Attack in Nice is a crime against humanity but should not fuel intolerance

July 17, 2016

The horrendous attack in Nice on Bastille Day is a crime against humanity. The atrocity, which was overwhelm­ingly denounced around the world — as it should have been — underlines the need for even more vigorous action by Arab and Muslim leaders, in particular, to combat radicalisation narratives and prevent jihadist recruitment of vulnerable Muslim youth.
Europeans should not succumb to the temptation of fear and suspicion. European nationals of Arab origin and the Muslim faith as well as the newly arrived migrants from the Middle East and North Africa are also victims, not just in the sense that some of them died in the attack but because the terrorist slaughter could make their lives more difficult through no fault of their own.
Even before the attack there had been indications of mounting suspicion and intolerance in Europe. A Pew Research Center poll released this month revealed that the presence of foreign migrants is too often associated with terrorism and economic burden. The poll also showed increasing reluctance among Europeans to accept ethnic, national or cultural diversity.
In none of the European countries polled did a majority say that increasing diversity “makes their country a better place to live”.
The highest percentage of respondents who said diversity had a positive effect on the quality of life in their country was in Sweden (36%), Britain (33%) and Spain (31%). The highest rates of resentment of diversity were in Greece (63%), Italy (53%), Hungary (41%) and Poland (40%).
Europe’s tendency towards cultural insularity could not raise its head at a more inopportune time.
The security fears and economic worries over foreign migration are not surprising considering the continued attempts by anti-migration and anti-Muslim parties in Europe to paint migrants as a threat. Barbaric acts such as the one perpetrated in Nice can only give ammunition to xenophobic tendencies.
However, opposition to cultural diversity goes against both the grain of history and the values that make Europe unique.
“It was not isolation but openness that made Europe such an incredible place and project,” Federica Mogherini, vice-president of the European Commission, told the Culture Forum in Brussels last April. “Our culture inspired the world because it was always inspired by the world.”
For Europe, addressing the problem requires a more responsible discourse on the part of politicians, despite the horror in Nice. Education and the media must also play roles. The Pew poll showed that the higher the educational level, the less propensity there is to be hostile to diversity.
The whole world, not just Europe, needs not only to fight terror but also to oppose cultural uniformity and xenophobia.
Cultural, ethnic and sectarian diversity has been one of the key targets of extremist and terrorist organisations, including the Islamic State. The terrorist group’s totalitarian project has included ethnic, sectarian and cultural cleansing, especially in Syria and Iraq.
Other regions of the world expect Europe to be an inspiration and an example of tolerance and peaceful diversity, especially at a time when peace and tolerance are under attack in much of the world.