The lessons of Paris
Following the terrorist attacks of November 13th on Paris, France is introducing a series of stringent measures to provide additional security for its citizens and visitors. What is surprising is how willingly the French allowed the state new powers in exchange for a promise of more security.
The French are driven by fear and they are not alone in their willingness to trade liberties in exchange for security. Much the same happened in the United States in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The American public was so shocked that it agreed wholeheartedly to grant the federal government unprecedented powers, hoping it would protect them from the bad guys.
And if the Americans were worried about potential terrorist attacks despite the fact that their country was protected by two vast oceans, Europe is far more vulnerable. Terrorists do not need aeroplanes to infiltrate the European continent. They can take the train or they can drive a car. Heck, they can even walk across the borders into Europe.
Although the recent flow of refugees may be changing this state of affairs, border security policies in Europe have been rooted in wishful thinking. There were no real safeguards to offset the risks inherent in freedom of movement.
Concealed with the hundreds of thousands of refugees crossing the Mediterranean into Europe, some terrorists were bound to infiltrate migrant ranks. And they did. Still entering Europe remains far easier than entering the United States.
Europe needs the Arab world much more than the United States does. European powers have maintained strong ties with those former colonies in economic, cultural and financial fields.
Europe also needs Arab migration to rejuvenate its ageing population. At the end of the day, it will have to find a way to come to terms with its growing Muslim population.
Islamist terrorism is not uniquely a European problem. It has become a global concern. And for the first time possibly in recorded history, the United States, Europe, the Chinese and the Russians all agree — at least in the UN Security Council — that the Islamist threat is a common concern.
But more than anywhere else, the jihadist problem is that of the Arab world.
Arab regimes have generally been sidelined or rather have mostly sidelined themselves in the fight against terrorism, allowing Europeans and the Americans to take the lead.
This will have to change if the problem of Islamist terrorism is to be solved. The powers that be in the Arab world need to wake up to the fact that nobody can clean their houses better than themselves. They also need to understand that putting your house in order does not mean levelling entire cities in your own country or continuing the disenfranchisement of your own citizens.
The West should think twice before engaging in military interventions aimed at re-engineering Arab political systems. The results since the invasion of Iraq and the NATO-led campaign in Libya should have been dissuasive enough. Such interventions have created a fertile ground for jihadists.
It was only a matter of time before that new “realism” would prod Europeans to a focus on stability rather than democratic proselytising in the MENA region. That was in fact the essence of its new EU neighbourhood policy. You can bet, no senior Algerian and Moroccan officials will be arrested again, anytime soon, at French airports and questioned about torture allegations, as was the case in recent times. Moroccan intelligence cooperation was very crucial to track down the leaders of the Paris attacks.
Beyond fear, there is now a fundamental rethink in Europe. Some politicians will probably pay the price for the mistakes made. Many Europeans are wondering why it came as a surprise to the governments of Paris and Brussels that home-grown jihadists returned home to wreak havoc after lethal stints in Syria and/or Iraq. As expected, and as predicted in this very space, it was only a matter of time before the chickens would come home to roost. And they have.