‘We can’t let them in, it’s for our own safety.’
‘If we let them in they will terrorise our countries.’
‘Half of the refugees are terrorists, you can’t ignore that fact.’
‘Immigration should be a national security concern.’
‘They are imposing their extremist religious views on our society.’
‘Laicité needs to be protected.’
These are some of the general opinions that have flooded social media in the aftermath of the November 13th attacks in Paris. One is left to wonder if these incidents, happening as they did in the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis of the century, were by accident or design. Millions of refugees have been fleeing the Middle East and North Africa heading towards Europe. They were fleeing what Paris experienced last night. Most of the refugees are camped in the border towns of Europe precisely because they are escaping the civil conflict in Syria, Iraq and Libya- and the threat of the Islamic State.
The West has been actively engaged in the three countries. France started to carry out airstrikes in Syria last September and has just deployed its biggest aircraft carrier to join the conflict. Around 1,400 French citizens have also joined the fight, but as Jihadis. The Western countries find themselves locked in debate of whether to accept refugees into their borders and if so how many and for how long. Some of them have already taken large numbers of people, but thousands remain stateless. France has accepted 24,000 refugees. Real concerns should be focused on the civil tensions an event such as the November 13 attack can elicit. The potential is great for the tinderbox of uneasy relations between refugee and citizen, to spontaneously combust.
Sentiments of hate and racism by far right wing groups in Europe have characterised this crisis as the refugees are seen as an ‘other’ who threatens their ethnicity and values. For instance, there have been several violent clashes in the past weeks between refugees and anti-immigration groups in the Calais camp. Some of them initiated by the burning of Qurans. After the attacks in Paris, a fire erupted in the same camp, although authorities say it was an independent issue that had nothing to do with the incidents in the capital. Protests by far right groups and so called Neo-Nazis with an anti-immigration and anti-Islam agenda have also gained popularity in Europe. It is expected that in the coming months relations between the two ethnicities- French civil society and “the others” will begin to deteriorate. Perhaps this is the intention of deliberately carrying passports denoting refugee status before suicide bombers blew themselves up. It is inconceivable that genuine refugees will flee war torn countries seeking sanctuary and then deliberately and suddenly create the same discord they escaped from. The greater likelihood is that this is yet another factor in an asymmetric warfare scenario where psychological operations are another layer – and a new, unconsidered dimension to the attack on the West by ISIS/AQ influenced jihadis. By racking up the tensions between refugees and civil French society, perhaps these attackers have laid their most lethal charge and left the timer ticking. The aim of terrorist action is to create fear but also to create destabilisation within the state and force a change in norms and political behaviour. Given this consideration it is imperative that French society and indeed European society do not go down the path of “us and them.” Already the signs are there that Europe is heading in this direction in a knee jerk attempt at self-preservation.
The attacks yesterday in Paris are the fuse for ethnic preservation, radical, and right wing groups to give themselves legitimacy. Western nationalist and conservative leaders have already begun to link refugees with terrorists and to actively urge the closing of borders. Poland’s designated European minister has said that his country will not accept any refugees. Right wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders urged to stop the intake of Syrians in order to ‘protect the Dutch people’ and avoid an ‘Islamic invasion’. Bavarian Prime Minister said that ‘border controls are more necessary than ever’. Other conservative German leaders are also lobbying for a change in Merkel’s welcoming approach towards Syrians. In Italy, nationalist Northern League leader Matteo Salvini said that Islam is not compatible and cannot be integrated with democracy. Moreover he said that all Islamic communities in Italy should be placed under close surveillance. Republican candidates in the United States have expressed their deep concerns about opening the borders to Syrian refugees and have urged Obama to change his policy. Slovakia’s Prime Minister said that ‘there are enormous security risks linked to migration’ and that hopefully European leaders will ‘open their eyes now’. And in France, National Front Party leader Marine Le Pen said on her Twitter account that: “The enemies of France are those places that maintain links with Islamism,” and asked for the closure of borders as “the French are no longer safe”.
Among the European civil society, disapproval towards refugees has also been growing. The view that refugees can become potential terrorists or that terrorists are camouflaging among the fleeing population so that they can enter Europe have caused immense fear. Many see the refugees as carriers of anything that is considered a threat to Western values, especially to freedom and in the case of France, secularism. A threat to ‘Europeannness’. Intolerance and racism are likely to increase after the attacks along with Islamophobia. The day after the attacks, far right groups held a demonstration in the French city of Lille shouting ‘Expel Islamists’ while unveiling an Islamophobic banner. Germany has already experienced attacks by ‘neo-Nazis’ on refugee camps this past week, and these are now likely to happen again.
But closing the border to refugees might not guarantee security in Europe. Actually it is likely to have the very opposite effect. If thousands of people can’t stay in their own country and cannot enter any other, where do they stay? What will happen to them when they end up being trapped in the middle of nothing? A huge civil conflict is to be expected. Perhaps this is the unseen master plan in the terrorist tactics playbook. Sewing the seeds of discord and disharmony in order to create internal social and political strife. Divide and rule is not an alien concept to Europe but it is the first step in securing a foothold in a country under siege. In this case it is not just a country under siege, but a civilisation- ours.