On Friday 13th November the city of Paris fell victim to Europe’s most damaging terrorist attack in over a decade, which has left over 120 civilian’s dead and many more injured after a coordinated spate of harrowingly callous shootings and bombings. The targets were not political or hugely symbolic. Rather the terrorists, who have now been officially claimed as representatives of the Islamic State (IS), chose to strike deep into the heart of ordinary French life by attacking restaurants, the Bataclan concert hall and the Stade de France. The French response has been swift and oddly decisive for a government renowned for its dithering: military personnel flooded the Parisian streets, external borders have been closed and a state of emergency declared.
Now in the aftermath people have began to question how and why such an attack has taken place yet again in one of the West’s most powerful and historic cities. The obvious question is the former: French interior and exterior intelligence agencies appear to have allowed gaping holes to appear in their surveillance operations once again, a worrying occurrence given that the Charlie Hebdo attacks and Jewish supermarket hostage crisis happened a mere 7 months ago. Unfortunately due to the secrecy that the Direction Central du Renseignement Intérieur (DCRI) and Direction Générale De La Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) must maintain, we will never know what went wrong. We must only assume that measures will be taken to amend this in future and that our own intelligence and security services can take a valuable lesson from this horrific event.
What we can focus on however is the question of why. Although it is a fundamental one, I feel it unimportant to discuss the motivation behind IS committing such an atrocity for it is blatantly obvious given that we have become so use to the wicked ideology possessed by jihadists that everyone understands why they despise the West. What is more important to focus on is dispelling the tedious and rather jaded myth that for some reason it is immigrants and refugees who are to blame for the spate of attacks carried out this year.
As social media became polarised this week in the wake of the attacks this line of thought was common amongst those on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, as I’m sure is the case for most people. I can see why some people might see a correlation: this year and for many before it Europe has seen a huge influx of those fleeing strife in nations where Islam is the dominant religion. Yet the picture is not so clear cut, and even the most elementary research into the background of the pawns of IS who perpetrate attacks on the West reveals that the apparent ‘Jihadi John’ phenomena is not an isolated case. The demographic of these people is blatant in that most are home grown terrorists: second-generationers, or the sons and daughters of migrants, who have grown up amongst us and hold European passports. The discovery of a Syrian passport on one of the Paris killers might yet muddy the waters and give the immigrant-fearers some ammunition. But it could prove to be a moot point, given that reports suggests that IS have captured a passport printing office in Raqqa and can thus sneak European Muslims who would otherwise be under surveillance back into their homelands via the refugee trail under a veil of anonymity. At present, we just don’t know.*
Regardless it remains the case that thousands of Western Muslims have chosen to turn their backs on their home and flee into the arms of the extremists. Understanding why is fundamental to ensuring that in the long term the world does not have to suffer at the hands of jihadists and their toxic ideology. There are those who lazily blame this new trend on the nature of Islam alone: they are the Daily Mail types, afraid of all things they believe to be non-British and more widely non-Western. They fear the religion to be incompatible to our national culture and values system, susceptible to an agenda pushed by a small minority of genuine racists such as the BNP, Britain First and EDL. They would have you believe that fundamentalism is a widespread inevitability in Muslim communities. Yet this could not be any further from the truth. Given that there are an estimated 1.6 billion people who practice Islam in the world and not even 0.5% could be considered fundamentalists, another driving factor must be accounted for.
The real cause of radicalisation amongst Muslims in Europe is most often socio-economic deprivation coupled with an ever developing identity crisis amongst communities that continue to feel marginalised and segregated from the majority populations. France by far is the best example of this; hence why it drives the campaign to destroy IS and is resulting susceptible to its citizens being recruited by the caliphate. By informally exercising assimilationist identity policies whereby migrants are encouraged to conform to traditional French norms (practicing public secularism, adopting the language, etc.), those who settle in France and choose to continue their native cultural or religious practices are often resented by the host population for not wholly adopting the French identity. It is for this reason that women are banned from wearing headscarves in public and recently there has been a push by some local authorities to ban schools from not serving children pork on religious grounds. It inexorably has caused many communities to feel unwanted and alienated in their adopted country. Many find themselves discriminated against or allowed to wallow in rundown and economically neglected areas.
In Britain we too are guilty of having turned a blind eye to this problem for decades. In contrast to France our national identity doctrine is and always has been multiculturalist, meaning that we accept there exists differences in tradition, culture and religion between ourselves and foreign communities who have chosen to settle here. In theory this should work brilliantly; migrants are accepted for who they are and are not coerced into abandoning their heritage but can instead integrate naturally over a period of time and can thus wield a sort of duel-identity. But clearly this hasn’t worked. What has happened instead is that successive governments, be they Labour or Conservative, have done nothing to help stranded Muslim communities in poor areas that have suffered enormously from economic decline over the past few decades. The multiculturalist model can only work when one community is not seen to be allowed preference over the other. Immigrants from the Middle East and Asia originally settled in areas of heavy industry, such as Oldham and Bradford, or already ethnically diverse areas like Tower Hamlets in London. When Britain’s manufacturing sector was reduced to almost nothing during the course of the late 20th Century and inner city areas lost out to the suburbs and CBD’s in terms of investment, these migrants and their children were ignored. Governments and local authorities did nothing to encourage inward investment or restructuring in order to boost prosperity. Areas of growth during this period in contrast have been demographically almost exclusively white and British. A sense of injustice and discrimination amongst Muslim communities has thus festered. Poverty and a sense of exclusion breeds anger, and the unemployed youth who feel they have been left to decay have turned to anti-Western Islamic extremism for answers.
Some may call this explanation naive or inaccurate. It is true that we will never understand why some have turned to IS for the answers, especially for example the affluent middle class Muslims who fled from Solihull to Iraq over the summer. Their reasons are probably more personal, or can be put down to heady teenage idealism. In terms of how best our government can prevent future radicalisations however I see no other viable alternative than to reintegrate alienated Muslims by the changing of both our identity and economic policies so as to be far more inclusionist than we have traditionally been. In the meantime until change arrives we must all remember to keep our heads, remain compassionate and to not allow division to drive us human beings any further apart.
*Since Publishing, it has been revealed that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, believed to be the ‘mastermind’ behind the Paris attacks has boasted of being able to travel back and forth from Syria and Europe freely posing as a refugee. While simply the boast of a suspected Terrorist and possibly exagerrated, it seems worth noting.
Image Rights; Steve Loco | Flickr “London Remembers Paris Victims”