WASHINGTON – As terrible as they are, the Paris terror attacks are not that surprising. There are several Islamic terror breeding networks scattered around the Middle East. Al Qaeda is still out there, probably operating from Western Pakistan. There is the (self-defined) Islamic State, (also known as ISIL, or ISIS), still very much in control of large parts of Syria and Northern Iraq. There are al Qaeda offshoots in Yemen.
Jihad is popular
As we all know, this endless jihadi effervescence has captured the imagination of many young European, Australian and American Muslims. Feeling marginalized and disaffected in the Western countries where they were born or raised, they find the escapist millenarian ideology fostered by radical Islamic groups quite appealing. Probably many of them believe that, by joining this struggle, they will finally be able to give meaning to their lives.
Therefore, some of them travel to Syria to join what seems to them as a winning jihad. Others receive terror training elsewhere. Among all of these would be holy warriors, at least some decided to put their training into practice by killing the journalists of Charlie Hebdo and some of the customers at the Jewish market in Paris.
Sadly, while killings like these will not be that frequent, it is likely that we are going to see more of them. And this is simply because it is impossible to find a neat “solution” to this problem of young people who believe in crazy ideas (disguised as true religion) who turn into violent fanatics.
It is obvious that, in the short-term, main stream Islam is incapable of discrediting and therefore delegitimizing this violent offspring. Unfortunately, the bizarre notion that it is indeed noble and good to kill “the enemies” of the true faith “In the Name of God” has an extremely powerful appeal. Of course, as with all waves of fanaticism, at some point this one will also go away.
But, for the moment, its appeal is very strong. And it is here to stay.
Too many angry young Muslims
Indeed, there are simply too many young unhappy Muslims spread around several countries. Obviously, only a fraction of them are up to no good, plotting their own mini-jihad. Still, this threat is spread all over; and therefore it is hard to contain it.
How can Western police and intelligence services, with limited resources, keep tabs on every possible suspect? This is impossible. By the same token, even when declaring a heightened state of alert, it is equally impossible to guard and protect every soft target, in so many countries. There are just too many of them. As the Paris events have demonstrated, just a couple of young fanatics can kill people, while creating national chaos.
Be that as it may, these high-profile attacks perpetrated by just a few radical Muslims give strength to many growing xenophobic, anti-Islam political movements that are bubbling up all over Europe. The best known is the National Front in France. But there are many others, from the Netherlands to Sweden, Poland and Germany.
Anti-Muslim movement getting stronger in Germany
A German anti-Islam movement is becoming more organized. Here is a summary of a recent BBC report on Pegida, acronym for “Patriotische Europaer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes” , “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West”.
“A record 18,000 people turned out recently at one rally in Dresden. Thousands of people marched in Berlin, Cologne, Dresden and Stuttgart. Pegida was founded in Dresden by activist Lutz Bachmann in October 2014. It is an umbrella group for the German right-wing, attracting support from mainstream conservatives to neo-Nazi factions and football hooligans. Pegida holds street protests against what it sees as a dangerous rise in the influence of Islam over European countries. In a 19 points manifesto Pegida says the movement opposes extremism and calls for protection of Germany’s Judeo-Christian culture.
A poll of just over 1,000 people carried out by Germany’s Stern magazine found one in eight Germans would join an anti-Islam march if Pegida organised one near their home. Germany receives more refugees and asylum seekers than any other EU country. Many of those have come from war-torn Syria”.
Get rid of all the Muslims
So here are the ingredients for a dangerous escalation. In Europe there are now several grass-roots, anti-immigrant, and mostly anti-Islam movements whose members believe that Western societies will lose their identity, because of too many “alien elements” –mostly Muslims– immigrating there.
Now, in the aftermath of the Paris high-profile attacks, the leaders of these movements can claim that this terrorism is conclusive proof that they have been right all along: “Muslims are alien elements that as a minimum pollute Western civilization, while many of them are actively trying to destroy it”.
Hard to believe how in this poisoned climate it will be possible to welcome, let alone assimilate, the growing number of Muslims from the Middle East or North Africa who try to get to Europe, legally and illegally, every day. On the contrary, we can expect random attacks against Muslim communities in European countries, while political forces that want them expelled will gain strength.
Since this wave of (mostly Muslim) immigrants from poor countries in North Africa and from war-torn Syria is not about to end, the mix of openly unwanted newcomers and xenophobic movements who want them out is likely to become explosive.