In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, the French and European responses have focused on security and how to reinforce it. At the same time, far-right movements are making gains across Europe, attacks on mosques have increased and a distorted secularist discourse is leading to further marginalisation of religious groups. Yet efforts to combat terrorism will not become more efficient through a scaling-up of security measures alone, rather, we should move forward by reclaiming and reinforcing the fundamental values of democracy, inclusion, diversity and unity.
Thirteen years after September 11th and the attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, ten years after Madrid and London, three years after the Norwegian attacks, the terrorist events in Paris led about fifty world leaders to gather in Paris. Messages like Je suis Charlie, We are not afraid will remain in history books, as well as the – male dominated – photograph of the heads of states and governments gathered in Paris for the biggest demonstration to date in favour of liberty and democracy and against terrorism.
Beyond this gathering of global leaders among whom some are neither defending pacifism nor freedom of speech, people around the world joined in acts of solidarity, reclaiming common and universal values. People from all religions and all origins are shocked and denounce such acts of terrorism. In France, two million people from all origins manifested together their attachment to solidarity and pacifism. For the first time in a long time, differences were affirmed as a real resource.
European leaders could have used this spirit to build an event that would emphasise diversity, transnational solidarity and values such as freedom of speech. Calling on ‘national’ and ‘European unity’ was an important message of the march in Paris, but European leaders could have used the opportunity further to build a signal of humanitarian and universal values, shared throughout the planet by people faced everyday with extremism.
Restricting liberties is not the solution
In light of the attacks, “securitarian-style” decisions of the European heads of state are expected: a reinforcement of border controls, laws and regulations restricting freedoms in the name of security, as well as the deployment of a vision of secularism that is exclusionary and discriminating. The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, from a socialist party which is in charge at the national and regional level, denounced the ‘apartheid’ between French cities and the banlieues. The European Commission immediately called for a new set of laws against terrorism, whose content we do not know yet. And the agendas of international gatherings that were supposed to deal with climate change refocused on terrorism, forgetting that most tensions in the 20th and 21st centuries are linked to the access to resources.
The truth is that the answers adopted by Western countries for the last 15 years have not been able to stop the rise of terrorism, as shown by the growing number of young people leaving to join the fights in Syria. After September 11th, the European Union adopted the project SECILE: 26 action plans and strategy documents, 25 Regulations, 15 Directives, 11 Framework Decisions, 25 Decisions, 1 Joint Action, 3 Common Positions, 4 Resolutions, 111 Council Conclusions, and 8 international agreements, all aimed at reinforcing security measures meant to avoid terrorist attacks on European soil. This legislative catalogue is not exhaustive. The PNR programme – Passenger Name Records, which allows personal data of European airline passengers to be used by third country law enforcement agencies – is expected to come back on the political agenda whereas it was rejected by the commission on civil liberties of the European Parliament and contradicted by several decisions of the European Court of Justice.
The rise of the extreme right’s thesis
Signs of unease are big: throughout Europe, extreme right and populist movements are on the rise. More and more people cry out for restricting the right of Muslims to exercise their religion and make unwarranted associations between Muslims and Jihadists. After the events in France, attacks against mosques are multiplying. Some irresponsible religious leaders draw awkward parallels between what’s happening in Gaza and the terrorist attacks in France.
Almost ten years ago, images of the uprisings in French suburbs had already sounded the alarm bell. Our way of living together in harmony was already questioned. French authorities did not really answer. Inequalities are still felt very hard. Investments have not been made in order to help muslim communities develop a democratic and French version of Islam. Secularism has been addressed in a closed way. And at the same time, the recent partial elections in France showed a clear rise of the extreme-right movement.
In Germany, several thousand people have been protesting on the streets every Monday evening for some months now – against the “islamisation” of the West. Although this movement is mainly concentrated in some Saxonian cities and although the number of people that joined the numerous counter-demonstrations for tolerance and against racism outnumber the others by far, the phenomenon is omnipresent in the media and in the political debate. Politicians of every camp are clueless on how to react, most parties simply deny dialogue with the inhuman claims of the movement. Only the right-wing populist AfD is openly courting the protesters because it scents the high potential for voters in the Pegida movement. Pegida stands for “Patriotic Europeans against the islamisation of the occident”. It is not easy to map the followers of the movement. Several studies conducted by universities show that people are mostly middle class, working and educated. They are afraid of “muslimisation” even if there are hardly any Muslims in Saxony. So people suffer from a rather diffuse “Angst” to lose their status in society, they are unsatisfied with what they call the system and they pick as scapegoats easy targets: minorities like muslims and refugees. Racist tendencies entered the “bourgeoisie”, which makes the phenomenon even more worrying.
Pegida demonstrations have already spread to Austria, a country with a long standing far right presence. While street marches have not yet occurred, political discourses scapegoating muslims are widespread in Western Europe, from Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, to the Sweden Democrats and Danish People’s Party.
Mainstream politics needs to address these claims seriously, as they are the attacking fundamental values of European societies: democracy, diversity, inclusion, unity.
We can fight against terrorism for solidarity and tolerance
At each time in history, terrorist acts have ultimately led to violations of people’s liberty. We believe this cannot be the solution. These solutions have collateral effects, create a society of fear and supervision and do not solve structural problems like the ghettoisation of minorities in a society.
The 2014 European Green manifesto stated that: ‘Only together will we Europeans be successful. We need fair economic cooperation that respects our ecological responsibilities. We need solidarity within and between our nations. We need a strong democracy. We must live our values, upholding freedom and liberties domestically and internationally.’ We were then stressing that 25% of Europe’s citizens are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, leading to frustrations. We were claiming that we need to reverse the current tendency that is giving political power to the economical world rather than to the citizens which is creating desillusion and disenchantment, leading to more and more violence. We can also add that tensions over resources are everywhere in the world creating further tensions. That we will not solve the so-called ‘war of civilizations’ without answering the Palestinian issue.
Fighting against terrorism should be based on an ambitious educational program, so that every European resident can have access to the same chances. Resolving the problem of unemployment, especially amongst the youth; using sports and culture as a way to build more comprehensive and inclusive societies; creating more cooperation between all religions; fostering equal rights to migrants, LGBT, handicapped people; developing securitarian laws that put the human aspect in its center and at last fighting against environmental degradation are essential to a renewal of the “vivre ensemble” within Europe and in the world.
The mobilisation of the European leaders is absolutely essential and necessary to reject violence, acts of terrorism and to reclaim universal values of freedom, equality and solidarity. Let this be their guiding line, and let’s hope more securitarian and exclusionary measures will not be their unique answers.