Europe has been struggling for some time to cope with its disgruntled Muslim minorities, increasing refugee flows, and homegrown terrorists who radicalize through global jihadist cells and gain experience on the ground around the world before returning to create trouble. Europe-wide tension has recently increased following the terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 that killed 129 people and wounded hundreds more.
Several EU member states had already closed down their borders to migrants mainly from Syria and several others, including Germany, had suspended application of the Schengen system. The attacks in Paris have created yet another rush for increased security measures and even a virtual lockdown of Brussels, the capital of the EU. The reason behind this radical move was the hunt for one of the key suspects of the Paris attacks, 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam, who remains elusive despite several raids across Brussels.
Further intelligence about similar attacks to Paris raised the terror alert in Belgium to the highest level and prompted the authorities to shut down the subway system, cancel all events, and warn citizens to avoid public places due to an “imminent and serious” threat of attack, as Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel put it. No one knows when life will return to normal in Brussels.
Likewise, France’s National Assembly has extended the country’s state of emergency for three months, allowing warrantless police raids and detention of suspects to ensure public safety. French police have also extended a ban on demonstrations and other gatherings through Nov. 30.
Also last week, EU member states agreed on strict measures including passport checks and cracking down on weapons trafficking in order to protect and monitor the EU’s external borders, as the investigations about the Paris attacks confirmed that the perpetrators traveled through Greece and used the same routes as hundreds of thousands of migrants to reach EU territory.
All these measures might ensure the safety of Europeans temporarily, but they will not address the root issue: The problem of homegrown terrorists returning home. The deep anxiety and fear caused by these measures among ordinary citizens disrupt life, spread fear, increase instability, and erode governments’ credibility by forcing them to limit civil rights. All of these are the desired outcomes that terrorist groups want to achieve in the first place with their hideous attacks. One would have expected a more sophisticated response from EU member states to combat the problem, rather than locking down capitals and closing frontiers in an attempt to secure Europe as in medieval times.
The increasing number of Europeans joining the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) reveal an overwhelming problem. According to Gilles de Kerchove, the EU’s counterterrorism chief, at least 4,000 Europeans have joined ISIL so far, while many others have been radicalized through the Internet. While Belgium is the world’s highest per-capita contributor of fighters to ISIL - with an estimated 500-plus Belgian recruits - France, Germany and others closely follow. This is the main problem that Europe needs to deal with.
It is also facing another crisis with the related issue of migration from already radicalized regions. The initial reactions of member states show that several are using terrorism as a cover for their reluctance to accept migrants, the real sufferers of the crises in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and others. The prevailing populist discourse against migrants and Muslim minorities inevitably feeds into ISIL’s own rhetoric.
The fight against terrorism necessitates a collective response, nuanced approaches, and a quick return to daily routines - not a medieval-style response of lock downs.