Photo: refugees arriving in Europe in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.
Shutting down borders and blaming Muslim immigrants for the Paris attacks would give ISIS precisely the type of “civilizational conflict” it craves.
The recovery of a Syrian passport at the site of one of the Paris terror attacks has the European press and the continent’s right-wing politicians in an uproar.
The document, found near the remains of one of the suicide bombers, had been registered by Greek authorities on the island of Leros on October 3, 2015, leading to speculation that some of the assailants may have been jihadists traveling from the Syrian battlefields to Europe posing as refugees.
Even as the identity of the actual assailant remains unknown (the document could have been stolen or forged in Syria or Turkey), the xenophobic right is already seeking to capitalize on the news for political gain.
On Saturday, Poland’s new right-wing government slammed EU plans to deal with the ongoing refugee crisis by redistributing asylum-seekers among member states. The country’s Minister for European Affairs stated that “Poland must retain full control over its borders, asylum and immigration.”
Horst Seehofer, the conservative Prime Minister of Bavaria and a key ally of Angela Merkel, similarly declared that “we need to know who is traveling through our country. As well as more security measures, we need tighter control of the European borders, but also of the national borders.”
Giving in to such fear-mongering would be the biggest mistake Europe could make right now. It would give the attackers precisely what they were after: the intensification of nationalistic tensions, the framing of the attacks as part of a wider religious conflict, and the closure of Europe’s borders to the hundreds of thousands trying to escape from ISIS’ so-called “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.
The truth is that the terror attacks play straight into the hands of Europe’s xenophobic right, whose stereotypical over-reaction in turn reinforces the resolve of the jihadists, in a vicious cycle that will only lead to further bloodshed. Every time there is a terror attack, there is a rise in support for anti-immigrant parties; and wherever the right feels emboldened to attack or rail against Muslims, the jihadists present it as yet another justification and recruiting tool for their holy war against the infidels and crusaders.
The only thing that can break this vicious cycle is to step out of it: by refusing to give in to the fear, the binary narratives, the calls to close borders, to further abrogate civil liberties and militarize society.
Solidarity remains our single greatest weapon against terror in all its varieties. As the Arab Spring activist Iyad El-Baghdadi – who actively follows the chatter among hundreds of jihadist and Islamist accounts on Twitter – has noted: “nothing pissed off Islamist extremists” more than “watching [Europe’s] very humane, moral response to the refugee crisis.”
This observation makes sense. Many of the Syrian families that recently found refuge in Europe are directly fleeing ISIS’ terror. Others, of course, are escaping the state terror of the Assad regime, while a handful, undoubtedly, are foreign jihadists returning to Europe. And yet large parts of European society (not its states) welcomed the refugees with open arms, fundamentally undermining the “clash of civilizations” narrative on which both the European far-right and the jihadists depend for their political survival and success.
In this sense, the #RefugeesWelcome mobilizations of September were a thorn in the side of extremists on both sides of the supposed civilizational divide — because they actively broke down the false binary that sustains the divide in this first place. Friday’s attacks seemed to reflect this fact.
Unlike the last round of attacks in January, this time the jihadists struck neither the symbols of the French state (like its police, army or national monuments), not its Jewish community or its public intellectuals with a reputation for criticizing Islam (like the Charlie Hebdo editors or the Kosher supermarket).
Instead, as Manu Saadia has noted, the attacks directly targeted the symbols of cosmopolitan Paris: the bustling nightlife on the multicultural rive droite (“the land of hipster socialists”); the young people attending a concert by a Californian rock band; and the national stadium – the very epitome of the black, blanc, beur ideal of the Republic’s “successful” integration of immigrant minorities.
Friday’s cowardly attacks, in other words, deliberately avoided targeting the agents of imperialism and Islamophobia – rather, they directly targeted the progressive elements in French society, not just because they constituted an easy-to-hit “soft target”, but especially because they represent such an elementary threat to the various ideologies of hatred.
As for the Syrian passport, we still do not know who the document really belongs to, but one thing is clear: whoever brought it with them wanted it to be found. Why else carry a passport on a suicide mission? Taking the document was clearly intended to send a political message to the French people: “You bombed us and provided refuge to our enemies. Now we have penetrated your borders and infiltrated your society. You are not safe.”
If this sounds uncannily like the type of statements right-wing politicians like Marine Le Pen have been making over the past years, that is because it essentially reflects the same belligerent worldview – which is precisely why we must reject it. Europe must welcome refugees not in spite but because of what just happened in Paris.
The vast majority of refugees who have been arriving on Europe’s shores these past months are people fleeing from exactly the type of murderous violence that has now struck at the heart of the continent, and that already struck countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Russia before. Instead of setting us apart with ever higher walls and fences, Friday’s attacks should bring us closer to the victims of terror everywhere; Islamist terror as much as state and imperialist terror.
As human beings, we have a moral obligation to continue welcoming those fleeing conflict, wherever they may come from – just as we, as European citizens, have a strong political obligation to continue the fight against terror and fascism in all its forms and guises.