The last year has seen a marked increase in the number of deaths caused by terrorism in Western Europe. The last spike was in 2004, when the commuter network in Spain was attacked which resulted in Spain withdrawing from the coalition invading Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the end of World War II, Europe has had a fair share of terrorist attacks. Between 1970 and 1994 terrorist attacks in Europe were more commonplace. Organisations such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) to Spain’s Basque separatists and other extremist political groups would regularly conduct attacks, resulting in numerous deaths and injuries; some carefully targeted, others more opportunistic. The one thing they had in common was that the ‘terrorist’ would try to remain undiscovered and definitely more alive.
However, now there is one striking difference. The current threat posed by Islamic extremism, be it Al-Qaeda (AQ) or the self styled Islamic State (ISIS) has added a new dimension to terrorism within Europe. One that may have significant consequences to the relative peace that has endured for so long.
It is worth noting that religious extremism isn’t limited to the Islamic faith. Christians and Jews have been just as guilty although probably not as ‘indiscriminate’ as that of recent Islamic extremism. Let’s not forget the siege at Waco in Texas and although it was extremism in a different context, innocent children lost their lives during this massacre.
The rise of Islamic extremism was to be expected for a number of reasons; political mismanagement, sociological and cultural differentiation and religious indoctrination. The idea that a suicide bomber is some poor, ignorant individual who didn’t know any better has long been disproven, that’s not to say that some poor fools are lured into blowing themselves up for ISIS, in some cases for zero gain apart from publicity. The radicalisation and indoctrination of individuals has changed so much since the turn of the century and there are numerous factors that have assisted in this most of which could have been avoided.
One of the defining factors that has changed the landscape and made home grown terrorism a reality is the immigration without full integration. Simply put, people have immigrated to Western Europe, to escape persecution or to get a better life but have not been fully integrated into our ‘western’ culture. Part of that can be blamed on government strategy regarding immigration and part on the unwillingness of groups to leave their cultural ties behind and grasp their new social and cultural norms.
Within Western Europe there are groups of immigrants that stay within their own social and cultural cliques. First generation immigrants, especially, desire the freedoms granted by our countries (to a degree) but also want to overlay their own cultural norms over it. Instead of a symbiotic coexistence, they want a separate, social and cultural subsection within our society based on the social and cultural ideology that they wanted to escape from. It’s little wonder that they can feel disenfranchised as they perceive us ignoring their culture, forcing them to adhere to ours, resulting in the belief that they are being treated as second class citizens and the broader, western society treat them with wariness that could lead to, or be misconstrued as, racism.
This opens fertile minds to radicalisation. This, in turn, leads to an increase in racism and hate crimes which in turn leads to a greater feeling of disenfranchisement. It’s a vicious circle spiralling downward to greater unrest.
Clearly, the above is an overly simplistic view but gives the general idea. There are a number of other factors involved such as harassment, personal circumstances, peer/family pressure but, from a layman’s viewpoint, it will suffice.
They say that good intentions pave the way to hell. We, in the west, have been paving our path since the end of World War II with our meddling in the middle east. The Cold War was rife with political oneupmanship as both the Soviet Union and the United States (along with a number of western allies) tried to increase their spheres of influence. The Soviet Union did it with brute force and ignorance (simple terminology and not implying that the USSR was in any way ignorant in their actions) whilst the ‘west’ used stealth and a large amount of deviousness. The double-crossing and lies left a bad taste once the ‘west’ had reneged on various promises.
In recent years, the ‘War on Terrorism’ has added more fuel to the fire. Although the invasion of Afghanistan and the removal of the Taliban may have been warranted, the invasion and subsequent removal of Saddam Hussein was a complete cluster and the result of a combined Bush/Blair hard-on for war. Even as a serving soldier I argued against the war in Iraq but had to follow the will of my political masters, even if they were completely wrong. Unfortunately there is no solace in being right.
This intervention, especially in Iraq, has caused more death and suffering since the removal of Saddam than he could have caused in his lifetime. The population of Iraq certainly have no reason to thank us and every reason to despise us. The ‘west’ disbanded the standing army and created a ‘democracy’ that was rife with sectarian hatred. The Sunni muslims, for so long the ruling class in Iraq were marginalised and further resentment ensued. Corruption within the government of Iraq and nepotism just added fuel to the fire.
The collapse of the rule of law in Syria and numerous fighting factions created a country-wide war zone and more sectarian violence. The conflict in Syria as a result of the ‘Arab Spring’ left the country in complete disarray and combined with the schism within the Iraqi society, ISIS was able to bloom and the new threat was born. If we in the west had thought AQ was bad, ISIS was an all new ball game.
Religion has always been a good excuse for violence. It is short sighted, bigoted and selfish. Basically it comes down to “worship my god or die”. The greatest irony of it all is that Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all basically the same religion. The Quran, Torah and the bible nearly read the same! This doesn’t appear to matter to the heads of each religion, though. The crusades started at the start of the 11th century and continued, on and off, for the better part of 600 years. That’s a lot of resentment. Admittedly both sides were as bad as the other but it was a Christian invasion of the Islamic nations that is most poignant. That’s not to say that the Islamic nations didn’t retaliate. Their incursion into Europe was fairly significant and well established.
Christianity, for the most part, has dragged itself into the 21st century. The bible has been updated numerous times and expanded into various formats for the increasingly numerous different factions of the faith. As I was told by several religious scholars in Iraq, the Quran hasn’t evolved the same way but needs to. The Christian Old Testament is pretty much an eye for an eye sort of thing, the Quran can be interpreted the same way.
Interpretation is the crux of the matter. The Islamic faith is peaceful, the Quran preaches peace and understanding. There are parts of the text that can be taken out of context and interpreted in whatever way suits the teacher and therein lies one of the problems. The same can be said for the bible and the Torah, the Judaic book of instruction. As much as we may want to criticise Islam for the misinterpretation of holy texts, christianity is still guilty of exactly the same thing in some parts of the western world. That notwithstanding, it’s not christians or Jews that are gunning innocent people down in France or hacking commuters in Germany. Individuals that claim to follow ISIS have been responsible and their radicalisation has led to consternation in European governments.
One of the most utilised method for radicalisation is social media. Be it Facebook or YouTube, ISIS has used them all to great affect. The fact that ISIS has made use of a western, capitalist tool is another irony but one that could have been avoided had the companies involved wanted it. Freedom of speech or expression is one thing but propaganda designed to provoke hatred and killing is another. One that should have been nipped in the bud by social media companies. Instead of governments requesting sites being closed down, the companies should have policed their own sites properly and had these shut down before they even got going. But they didn’t. Why? It wasn’t because they couldn’t.
ISIS’ rhetoric is already that of ‘kill the crusader’, referring to modern, western society as that from the 11th century. Suicide bombing is as indiscriminate as it gets so it won’t just be Christians, Jews and other non-muslims killed in the blast. Not that this has bothered ISIS in any way; they are busy killing fellow muslims in Syria and Iraq all the time. Countering a large, planned attack is possible for the various intelligence and security agencies but the ‘lone wolf’ attacks are nearly impossible to intercept. More and more of these lone wolf attacks are encouraged by ISIS and each one will, inevitably, cause more racial hatred.
So far, the majority of the terrorist attacks have occurred in France which has, incidentally, the highest muslim population in Europe. Is there a reason for this? One possible reason is to increase racial hatred, galvanising the more extremist right wing elements within French society to conduct revenge attacks. By attacking muslims, ISIS will have more propaganda to use thereby creating greater divisions within society, specifically the ethnic/religious groups. The recent murder of a Catholic priest in his own church was a potential tipping point that may have been averted; for the time being. It wouldn’t take a great deal more to push the French people over the edge resulting in chaotic repercussions such as civil unrest, reciprocating murders or all out civil war.
Other European countries may well follow suit and an all out persecution could ensue. It may sound extreme but people will only take so much before they push back. The Catholic church is trying it’s best to calm the situation but there is only so much they can do and no matter how much the Pope may preach peace, it’s much harder to turn the other cheek when it gets personal.
Inflaming rhetoric by prominent politicians such as a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States as suggested by Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for the US presidency will not help matters. Europe is a tinderbox waiting for that single spark to ignite it and ISIS, idiotic politicians and right wing extremists are trying to hard to create that spark. The only winner would be ISIS so what is the point? Preaching understanding, moderation and solidarity will only go so far. People are angry and rightly so. They expect their elected officials to protect them and they have been let down. It’s hard to be objective when a member of your family has just been murdered. It’s difficult to understand when people are afraid to go out.
This is a sad reality of the world we live in today. I hope that my simplistic synopsis of the crisis facing Europe is completely wrong.