The start of 2015 is one to forget as soon as possible, but not soon to be forgotten. If we want to avoid such occurrences in Europe then it is about time we try to understand why such an attack took place in Paris by young adults born and raised in the heart of Europe.
Since the Paris attacks media has become a huge fear-producing machine. Mainstream media, across all European states, covered every second of the events, as they feared that after France, they could be next. On social media, and even beyond its bounds, one hears references to ‘World War III’, ‘Attack on the West’, ‘War with Muslims’ and so on. To some, the Paris attack was a inevitable sign of Armageddon.
In Belgium, where I live, police unions demanded that policemen be able to take their service weapons’ home ‘against the danger of IS’. The Ministers of Defense and Internal Affairs are even investigating a legislative amendment to allow the deploying of the army in our streets. In Antwerp the police raided several homes and arrested people because they had been spreading ‘hate messages on social media’.
There is growing insecurity all over Europe because of the crisis we are facing. In fact there are quite some sociologists who claim that we live in a fear society. Escalating and peddling more fear will have serious consequences not only for basic rights and liberties, but also on (the peacefulness of) our daily lives. The media and politicians undoubtedly have a significant responsibility on how they interpret and inform the citizens on events such as the recent ones in Paris.
Europe is in crisis and this carries consequence, whether we like it or not. It can have positive ones; such as the growing number of innovative solidarity and grassroots projects all over Europe.
But this crisis has also negative consequences such as the excessive growth of extreme right parties and movements all over Europe, even in Scandinavia. In Greece we have seen that the extremism of Golden Dawn has led to violence and the killing of innocent people.
Looking at the profile of Golden Dawn voters or UKIP voters in England, it appears that such parties are gaining popularity among socially excluded people/groups. The three perpetrators in France all share the common trait that they spent their youth excluded and marginalized from society. We also know that the overwhelming majority of European youth who are leaving to Syria are living in poverty and exclusion. This begs the question; ‘are these youths falling victim to extremism because of their social and economic status’?
The case of Belgium
Belgium has the highest number of jihadist recruits per capita of any western European country. This is no coincidence. According Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) no other country in Europe has fewer immigrants active on the labour market. There are two reasons for this OSCE says: racism and discrimination on the one hand, and inequality within education system on the other. According to figures from the University of Antwerp half of the Turkish and Moroccan migrants are living in poverty. Figures by ‘Policy Research Center’ show that about 30% of the migrant youth drop out of school without a degree. Brussels delivers almost half of the recruits and Vilvoorde, a little city in Flanders, the highest number proportionally speaking. Both of the cities have the highest rate of inequality and overwhelming poverty.
Even highly-educated migrants are facing racism and discrimination. Six percent of autochthon Belgians with a high degree does not have a job. For Belgians with migrant background (non EU countries) with the same degrees the figure is 22 percent. Although the majority of IS recruits are drop-outs and/or living in poverty, there are a small number highly-educated youths joining IS.
The social-economical misery is not the only cause. History is also important; as any dialogue with a Muslim youth will show. Muslims have been oppressed in their own countries by dictators such as Muammar Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein, both supported by Western countries. The West has started many wars in the Middle East, such as the two most recent in Afghanistan or Iraq. The Iraqi war was based on lies, as there were no weapons of mass destruction found. Palestine is occupied by Israel, which on a regular basis attacks Gaza and is responsible for the death of thousands of innocent citizens, from journalists to children. The war in Syria is still going on and three million Syrians already left their country, thousands have died meanwhile the West stand idly by. The Muslim youth knows this, sees the images on the Internet and are revolted by the injustice. Some of these youths fall prey to Al-Qaeda or IS recruiters. This is why our focus should be not on punishing the youth but these recruiters who are brainwashing our youths and taking them away from their families.
Long before 9/11 and especially since, Muslims and Islam have been depicted as a danger to the West. It does not matter where these Muslims live, nor that they have been born and raised in Europe, they remain strangers and a potential danger. Media, politicians, and authors have created this image and still promote it. Many in the West fail to see and acknowledge the normal lives and positive examples of the 99,9 percent of Muslims by focusing on the extremist 0,1 percent. This fact furthermore, revolts many Muslim youths, as while they struggle through life as most of us do, they are labeled unwanted and considered as a danger.
A third cause is the failure of the Muslim community on certain points, such as informing their youth on Islam. Most of the youth that has left and is leaving to join IS or other movements, which in fact have no or very limited knowledge of Islam. As reported in the English media they had various youths buying ‘Islam for dummies’ on Amazon before leaving to Syria. We need a better framework and network within this community to inform and educate the youth. The parents have also an important role to play. In this respect, the state should support the community and parents where and when necessary.
What future for the Muslim youth in Europe?
The best way to deal with extremism of any kind is to offer people a future they can believe in. The Muslim youth who left to fight in Syria and Iraq are youths that had few or no perspectives in Europe. What the EU and European states should do is tackle the social-economical problems, racism and discrimination and provide these youths with a potential perspective here and now. Be that as it may, the foreign policy of western countries is a huge problem and it is a shame that Obama and EU have received the Nobel Prize for Peace. Equally important is that media and politicians assume their responsibility and realize that their discourse on Islam and Muslims matters. It would be a step forward if they would focus more on the overwhelming majority of Muslims, their problems and challenges, as well as their contributions to European countries.