Monday, November 16, 2015

Europe’s 9/11 Moment: Growing Intolerance, Religious and Ethnic, Would Erode the Liberal Basis of Europe

By Indranil Banerjie
Nov 15, 2015
Sadly, the overwhelming majority of those fleeing to Europe were running from the very Islamists who were behind the Paris carnage. Their future now looks bleak.
Saturday’s cold-blooded terrorist shootings across Paris, that left an estimated 128 dead and hundreds wounded, is bound to trigger multiple reactions across Europe. The event, in all probability, will prove to be Europe’s 9/11, a historical turning point.
The Saturday carnage will throw up two sets of interrelated challenges for Europe. How these are addressed and managed will determine not just the future of Europe, but of several nations around the globe.
The first set of challenges has to do with security. How does a national security apparatus deal with cold-blooded killings by ideologically motivated individuals who have no regard for their own lives?
Saturday’s coordinated and concurrent terrorist strikes suggest that the city’s extensive surveillance and intelligence networks are not up to the challenge posed by suicide or, as we call them, “Fidayeen” attacks.
India was found similarly short in Mumbai in the face of a Pakistani terrorist strike in November 2008. The killing of hundreds of innocent Mumbaikars exposed enormous gaps in India’s security apparatus and its working; it also evoked nationwide outrage.
Seven years down the line, nothing much has changed in the overall security conditions in India. Cities and other urban complexes remain highly vulnerable to terrorist strikes.
Just as the police have lost interest in maintaining and manning CCTV cameras, so have the general populace in expressing concern about security conditions. Like pollution levels, bad governance and corruption the fatalistic Indian expects the security atmosphere to be no better.
Europeans on the other hand will not be as insouciant. They expect governments to be far more responsive to citizens’ needs and demands. No European government can expect to survive popular displeasure.
The question, now, is whether French and other European security networks will be able to secure their people from acts of random Fidayeen killing?
Is it possible at all to secure millions of civilians through constant surveillance, vast numbers of policemen and armies of intelligence operatives?
While all of these means can be used to minimise terrorist intent, they cannot be foolproof as long as there are terrorist havens in parts of the world — Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are today’s principal incubators of international Islamic terrorism — where fidayeens are trained, motivated and equipped.
As long as these terrorist havens exist no part of the world will be entirely secure.
The US, and some of its European allies, sensed the problem and intervened where they thought they could with impunity — in poverty- ridden Afghanistan; in Syria and Iraq where they desperately wanted regime changes.
They did not intervene or do enough in a number of countries such as Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey that were complicit in one way or the other in fanning terrorist flames in areas of their strategic interest.
Europe, too, has been neck deep in the dubious politics of West Asia and North Africa.
When terrorists were trained and let loose to destroy the Syrian regime led by Bashar al-Assad, they were “good” terrorists, similar to the “freedom fighters” unleashed in Kashmir by Pakistan.
For Turkey, potential Islamic State of Iraq and Syria supporters were good as long as they fought the Kurds in neighbouring Syria and Iraq.
The Wahhabi regimes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, similarly, employed “good” terrorists to bring down the “infidels” in Baghdad and Damascus.
One reason why these powers have for years resisted any move to define terrorists and terrorism in the United Nations is that an absolute definition would preclude any such distinction between “useful” and “bad” terrorists.
The US and several European powers, France included, have been and continue to be involved in these murky regime games. Can they change now?
The prognosis is not good. Europe’s limp leaders have for long used money to play geopolitics and largely kept away from active involvement. When any potential threat becomes too large to ignore they use bribery to mitigate it.
Will the tired leaders of an aging Europe now muster the vigour to take the bull by its horns? Again, the answer is that it is unlikely.
Instead, they will divert more money into internal security, intelligence gathering and Air Force. More people in Asia and Africa will be bombed and many regimes will be paid off to maximise European security.
To get this tawdry framework to work will be Europe’s first challenge.
The second will be cultural. How will the people in France and other parts of liberal, pampered Europe react to the horrible killings in Paris?
The most obvious targets are Muslim immigrants streaming into Europe from the killing fields of West Asia. Right-wing reaction in Europe is bound to be anti-immigrant, and in many ways opposition to large uncontrolled population exchanges is only to be expected.
Sadly, the overwhelming majority of those fleeing to Europe were running from the very Islamists who were behind the Paris carnage. Their future now looks bleak.
The other target of right-wing opinion in Europe would be the substantial Muslim populations of many countries including France. Such a reaction would exacerbate latent discontent and help provide a bridgehead to Islamist radicals from Asia and Africa.
Worse, growing intolerance, religious and ethnic, would erode the liberal basis of Europe and undermine the very spirit that contributed to its present day greatness.
The 9/11 attacks made the US harder and meaner. But the people accepted it; new laws that severely curtailed the privacy of citizens were accepted, airports all over the US were allowed unprecedented personal intrusions and no international visitor could claim immunity from the infamous “finger test”.
Americans largely accepted the changes as a price they had to pay for security. But 9/11 was, in some ways, the day the music really died in America. Will it be the same in Europe?
Indranil Banerjie is an independent security and political risk consultant.

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