Europe on the brink of societal division over Islam
by Begüm Tunakan
ISTANBULJan 15, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Begüm Tunakan
Jan 15, 2015 12:00 am
European societies are becoming divided over Islam’s threat to Western culture after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. While prominent political leaders have promoted Islam in Europe, the uncompromising stance in society toward Muslims in Europe is gradually increasing
Europe is divided over how to react to Islam since the recent Charlie Hebdo attack that has fuelled anti-Islamic movements in Europe. Amid calls from European leaders to show solidarity and unity with European Muslims, the uncompromising stance taken against Muslims and the growing tendency of associating Muslims with terrorism has led to greater division on the societal level. While Islamophobic movements are gaining support in Europe, many non-Muslim Europeans, together with many Muslim organizations, have joined demonstrations of solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
In the face of growing far-right extremism fuelled by the Paris massacre, Europe's prominent leaders have tried to divert European anger from targeting Islam. "France is not at war against Islam," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared, while Angela Merkel stressed on Monday, "Islam belongs to Germany." However, the words have apparently not helped prevent many Europeans from supporting the Islamophobic populism that has created rifts among Europeans. As well as Dresden's 25,000-strong PEGIDA march, Germany has witnessed several anti-Islam demonstrations and racially motivated attacks organized by far-right extremist groups. There has been weekly anti-Islam rallies organized by far-right populist groups in various German cities. The anti-Islam movements in several German cities, but primarily in the eastern city of Dresden, have created a view of Islam as a major threat, representing the views of far-right groups and political parties. On the other hand, Germany's political and religious leaders, along with Muslim community organizations, united on Tuesday to challenge the growing anti-Islamic sentiment that has manifested itself in rallies organized by the right-wing movement Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West.
France is home to the largest Muslim population in Europe with an estimated population of over 8 million. Germany is home to 3 million Muslims in a total population of nearly 81 million. It has the second largest Muslim population in Western Europe after France.
Considering the Europe-wide nationalist resurgence, Muslim immigrants are viewed as the new enemy of European society. Europe's far-right movements and political parties have become socially acceptable. France's Marine Le Pen of the Front National, Britain's Nigel Farage of the U.K. Independence Party and Germany's new far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party have recently been on the rise, along with a general anti-Islamic populism in Europe where there has been a considerable far-right shift. Strong showings for these right parties are a sign of Europe safeguarding European traditional values, while rejecting a united Europe with open borders.
The Charlie Hebdo massacre has shown that the most serious terrorist threat Europe faces does not comes from the Middle East or West Africa but EU nationals who support ISIS or al-Qaeda-linked militants. While reassessing the terrorist threat to Europe, it has been acknowledged that homegrown militants have become the major threat for European countries. The security threat posed by ISIS-linked homegrown militants has recently drawn much more attention in Europe. Europe's police organization Europol underscored that the roughly 5,000 radicalized European fighters in Syria will continue to pose a greater risk to European countries as they become more hostile to the West. The two perpetrators of last week's Charlie Hebdo attack, the Kouachi brothers, are also homegrown militants who made connections with al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). They were French nationals who grew up in France. A large number of French men have looked to travel to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside radical Islamic State and al-Sham (ISIS) militants. "There are 1,400 individuals who are involved in departures for jihad, for terrorism, in Syria and in Iraq," French Prime Minister Valls said Monday, according to AFP. German police stated that around 550 people from Germany have travelled to the war zone in Syria and Iraq, DPA reported.
The large number of homegrown terrorists is an indication that European countries have to take significant measures to stop the flow of militants who are looking to return to their homelands or want to travel abroad to fight alongside ISIS militants. Therefore, open borders and the liberal tolerance championed by the European Union has long been criticized by EU member states.
A global strategy introduced by the European Union and the United Nations is apparently falling short when it comes to preventing the radicalization and recruitment of terrorists, as the Paris massacre sadly showed. A series of security priorities, which include pursuing efforts to prevent people in Europe being radicalized by virulent militants or travelling to fight in Syria, was agreed to by EU interior ministers in a meeting last Sunday. Tighter border controls and a change in passport-free travel rules were also agreed to by the EU ministers. In addition, the closure of European doors to immigration is also on the EU agenda as a counter precautionary move to prevent militants' flow into Europe. France has also considered offering a new model for a successful counter-terrorism strategy that would reduce the radicalization problem to a minimum.