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17 November 2015

Awakening the Sleeping European Giant

Last week’s attack on Paris was the worst violence that city has seen since World War II. To many, Paris is the epitome of civilisation, yet Friday’s coordinated attacks were some of the most barbaric in the history of the world. Now that the reality of what has just happened is sinking in, the big question on the minds of people around the world is, how will Europe respond?

The short answer is, much more strongly than in the past.

French President François Hollande called the Paris attack an ACT OF WAR. “Faced with war, the country must take appropriate decisions,” he said. France, “will be merciless toward the barbarians of Islamic State group,” and, “will act by all means anywhere, inside or outside the country,” said Hollande.

Within 24 hours of the attacks, France sent 10 fighter jets to blast the so called Islamic State (IS)-held city of Raqqa, Syria, with 20 bombs. It was France’s largest campaign against IS so far.

Compare this with Spain’s non-response to the terrorist attack on Madrid in 2004. After that, Spain capitulated to the jihadists, some said. This time around, France appears to be dead set on seeking revenge. Germany too may be gearing up for action. “Do we now have to go to war?” Germany’s media asked, speculating that France could invoke NATO’s mutual defence clause and quoted several German politicians stating Germany’s preparedness to use military force.

The Paris massacre has awakened a sleeping giant. Many Europeans have already made a direct connection between this attack and Europe’s ongoing refugee crisis. One of the attackers had a Syrian passport and may have entered Europe through Greece as a refugee. Germany arrested another man a couple of weeks ago who was heading to France with a car full of firearms and hand grenades.

This is exactly what Europe’s anti-immigration politicians have been warning about for months. In September, United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said: “My concern is that IS have said that they will use the migrant wave to flood Europe with half a million of their jihadist fighters. … Even if it’s only 500, I am very worried about that.”

After the attack last Friday, everyone now sees that Farage and others had good reason to worry. The question is, HOW WILL EUROPE RESPOND?

Leaders like Hollande have talked tough in the past, but with little action to back it up. This time, it may well be different. Far right parties in Europe were already on the rise, even before Friday’s tragedy. A French poll published last week put the far right National Front leader Marine Le Pen in first or second place for France’s presidential elections. The pressure is on for leaders in Europe to ACT—and now!

Prof. Peter Neumann, a terrorist expert at King’s College London, said that if, “someone related to the influx of refugees,” was involved in the attacks, it, “could almost lead to uncontrollable riots and attacks in European cities.”

Far-right groups were quick to seize on the Paris terror attack as evidence of a need to curb immigration. But, while it is the extremists on the far right who are grabbing most of the headlines, sadly mainstream Germans are increasingly being drawn into inflammatory rhetoric - and at times anti-foreigner sentiment.  Jochen Hollmann, the head of the department of the protection of the constitution in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt, warned that it used to be easy to tell the difference between neo-Nazi groups and mainstream politics. “These boundaries are increasingly dissolving though,” he recently said.

The mood in Germany is akin to a drunken rage of the kind last seen in the beer halls of the 1920s Weimar Republic - that period of crude, uncivilised behaviour that paved the way for Hitler’s rise and the most brutal decade in world history. The Federal Republic of Germany established a functioning democracy in the decades after Hitler, and its people had good reasons to be proud of the country’s political culture. Sadly, right-wing idiots are currently undermining this.

The days of unlimited immigration and illegal entry cannot continue,” said Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder. “Paris changes everything. ” The migrant crisis has already been the biggest challenge for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer has been a key leader in the right wing opposition to her open door for migrants.

Europe is experiencing a transformative identity crisis. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the most destructive conflict in history, the primary goal of Europe’s postwar architects was to create a system that would guarantee peace and stability. This meant suppressing past demons and founding a system on more advanced values. Postwar Europe was built to value collaboration and cooperation. It was designed to be enlightened, multicultural and tolerant.

Perhaps the greatest effect of the refugee crisis, together with Russia’s dramatic resurgence and Europe’s rolling financial problems, is the way it is causing Europe to shed this postwar veneer and return to its past. Being tolerant feels good, until hundreds of thousands of foreigners enter your nation and expect you to foot the bill. Being multicultural is wonderful, until Muslims waving IS flags and eyeing your teenage daughter settle in your village.

The Paris attacks now threaten the very essence of the European way of life, as far-right parties seek to capitalise on the attacks. With Paris now enduring this second major terror bloodbath in under a year, questions are now being asked about how much longer both Europe’s open-border system and vision of a tolerant, multicultural society can survive.

Enough Muslims share that fervency to endanger the lives of those they despise, and this tendency toward violence cannot be tolerated by either their Western targets or by Muslims who refuse to subscribe to a jihadist ideology. And there is no way to distinguish those who might kill from those who will not. The Muslim community might be able to make this distinction, but a 25-year-old European or American policeman cannot. And the Muslims either cannot or will not police themselves. Therefore, we are left in a state of war. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has called this a war on radical Islam. If only they wore uniforms or bore distinctive birthmarks, then fighting only the radical Islamists would not be a problem. But Valls’ distinctions notwithstanding, the world can either accept periodic attacks, or see the entire Muslim community as a potential threat until proven otherwise. These are terrible choices, but history is filled with them.

It is difficult to imagine another outcome save for another round of ghettoisation and deportation. This is repulsive to the European sensibility now, but certainly not alien to European history. Unable to distinguish radical Muslims from other Muslims, Europe will increasingly and unintentionally move in this direction. We are entering a place that has no solutions.