There is no doubt that the attack on Charlie Hebdo will trigger and triggers more debate about the immigration and Islam, but we have also seen attacks om Jewish targets in Europe in the recent past. How big do you think is the danger of on one hand a growing islamophobia and on the other hang a growing antisemitism in Europe? So basically how big is the danger Europe will become increasingly intolerant, and if this danger exists how to counter it? Read few comments.
Aristotle Kallis, Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, Lancaster University
The murderous attacks in Paris are still painfully recent – too recent to gauge the impact on French and European public opinion, as well as to the various political parties. It is already clear that Muslim communities are being targeted by the usual suspects of intolerance (the parties of the radical right), even if Muslim community leaders and representatives expressed their strongest condemnation for the attacks from the first moment. Sadly, this kind of situation – a terrorist attack carried out in the name of radical Islam – presents European Muslims with a lose-lose scenario: the attacks were carried out supposedly in order to avenge the trials and tribulations of Muslims in Europe and across the world; but the attacks themselves feed into the prevalent climate of anti-Islam prejudice among wide sections of the European political class and public opinion.
This is a moment of reckoning for the humanistic values upon which post-1945 Europe has been constructed. The best test for the resilience of these humanistic values is when these are under attack by extremists of whatever persuasion. The radical right in Europe thrives in these situations – it feeds from them, it turns them into metaphorical weapons for its political and electoral influence. They have already predictably seized the opportunity to talk about the failure of multiculturalism, the apocalyptic danger of immigration, the cultural incompatibility with Islam and Muslims, the bankruptcy of liberal values of tolerance, and so on – and they will continue to do so, stronger and bolder with every new incident. Along with the terrorists of Al-Qaeda and IS, the likes of Marie Le Pen, Geert Wilders, and so on have everything to gain from this situation.
The real problem is that mainstream society and political parties have also felt the temptation to pander to these fears. Calls for stronger surveillance, for stricter border checks (to the point of contemplating restricting the freedom of movement even within the EU), for ever-tighter immigration controls and even a literal fortress Europe, have come not just from the radical right but also from mainstream political parties and governments, with the apparent support of strong social majorities confirmed by a series of recent opinion polls.
This European public opinion is indeed becoming less and less tolerant, especially at times of crisis like the one we are going through in the wake of the Paris attacks. Insecurity feeds into pre-existing concerns and fears, residual prejudices and an instinctive tendency to draw lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’. The danger here is two-fold: first, sacrificing civil liberties in order to allegedly defend society from the danger of terrorism and radicalism; and second, restricting the application of these values to ‘us’ while actively excluding ‘them’ from their protection. Both these processes have been in full swing in the last decade or so, fuelled by the shock of 9/11 but also aggravated by every new incident in Europe. I hope that they will not acquire fresh momentum after the Paris attacks – though I fear that they already have, in France and across Europe.
It pains me to see that, after a decade of restrictions in civil liberties, pandering to anti-immigration and anti-Islam discourses by mainstream parties, and seeing the radical right gain votes and political influence over society, the response of ‘mainstream’ Europe to the Paris attacks is one that asks for much more of the same recipe. I have repeatedly criticised mainstream parties and governments for fanning the flames of anti-Muslim and anti-immigration prejudices in the vague and cynical expectation of electoral gains (which usually do not happen or do not last). Only a few days ago the Greek Prime Minister used the Paris attacks to justify a stricter immigration and naturalisation policy in Greece. He also visited the ‘iron wall’ on the Turkish-Greek border (a depressing monument to ‘fortress Europe’) and praised it for stopping ‘illegal immigrants’ from entering Greece and claiming free health insurance. If we still wish Europe to be open and tolerant and inclusive and plural, then here is our most critical test: not just to reiterate our values (yes, freedom of expression but also dignity and civility to others with whom we live side-by-side and may disagree on a number of issues) but also to extend them to everyone who is part of our society, regardless of whether they were born in or came to one’s country. Values serve little purpose if their protection is restricted to an ever-smaller group of people while being restricted or discounted for the rest. This moment, charged with emotion and insecurity, is not the right one to make decisions about the future. Once the dust has settled, let the debate begin – what is a fair price to pay in terms of civil liberties for battling against radicalism and terrorism? Is freedom of expression an unconditional right even when it deliberately targets a group and reproduces prejudices against its members? Is it plausible that immigration can be managed with walls and closed borders? Where are Europe’s humanistic values inside the numerous ‘detention centres’ where immigrants wait endlessly for the future to be decided? Should multiculturalism also involve a cultivated sense of civility towards others, with respect and dignified dialogue? Should Muslim communities play a more active role in fostering social and political participation, aiding more effectively the battle against youth radicalisation in partnership with other social institutions?
The answer to these questions is neither easy nor accepted by everyone. But an honest, dispassionate debate without hysteria is needed now more than ever, as prejudices against Muslims, Roma, and Jews continue to come to the fore, among public opinion and in the discourse of mainstream political parties. Anti-Semitism too is tragically on the rise again in a number of European countries – a depressing trend, given the sensitivity that European societies have developed to it in the seven decades after the Holocaust. To be sure, Islamophobia is a more pressing problem in contemporary Europe, precisely because it has become ‘normalised’ to a large extent through the language used in the press, mass media, and political discourse, even ‘mainstream’ one. By contrast, there is a much higher degree of sensitivity when it comes to anti-Semitism – justifiably and rightly so. Even the Charlie Hebdo editorial team felt that they had to fire a cartoonist for publishing an ‘anti-Semitic’ cartoon a few years ago.
But the problem is not only about the welfare of Muslims and Jews and Roma and other targeted groups or the security of European societies. It is also – and perhaps more critically – about the general values that underpin our responses to these challenges; and the kind of negotiation between conflicting values that we are prepared to consider for the common good. Hence the importance of that wider social debate once the dust has settled. If we decide that the best future for Europe is to combat intolerance and stay true to the humanistic values that European societies profess, then we must rethink the language with which we communicate these values and talk about ‘others’. We must reframe the debate on immigration and Islam and European ‘values’, which for so long has been largely determined by the language and radical ideas of the far right. We must consider whether the current problems of ‘state multiculturalism’ say more about the problematic attitude of the state and society than about multiculturalism itself. We must even consider whether it is the current policies of surveillance and strict immigration controls and ghettoisation, based on a discourse of insecurity, that have failed, at a disproportionate cost to human rights and civil liberties; and whether it is time we explored alternatives – difficult and long-term – that embrace a very different model of multiculturalism and diversity and practical civility to others and sensible co-habitation with people whose beliefs differ on some matters.
Still, above anything else, we need to devise a new language to debate these issues. This is the responsibility of mainstream political and social actors – to avoid the temptation to pander to extremists, to seek opportunistic alliances with them in order to gain votes or power, to try to outdo the populists. Unless the parameters of the debate on immigration, Islam, European ‘identity’ and so on change soon and change dramatically, whatever ‘solutions’ European societies and governments explore will remain rooted in a dangerous belief that less freedom and more and more diluted human rights, less pluralism and reflexivity, more aggressive ‘us-versus-them’ rhetoric, can guarantee future security and harmony. It will not.
Cas Mudde, Assistant Professor, Department of International Affairs, University of Georgia
There surely is a fear of a circle of intolerance and violence, as we have seen already today. The Charlie Hebdo attack will lead to an anti-Muslim backlash among parts of the majority population, which will further radicalize a small part of the Muslims population, some of whom might attack Jewish sites and people. This will be particularly the case in France, and Paris, which has both sizable Jewish and Muslim populations, as well as perhaps Belgium, the Netherlands, and the UK. I don’t think it will impact Central and Eastern Europe much though.
Pietro Castelli Gattinara, Research Assistant, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester
Antisemitism and Islamophobia have been self reinforcing forces in the past years, with the opposing fields using one or the other card to attack their opponents. The media also played an important role by reproducing a very superficial image of the risks associated to Antisemitism and without investigating in depth it’s roots within the French society.
The risks I see are mainly associated with the institutionalisation of Front National’s Islamophobia and more broadly its ‘Republican’ discourse on immigration. Hollande met Le Pen at the Elysee and FN has not been banned from Sunday’s citizens rally of solidarity. This will result in a further boost of popularity for a racist and discriminatory party that was already enjoying unprecedented support among the French electorate. Even more so, due to the general weakness of the current French government and the lack of charisma of its president Hollande.
It looks like France and Europe will face a new wave of discrimination, a further restriction on immigration similar to the USA after 9/11. No European leader has been so far capable (or willing) to distinguish between the strategy of political violence of a small number of fanatics from the broader community of European Islamic population. This culpable confusion will not only further increase marginalisation and stigmatising but it also favours the construction of the conditions that make violent attacks possible.
Matthew Feldman, Reader in Contemporary History, Teesside University
The rapid grown of anti-Muslim prejudice is alarming, as is the resurgence of anti-Semitism in parts of Europe. Groups like Pediga or UKIP or further toward the far- right, France’s Front National – now calling for increased immigration controls after the sickening massacre on Wednesday in Paris – are increasingly making anti-Muslim politics the core of their identity, like Geert Wilders and other Islamophobes have long done. What is different is that these prejudicial comments are being made in the name of liberal values. That, I feel, must be challenged. There is nothing liberal about attacking minority groups in Europe – or anywhere else, of course – for their religious identity. Freedom of expression (we are all Charlie Hebdo) is a human right, but so is the freedom to practise one’s religion.
I think it is important to remember that the serious threat from jihadi terrorism in Europe is not an existential one. By that I mean that, unlike reports today out of Nigeria (where Boko Haram massacred up to 2,000 people), the only thing that can remove the freedoms 21st century Europe has come to enjoy is ourselves. So I think knee-jerk reactions and repressive policies will not make things better, ad will never provide complete security – the latter is impossible in any case. So in that sense the best way to counter extremism and intolerance is to refuse to give into it oneself, and to, moreover, challenge it in civil society as and where it rears its ugly head.
John Gaffney, Professor of Politics & Co-Director, Aston Centre for Europe, Aston University
France is in a real state of crisis, the French are beginning to call it their 9/11 disbelief at the brutality. BBC Reporter Hugh Schofield said it is not panic fear, but true fear now in crowded places. The French stress by all upon ‘unity’, events have mobilised huge ‘vigils’, especially in the Place de la Republique, but right across France. But the President very weak. Can he demonstrate leadership? Political unity is water thin. First crack whether the Front National can join the march in solidarity that will involve all the political spectrum. Some do not want FN saying they are part of the problem not the solution.
Muslim groups have all spoken out against the attacks, but underneath is a lot of unspoken stuff about immigration etc./ social conditions. e.g. brothers brought up without parents.
Questions though as ne of the brothers had been jailed for recruiting for jihad several years ago. Both were on US ‘no flight’ lists. So non-muslims are uneasy, Muslim community very uneasy – attacks on mosques etc. Jewish community very uneasy and with Mohamed Merah’s attack in 2012, plus Brussels killings last year, the record numbers of Jewish community leaving France.