A shadow of fear has descended upon Europe in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a French kosher market that left 17 people dead. Claims of responsibility of the magazine attack by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the revelation of the kosher market attacker’s ties to the Islamic State have many people terrified of radicalized Muslims returning from the war in Syria and Iraq as well as hidden terror cells all over Europe.
This fear has been exacerbated by the news of anti-terror raids carried out in the Belgium city of Verviers, which saw two suspects killed, as well as in Berlin, Germany, where at least 11 residences were raided. Another raid in the Spanish territory of Ceuta led to the arrest of four individuals who were said to be planning terror attacks of their own.
The widespread fear of terrorist plots has also brought out an ugly side of Europe as attacks against Muslims have increased dramatically, from minor incidents of discrimination to full-blown violence. According to the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, there have been nearly as many anti-Muslim incidents in the two weeks since the attacks (128 incidents) as there were in all of 2014 (133). And those were just the acts reported to law enforcement.
While far-right political parties and racist individuals may point to terror attacks like the one on Charlie Hebdo as the reason for their hatred, European Islamophobia ultimately only hurts the continent. Professor Akbar Ahmed of American University points out that it is this Islamophobia, coupled with a lack of economic opportunities, that often pushes young Muslims in Europe to try and join extremist and terrorist organizations like ISIS in the first place.
The French government has been vocal in highlighting the need to protect the Muslim community from this latest wave of discrimination with Prime Minister Manuel Valls calling the protection of Muslims urgent. More needs to be done, however, to address the deep root causes of hatred towards Muslims as well as Jews and other minorities who also continue to face discrimination.
While European leaders must do everything in their power to ensure that Islamophobia does not worsen, the recent wave of fear also presents an opportunity for the Muslim community to show the world that it believes in peace and that a small minority of fanatics is just that: a small minority of individuals who have a warped view of Islam like many other zealots have done within other religions. In the wake of the Paris attacks, former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine stated in an op-ed that French Muslims now have an historic opportunity to assert themselves and help overcome fear and anger in the French community. He went on to say that it is vital that modern, enlightened, and peaceful Muslims prevail in the clash of ideology within Islam. Akbar Ahmed also adds that in order to combat Islamophobia, European governments must work with Muslim local leaders to build up trust within communities.
In addition to preventing Islamophobia in their countries, European leaders are expected to come up with measures that prevent terrorist attacks from occurring. European governments, however, should be careful not to pass legislation and implement security plans out of fear instead of reason. France recently announced a 400 million Euro security plan in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. The money will go to beef up French security forces, both the police and the gendarmerie (military police), by providing them with more bulletproof vests and more powerful weapons. There has also been speculation of a European Patriot Act as some European leaders have called for enhanced surveillance, a move that would surely be criticized by privacy rights groups. While getting more protective gear for police officers is certainly a reasonable request, heavier weapons and increased security legislation is sure to make some uncomfortable.
It’s important to note that expensive security responses do not necessarily improve security in a country according to Ramen IR contributor Sebastian Bae. He points out that despite trillions of dollars, the United States has been unable to halt the rise of Al-Qaeda affiliates and ISIS. Instead, Bae argues that national security apparatuses around the world need to be “nimble, creative, and flexible to the evolving threats of the 21st century,” particularly in the realms of intelligence-gathering and preparing security forces for fighting against asymmetrical threats.
France and other European countries should take heed of previous examples where states lashed out in fear instead of responding with reason. By seeking to address the root causes of why European citizens are motivated to engage in acts of terror on behalf of foreign terrorist organizations as well as investing in effective intelligence-gathering, European leaders have an opportunity to reduce the threat of terrorism within their borders.
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