Everywhere is becoming like Israel in the need to take security measures that encroach further and further into daily life. One would not be surprised if Israelis did not feel a sense of schadenfreude; after all, those who criticized Israel as a police state now indulge in the same practices.
Paris recently saw terror stalk its streets again. This time, it was a stabbing attack that claimed one life and injured four others. The police shot the attacker; he screamed “Allahu akbar,” while carrying out his attack. This follows the terror attack in March at a supermarket in Carcassonne, southern France that saw four people killed. This included the police officer Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, who substituted himself for a hostage, enabling the storming of the supermarket by his comrades. He sacrificed himself in an act of supreme bravery. His death will not be the last.
Europe is facing dark times. The specter of Islamist terror hangs over the population of the Western part of the continent like a shroud, mirrored in the funeral shrouds of its victims. Britain was the country to suffer most in 2017, followed by Spain. In 2016, it was France and Germany. In 2015, it was France. The tide of violence that came in with the appearance of ISIS in 2014 has abated somewhat since that organization’s dismemberment in the dustbowl of Iraq and Syria. It is not an unseemly thing, however, to mourn and remember the dead: in 2015, there were 164 killed; in 2016, it was 145; in 2017, it was 56. These numbers show a decline it is true, but the impact on Europe’s psyche has been significant, as always happens with terrorism. That is its goal after all.
The mistake that we make is that we give into ‘mission accomplished’ syndrome. This was evident following Bin Laden’s death. Obama proclaimed the success of the operation that killed him, and many celebrated, as is understandable. However, the issue was that many also thought the Islamist threat was now over. This betrayed the view of the Islamist phenomenon as essentially organizational in nature: kill the leader of an organization, neutralize that organization, neutralize terrorism. This warped view of the problem led to such bon mots as Obama calling Islamist terrorism “Al-Qaeda inspired terrorism.” This fundamentally flawed conception of the problem demonstrated the inability to see the roots of the terror faced not as something emanating from organizations, but from a belief system that these organizations were grounded in. The belief system came first—not the other way around.
This explains the surprise that greeted the explosion of ISIS. Despite warnings from far-sighted experts like Peter R. Neumann, Maajid Nawaz and others, many in governments across the West were caught unawares. This lack of knowledge was partly borne of willful blindness. Terrorism experts and Middle East analysts worth their salt had been warning of events in the Middle East long before August 2014, but the government didn’t listen. Because of the lack of preparation, we saw such atrocities as the Charlie Hebdo massacre; the Copenhagen free-speech event attack; the Paris attacks which included the Bataclan massacre; the Brussels bombing; the Nice truck attack; the bombings in Germany over summer 2016; the Berlin Christmas market attack in December 2016; the Westminster Bridge attack in March 2017; the Manchester bombing in May 2017; the London Bridge attack in June 2017; the Barcelona truck attack in August 2017.
“In effect, everywhere is becoming like Israel in its need to take security measures that encroach further and further into daily life.”
We risk making the same mistake again following the defeat of ISIS last year. We risk slipping into a heightened sense of complacency—heightened because who can fail to notice the new security measures dotted around London? Who can fail to notice the barriers, bollards and other anti-vehicular missile measures? There used to be an argument from open-borders types that we should build bridges, not walls. Well, because of last year, in Britain, at any rate, we now have walls on our bridges, as Douglas Murray also suggested. One doesn’t hear the aforementioned argument so much now. In effect, everywhere is becoming like Israel in its need to take security measures that encroach further and further into daily life. One would not be surprised if Israelis did not feel a sense of schadenfreude at this; after all, those who criticize Israel as a police state now practice some of the same security arrangements. No one should expect this to lead to an upsurge in European sympathy for Israel, however; that would be too much to ask.
The threat from Islamist terrorism is not over. There are huge numbers of individuals that the security services in various countries are concerned about. There are so many that they cannot all be surveilled or monitored. The numbers are not concrete; there could be far less, but there could also be far more. They still make for grim reading. In Britain, there are 23,000–35,000 individuals that are of concern to security services, 3,000 of which the government is actively concerned about; in France, there are 17–20,000; in Belgium, there are over 18,000; in Germany, there are over 24,000; in Spain, there are 5,000. The numbers could be overestimated or underestimated, and we must not give into fear mongering, nor should we excuse anti-Muslim bigotry unless we wish to divide an already divided continent even more. However, to pretend that Europe is not facing a severe threat is to display wilful blindness. In Britain, there were 18 plots foiled from March 2013 to August 31, 2017. This includes 5 from March 2017 to August 2017 alone. Since last year, there have been 12 terrorist plots foiled. This situation is likely to worsen when Bin Laden’s son Hamza takes control of Al-Qaeda, with the potential to reunify the global jihadist movement.
These numbers take on new significance when one appreciates that the Islamist narrative many of these individuals buy into is fed by Saudi petrol funds, to the tune of billions of dollars. The salving of the consciences of Saudi Arabian dilettante princes has led directly to the blood-soaked hall of the Bataclan, to mangled bodies on the seafront at Nice, to the shrapnel pierced bodies in Manchester. The mosques that are funded by this money preach the harshest, most puritanical and extreme form of Islam, Wahhabism. This is the theology, combined with the works of Sayid Qutb, Hassan al-Banna and Abu Musab al-Suri among others that undergird Al-Qaeda and other Wahhabi Islamist groups. As Gilles Kepel describes in his book Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West, the Muslim population in France, especially the younger generations in the banlieues, are becoming more radicalized as a result of this narrative seeping into the wider culture.
This is also exacerbated by the crisis of identity that Europe is facing, that has left it unable to face the prospect of a struggle for belief in its midst: much better instead to focus on the logistical aspect of the problem rather than the root cause, as that might reveal a conflict of values that Europe is unable to face, hamstrung as it is by a paralysing cultural and moral relativism. Why would these young Muslims want to integrate or assimilate when all they’re offered is a post-modern inflected cultural discourse that says ‘everything about us is terrible, we can’t and don’t believe anything and there’s no point to us anymore.’ Is it any surprise that young Muslims respond to their alienation from this nihilism with a resounding ‘yes, we agree’?
Many in the European commentary class are concerned about a far-right backlash to these events; indeed, barely has one attack taken place before the warnings come out. It seems not to have occurred to these people that the rise in Islamist violence might actually fuel a growth in the far-right or populist right. Yes, we most definitely need to worry about both, but one came before the other, and because we didn’t even discuss the Islamist problem honestly, let alone deal with it, we are now facing a rise in far-right politics in response. As Neumann describes in his book Radicalized: New Jihadists and the Threat to the West, many right-wing terrorists – as well as political movements – actually rise as reactionary movements to restore what they see as the correctly ordered state, in response to some source of destabilization. This just displays the moral confusion eating away at Europe however; most people are perfectly able to single out and condemn far-right movements, and rightly so. We recognize this kind of incipient fascism and know what to do. We are less able when it comes to brown-skinned people espousing beliefs equally as violent and fascistic in their political aims, as the bigotry of low expectations, the mirror image of the noble-savage myth, has become firmly instantiated in modern European discourse. There is much work to be done to sort this mess out. Hopefully, this can be achieved in a way that avoids major unrest, as that would be better for everyone concerned.
Henry George is a freelance writer living in the UK.