We will see, in the near future: a) a change of policy on refugees, b) a political success of the xenophobic parties, c) a decline of the European dream, and d) a new impossible challenge for Europe: how to keep out millions of people, without losing its identity, which is traditionally based on solidarity, tolerance and human values.
Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.