Expert Speak Atlantic Files
Published on Mar 25, 2016
Why Paris and Brussels are game changers

The biggest battle of the 21st century may well have been triggered by the Paris and Brussels attacks. Duking it out will be right wing hyper nationalists and Islamic supremacists. As Europe becomes the new theatre of terror with dubious immigration policies ramping up Muslim population in France and Belgium to as much as 9.6 per cent and 6 per cent respectively, the mainland now has to effectively cauterise the wounds created by Islamic radicalisation. Easier said than done, for liberalism practiced by different governments in different parts of Western Europe has led to the almost silent entry of the home grown guerrilla warrior from within. Islamist fighters returning from the battlefronts of north Africa have transposed the learnings from there to create mayhem in Paris -- twice -- and Brussels more recently.

Europe has a new phenomenon of Jihadi transnational elements. Its genesis can be traced back to Belgium which became home to many members of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM). This network operated out of the city of Maaseik in Belgium near the Dutch border. It gradually spread to a Brussels borough called Molenbeek where a Socialist Mayor Philipe Moureaux (1992-2012), a known anti Semite and considered the Godfather of Jihad, practiced a unique Islamo Municipalism or the right to diversity for the Muslim migrants. By pandering to radical Islam and allowing it to fester in the decrepit bylanes of Molenbeek, Moureaux was single handedly responsible for the creeping Jihad Central. His deep addiction to power propelled the hellfire of criminality, anti-Semitism and Sharia in the Brussels borough. More than that, easy immigration policies have come back to haunt Europe. These waves of immigration have helped create a constituency of cheap labour and obliviousness on the part of fat cat governments to tackle what was happening at a subterranean level as the linkages between radical Islamists in Europe and North Africa grew manifold and unhindered. Europe has seen violence and bloodbaths repeatedly since the cataclysmic events of 9/11 -- Madrid in 2004 (191 dead), London in 2005 (53 dead) and Paris twice last year (17 dead in January and 137 in November). But Paris and Brussels are game changers, for as the immediate past has shown us, guerrilla attacks are the new stratagem and the European security forces appear ill equipped to deal with this asymmetrical algorithm. It took the French nearly four months to capture Paris mastermind Salah Abdelsalam, its reprisal sending temblors across Brussels airport and metro.

"The European jihadi underground revolves around experienced jihad entrepreneurs, who recruit and socialise misfits and drifters, politicise grievances they may have, and employ them as tools for transnational militants, such as al-Qaeda and IS. Social despair may create a hospitable environment for recruitment, but in many cases social ties and loyalty to entrepreneurs are sufficient driving forces. From this perspective, the Belgian jihadi situation seems to be affected by chains of unfortunate coincidences, which led to a concentration of militants enjoying particularly high status and authority among jihadis (e.g. Farid Mellouk, the al-Haski brothers, Malika el Aroud, Moez Garsallaoui). These high-profile activists attracted loyal supporters, creating the critical mass needed to spark further recruitment," recently wrote Petter Nesser, a senior researcher with the Terrorism Research Group, at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment.

Politically, right wing forces in Europe alive to how the terror networks are succeeding against the weak defence mechanism of nation states will now begin to close ranks against Islamist radicals. Islamophobia and hyper nationalism will be the way forward. European nations cannot forget in a hurry the historical legacy of colonialism, racism, discrimination and prejudice as the reasons for the immigration waves. France in particular has a brutal history of repression in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

Like Molenbeek in Belgium which before the Paris attacks had become a no go zone, 'moral cowardice' is cited as the principal reason for western Europe's non interference in these radicalised ghettos and failure to challenge rising extremism. And as with sores which are allowed to fester, they have become gangrenous. These ghettos are the new incubators of terror. In France, they are known as banlieue. These outliers of big European capitals are the new threat percept to nationhood. The Telegraph, London reported that, “There are a lot of alienated and angry fourth-generation immigrant kids in the suburbs and the prospect of radicalisation is increasingly likely.” Heart burn on the other side of this religious divide has led to the return of hyper nationalism across Europe. In what is reminiscent of the Crusade and the clash of civilisations, this conflagration will become the centre piece of the wars in the 21st century.

Last December, the Express in London reported that the swing to the far right was a reality in Europe on the back of the anti immigration rhetoric. From Greece to Germany and Switzerland to Sweden, far-right protestors and parties have stormed the mainstream of European politics as voters rebel against years of predominantly socialist rule. In France Marine Le Pen's controversial Front National came within a whisker of winning control over swathes of the country, whilst the traditionally liberal societies of Scandinavia turned their backs on moderates amid unprecedented migratory pressure. In 2013, Germany spent roughly $14,340 to house and feed each refugee in its care. The far Right in Europe has capitalised on the refugee crisis to galvanise sentiment and emotion.

Since nature abhors a vacuum, this chaotic political vacuum is being exploited by the far right. Austria, Denmark and even welfare states like Finland and Sweden, Hungary in eastern Europe, Netherlands are seeing a surge in hyper nationalism over the refugee crisis. Last year saw as many as one million migrants knocking on Europe's doors. With Donald Trump unleashing his brand of Islamophobia in the US and the BJP using ultra nationalism as a plank in the impending state elections, the nebulous description of what constitutes anti nationalism and what is the connotation of nationalism will only grow stronger. With three of the four states going to the polls in April-May in India having Muslim population in excess of 27 per cent, the role of illegal Bangladeshi migration in West Bengal and Assam has become a contentious and picky election issue. It is unfortunate that the word is being divided by religion again. More attacks will only strengthen the resolve of ultra nationalists and their return. In the cathedral of equality, the biggest casualty will be religion and ethnicity. No nation will tolerate war being waged against it - asymmetrical or conventional - and more so if religion is used as the instrumentality and weapon for this change. The new axis of evil has to be cut off, but wealthy failed states in Europe have to find new willpower and resilience to deal with the phenomenon called Islamic terror.

The enemy is at their gates, civilisations don't sustain themselves by adopting non violent means. A surgical ferreting will have to be done across ghettos in Europe. The process will lead to pain and upheaval, but it will have to be done now. A massive tourniquet is the only alternative for rapidly sliding Europe. Otherwise there will be more blood on the streets.

The author is a senior journalist and commentator based in New Delhi.

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Ritika Prasad

Ritika Prasad

Ritika Prasad Student Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS)

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