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29 July 2016

Europe Under Attack

Written by: Naheed Mehta MBE, Senior Advisor-International Affairs at Edelman

Government Affairs

Vivid scenes of Europeans mourning have sadly become all too familiar of late. France and Germany seem to be at the eye of the storm, but Belgium, Spain and the UK have not been immune from terrorism in the recent past.

The meteoric rise of Islamic State, or Daesh has increased the threat level in Europe. It is clear they have declared war on the Continent.

President Hollande was quick to declare a State of Emergency in France, whilst the German Government took a more proportionate view. They intensified their police presence at airports; stations and ports, and increased the number of stop and search operations at their borders.

But why are these countries under attack – particularly Germany with its welcome policy for Syrians? Although, in discussing this it is worth noting that two of the four attacks were by people with mental health issues, and not directed by Daesh.

Due in part to its colonial history in North Africa, France has for many years been a target for various international terrorist groups, from al-Qaeda (AQ); AQ in the Islamic Mahgreb and most recently Daesh. The latter stating France’s involvement in Syria as reason to carry out murderous crimes. Many cite France’s rigorous desire to be secular; evidenced by their zero tolerance of the wearing of the hijab, as reason for being singled out by Islamist terrorism. However, one also needs to look at France’s poor record of racial integration. Many first, second and third generation immigrants feel excluded and let down. Protests and violence has erupted many times over the years in the small forgotten concrete jungle of Department 93 – the so-called banlieues, where, immigrants from Africa and the Middle East mainly live. The often-ignored warning signs have been there, growing and fermenting, and are now manifesting themselves in the most tragic way. The disaffected youth are easily radicalised and motivated to violence by groups like Daesh who manipulate them and persuade them to attack their own country in the name of Islam. Home-grown terrorism strikes a particular chord and is more visceral than other types of violence.

So, the question is what are the French Security Services doing? Sadly, the six intelligence services in France, tend to compete against each other rather than co-operate. This confusion gives terrorists the upper hand. Although it would be wrong to say they have not had any successes. The UK intelligence services learned the lessons from the 7/7 attacks in 2005 and our three agencies forged much closer links as a result.

The Germans have not followed the French example and flooded their streets with soldiers but have taken a more nuanced approach to what have been smaller scale attacks. They also have strict constitutional rules on deploying the military on German streets. Chancellor Merkel will have to show continued leadership, as she handles this crisis, both from a security perspective and a political one. There is an ever-growing groundswell of criticism of her policy to allow so many Syrian refugees into the country. She will need to find a balance between law and order and civil liberties; indeed, gun control laws are already being reviewed. She has already signalled that she will not change course on giving safe haven to Syrian refugees, but has proposed new measures on information sharing.

The sad reality is that Daesh will want to keep up their bloody agenda. European security services will be doing everything they can within their power to counter them by identifying networks and individuals and disrupting and preventing further attacks. The UK has a good track record in this area, but is not complacent.

Governments now not only have to talk the language of security, they have to prove that they can keep their citizens safe from terror – not an easy task when the attacks are becoming increasingly low-tech (one lone terrorist with an easily accessible weapon, such as a knife). Plus, many of these terrorists are so-called ‘clean-skins’ – those not known to the intelligence services. The public put a lot of faith in the structures of State, but they can withdraw their trust if they do not believe that politicians and the intelligence services are doing enough to ensure their safety and security.
There are plenty of right-wing political parties in Europe who believe they can do better; their rhetoric exciting strong emotions and promoting further discord. However, the truth is that even if they were to win, they would face the same security challenges and there is no guarantee that incidences of terror would decrease.

It is worth mentioning that Daesh are under considerable pressure in Syria and Iraq and have mounted horrific attacks in the Middle East and Turkey, killing many Muslims. Also, the most recent attacks in Nice, Rouen and Munich show no direct control by Daesh or their networks.

I feel that Europe is on the brink. At present, Daesh seems to be successful at sowing doubt and promoting disharmony. The challenge for all politicians is to ensure that these barbaric acts do not distort our values, beliefs and principles, or change our lives forever.

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