Migration, Terrorism and the Quest for Transatlantic Sanity

Photo: Reuters/Michaela Rehle
Photo: Reuters/Michaela Rehle

The debate in Europe and the United States has been hijacked by a simple and false amalgam that Syrian refugees are the same type of people that have bombed a Russian airliner and killed over 120 civilians in the streets of Paris. Such amalgam is resonating among the citizens of the Euro-Atlantic nations and is affecting societal unity as well as serious policy-making.

American and European Discourses

In the United States, the political debate for constructive policy-making and governance is on hold until the November 2016 Presidential elections. So far, the political debate has been framed by the large pool of Republican presidential hopefuls seeking for attention and party nomination. Because of the two-step process of American elections, candidates ought to win their party

Photo:
Photo: AP

primaries in order to face the opposition in the second round. Historically, this part of the race is the most extreme and radical as each candidate (from the Republican or Democrat) wants to win the nomination from their party base. In recent decades, the base for the Democrats and Republicans has become more extreme. For such reason Republican hopefuls are tapping in the most radical rhetorics in order to get the nomination. This leads ultimately to ultra-nationalist and anti-immigration narratives highly embedded in ideologies and leaving facts on the side. The current leader of the Republican field, Donald Trump, has been quite tough on wanting to stop immigrants from coming into the US and even rejecting illegal immigrants currently living in the country. But the debate in the US has become even more radical ensuing the terrorist attacks in Paris. Now Governors of the states of Florida and Georgia have both claimed that they will be refusing to welcome any Syrian refugees. First of all, immigration in the US is a federal matter, so that would go against federal policies. Second, the process to get asylum in the US is extremely difficult, long and thorough.

Interestingly enough, Marco Rubio, Senator for the state of Florida, is even forgetting about his own history by taking a tough stand against refugees. His family flew the Cuban dictatorship as many Cubans did since the 60s. For political and historical reasons, the Cubans are among the very few to receive automatic citizenship. Cubans were fleeing a violent dictatorship persecuting individuals opposed to the regime; so are a majority of Syrians. If the 60s and 70s were one of the most tense moment between Communist regimes and Capitalist regimes, the fear was about protection of intelligence and the US responded through the implementation of virulent anti-communist policies starting with McCarthy. Today, the fear from the Syrians is not so much about intelligence gathering and spying, but rather about terrorism. In both cases, the American public has been extremely fearful of welcoming refugees from highly unstable places. Individuals like Marco Rubio taking a selecting reading of personal and national history and migration are affecting the sanctity of an important debate on proper refugee policies.

Credit: Pew Research Center. September 2015.
Credit: Pew Research Center. September 2015.

As illustrated by the recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans (51%) approves the US decision to take more refugees. Within this 51%, the wide majority of Americans in favor of such policy move belongs to the Democratic Party (69%), when only less than 1/3 of Republican supporters approve it. When asked about the US on doing more, only 44% of citizens agree with such statement. If Democrats were predominantly in favor to welcome refugees (69%), only 50% of them are in favor on doing more and 35% rather stay with the current course of action. Ultimately, the current debate taking place in each party reflects very well the results of such poll. In the case of the Republicans, the main argument is to limit the number of refugees, while in the case of the Democrats it is to maintain the current status-quo. Neither parties offer a true solution on welcoming Syrian refugees.

Credit:
Credit: Steve Benson

On the other side of the Atlantic, the populist and xenophobist parties of the extreme right are getting some serious leverage. Not only they are getting into power like in Poland, Denmark and Sweden, but other extreme right parties like in France are continuing their progressive ascension. The European rights are shifting towards the extreme of their spectrum in order to seek for a confused electorates. In the case of France, despite the ongoing investigations, the rights are splitting from the government  and are fighting over a ‘frighten’ and ‘powerless’ electorate. In his many speeches and addresses, President François Hollande has called for national unity and solidarity. But the rights are rejecting such unity. For instance, during the address of the Prime Minister Manuel Valls before the National Assembly, the rights booed and refused to join the current government in maintaining the national unity. The Republicans (center-right) and Front National (extreme-right) shall be called for what they are in this moment of grief, tension and uncertainty (considering the fact that the police and intelligence services are still looking

Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA
Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA

for terrorists and working on dismantling terrorist cells around the country): vultures. In addition, if one were to actually read and listen to the narratives of Prime Minister Valls, one would get confused about his political affiliation. The securitarian rhetorics of the current socialist government is identical to the ones used by the French rights. In a recent interview with international medias, PM Valls expressed through very tough language radical policies in order to curb the threat of terrorism (read here an article in the Financial Times). In addition, the PM and President have not shied away from repeating that ‘France is now at war’ and more attacks should be expected.

Politically, France is highly divided, much more than after the terrorist attacks in January, while socially, French citizens are in fact seeking and searching for some sort of unity and solidarity. Interestingly enough, the world has offered the unity and solidarity to French citizens more than its own political class. The demonstrations of support in the US and the UK (both on the right of the political spectrum and in opposition to economic and social policies of the Hollande’s government) have been quite humbling.

 The Quest for Transatlantic Sanity and Maturity

The threat of terrorism and its recent successes in Paris, Egypt, Beirut, Tunis (to name a few) is causing Westerners and others to reflect on a simple question: what does the future entail? How do we, as a society, avoid for a radicalization of our youth? and how do we secure our nations without violating our own democratic principles and values? The US waged two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for over a decade, violated its democratic principles (through the Patriot Act, rendition and the use of torture). Now the French are at war and are passing laws in order to extend the state of emergency as well as a deprivation of nationality for bi-nationals. A French Patriot Act was already in the making ensuing the attacks against Charlie Hebdo 10 months earlier.

With regards to the refugees leaving their homelands in Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and others, Europeans cannot find a common position on welcoming them and relocating them across the Union. Member States rather locked them down by closing their borders and ultimately slowly killing one of the greatest successes of the EU, the Schengen agreement (read here a previous analysis on the issue). Europeans live in the absolutely fantasy that closing and re-instituting national borders will ultimately stop the flow of migrants. In the 19th century and early 20th, an ocean and closed American borders did not stop Italian and Irish migrants to seek for an opportunity in the United States. So it is quite futile to forget about history and geographical realities.

The obvious policy response from, supposedly developed countries, should be to assume their responsibilities by welcoming refugees and letting their legal mechanisms grant asylum to the few of them. The question of the Schengen agreement should be properly addressed instead of being criticized for political reasons. The concept of Schengen, a borderless continent, is fascinating but cannot work without its members boosting up their cooperation between their police and intelligence services. Free movement of people should be guaranteed, but that does not mean that it should be a lawless continent. Criminal and terrorist networks ought to be controlled through deeper European cooperative mechanisms requiring more funding, more human and material capabilities, and naturally political will.

The two complex crises of migration and terrorism have illustrated a core reality. Our ‘leaders’ need to do more ‘leading’ and less following. Governing is a complex matter that requires vision, leadership and courage. Until our elected officials seek for perpetual reelection by only worrying of grabbing an endlessly shifting confused electorate, these complex crises will linger.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
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Syria – Russia Returns to the Table of Great Powers

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Russia just started its airstrike campaign in Syria after approval by the upper house of the Parliament. “We [Russia] ’re talking exclusively about operations of Russia’s Air Force,” announced Mr. Ivanov, Mr. Putin’s chief of staff, “as our president has already said, the use of armed forces on the ground theater of military operations is excluded.” The airstrikes have for objectives to assist the Bashar al-Assad regime in his war against the Islamic State.

After more than four and half years of war, Syria is the home of a complex crisis seeing a war between the Bashar al-Assad regime, Syrian militias, and many terrorist networks. The Syrian war has permitted the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Levant (ISIS), and has been costing the lives of 250,000 civilians and a million injured, displaced millions displaced, and put million refugees on the road. The Syrian civil war is taking a new turn with the direct military involvement of Russia. A simple, but yet complex question, ought to be raised: Does Russia dictate global politics in the European sphere of influence?

The Syrian Civil War

In Syria, Bashar al-Assad never lost his power. Even though the country is highly divided among a multitude of militias, terrorist networks and the al-Assad forces. The interesting case of Syria is that the West did not see coming the fall of Mubarak and Qaddafi and wanted to be proactive in the fall of al-Assad. In September 2013, the West was trying to build a coalition in order to start bombing Syria and the al-Assad forces after he was found guilty of having used sarin gas against civilians. Two forces played in favor of al-Assad, and

Photo: AHMAD ABOUD/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: AHMAD ABOUD/AFP/Getty Images

still are, avoiding the launch of airstrike against Syria’s al-Assad: Russia and Western public opinion.

Vladimir Putin has played an important role in sponsoring the al-Assad regime through military and financial assistance. Putin’s rationale is that the Assad regime is a better alternative and protection against radical Islamic groups than rebels. In the case of western public opinions, they had grown war-worn especially for the Americans and Brits both involved in Iraq and Afghanistan for over a decade. British citizens, through the UK House of Commons rejected to grant authorization to Prime Minister Cameron to participate in military airstrikes in Syria. The British aversion to use force in Syria was a powerful signal for the Obama administration, whom refused to intervene despite the fact that al-Assad had crossed the ‘redline’ in using sarin gas. Ultimately since 2013, the war in Syria has seen the rise of refugees, displaced individuals, rise of ISIS and a continuation of war without any direct role being played by the West to stop the conflict.

US-Russia Divergences

Mr. Putin has been very clear. Russia uses military force in order to fight ISIS and support the al-Assad regime. Vladimir Putin does not want to see his regional ally go and wants to maintain Russia’s influence in the region. Putin sees Russian intervention in order to stop the expansion and rise of ISIS in the region. If attention has been raised about radical islamists trying to conduct terrorist acts in Western Europe (like in Toulouse, Charlie Hebdo, the Thalys) and the US, Russia has as well been dealing with radical islamic terrorism for decades. Since being in power, Vladimir Putin has been fighting a lengthy war in Chechenya. Major Russian cities have been the targets of acts of terrorism over the years. In Syria, President Putin has played his game carefully by first bringing military capabilities, like fighter jets, in Syria at the airbase base of Latakia, in Western Syria.

In the case of the US, President Obama is neither interested in protecting al-Assad nor keeping him in power. As demonstrated by his two mandates, President Obama has been150928153854-barack-obama-vladimir-putin-toast-exlarge-169 trying to leave the Middle East and readjust American power towards Asia. Obama’s presidential promises were to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he has done even though some military forces are still on the ground. During the Arab spring, the US with his European allies missed the moment. The US was leading from behind in 2011 in the implementation of a no-fly zone in Libya. The mission was led by France and the UK, under the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011), which facilitated the fall of the Qaddafi regime. Since 2011, and especially after the killing of US ambassador in Benghazi, the Americans have been extremely reluctant in playing an active role on the ground and rather remain in the sky. But ISIS has brought back the US in the region. As demonstrated in recent polls, Americans consider ISIS as the greatest threat to the US.

Chart: Global Perceptions of Major Threats (Only the ‘Very Concerned about’ are being represented here)

Threats
Source: Carle, Jill. 2015. “Climate Change Seen as Top Global Threat Americans, Europeans, Middle Easterners Focus on ISIS as Greatest Danger.” Pew Research Center. July 14. Online: http://www.pewglobal.org/files/2015/07/Pew-Research-Center-Global-Threats-Report-FINAL-July-14-2015.pdf [Accessed on September 15, 2015]

With the rise of ISIS over the region, President Obama was obliged to send some hundreds of military advisors in Iraq in order assist the Iraqi army and leadership. Since then, the US with France have conducted airstrikes over Iraq in order to limit the rise of ISIS.

Even within the US team, there is a certain division as reported by the New York Times between President Obama and his Secretary of State, John Kerry. “Obama seems to approach Syria with a professor’s detachment”said David Schenker, the director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “while Kerry — perhaps because of his high regard for his own diplomatic acuity — sees it as something he can solve.” President Obama deeply distrusts President Putin, while Kerry feels that he can work on a deal with the Russians in order to bring in the long-term Bashar al-Assad down from his leadership position.

But the tension between the US and Russia can be sensed. During his address before the UN General Assembly, Russian President underlined that the US air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria were illegal and a violation of international law. Putin claimed that the US used military force with neither a UN Security Council Resolution nor with the consent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Now it will be interesting to see if the UN Security Council agree on a resolution in order to fight ISIS in Syria.

Europeans, Russians and Americans

The Syrian crisis is, and ought to be perceived by the Europeans, as the top priority. From Europe, the civil war in Syria is causing regional instabilities all around the Mediterranean front, is at the origins of the worst migration crisis since World War two, and is exposing the failures of Europeans address a direct security threat to its continent. The massive number of migrants seeking for refuge in Western Europe is exposing the weaknesses of European cohesion and solidarity, European integration (see the failure of the Schengen agreement and Dublin rules), and is destroying the myth of Europe as a civilian/normative power.

The only power in Western Europe to be military active is France. Under Presidents Sarkozy and Hollande, France has sought to maintain its global and regional influence and interests. France has been flexing its muscles in Central African Republic (CAR), Mali, Iraq, Libya and now Syria. Back in 2013, France was waiting on the Americans in order to start airstrikes against the al-Assad forces after he was proven to have used sarin gas against civilians. If French air power has been used as part of the coalition with the US over Iraq in order to fight ISIS, but it started its bombing campaign over Syria several days ago. However, François Hollande has maintained the fact that a solution in Syria cannot exist with Bashar al-Assad. As demonstrated during the nuclear talks with Iran, French diplomacy has been one of the toughest in order to assure that French and Western interests would be protected and enforced. On the Syrian case, Laurent Fabius is keeping the similar cap.

_85593741_iraq_syria_air_strikes_624_v45

The United Kingdom has expressed a less clear position. British Prime Minister Cameron said “I know there are people who think Isis is even worse than Assad, so shouldn’t we somehow cut a deal with Assad to team up and tackle Isis.” But the Brits, in order to show support to their American partners, underlined that a long-term solution cannot include Bashar al-Assad remaining in power. The French and Americans have been clear on the fact that any peace deals cannot include Bashar al-Assad.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy said that Russia was a central actor in the fight against ISIS in the region. His tone towards Moscow is much softer than his European partners, as Italy and Russia have always had deep relationship, especially in recent times. For instance, Italy has been the least supportive of European sanctions against Russia.

Russia, The Return of the Global Power?

Since the arrival of Putin to power in 2000, his priority has been to make Russia a great power once again. He has demonstrated that Russia not only plays an important role, but can shape global events. If Putin put himself in a corner after the annexation of Crimea and lingering war in Eastern Ukraine, he has brought Russia back at the table of great powers with his actions in the Middle East. If this aspect has been lost in translation as the world is more concerned about the approval of the deal by the US Congress, Russia played an important role on bringing a deal for the Iranian nuclear program. In the case of Syria, most powers have been reluctant to act aside from airstrike bombings over Syria and Iraq. Now Russia is actually forcing the West to act and do something about the vicious war in Syria.

Europeans have been inactive on dealing with Syria and have struggled on welcoming Syrian migrants. Aside from boosting border patrols in the Mediterranean and increasing financial assistances to countries hosting Syrian refugees, Europeans were unable to agree on a clear military operation in order to address the root causes of the migration crisis. The Americans, under Obama, have been much more reluctant to start another military mission in the Middle East. Obama promised in 2008 to quit the greater Middle East, he certainly does not want to leave office in 2016 with another war in Middle East.

With the escalation of its military intervention, Russia is bringing itself outside of the corner and rejoining the table of great powers. This last decade, Putin has demonstrated his ability to promote Russian influence and interests where and when desired. By using realpolitik, Putin has been able to promote Russia’s interests without any moral dilemmas, while the West is trying to act morally (which is highly debatable) and is actually limiting its flexibility and interests. Russia is back and the West needs to work with a complex partner.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

The Unacceptable European Policies and Narratives towards Migrants

Sources: The New York Times and Associated Press
Sources: The New York Times and Associated Press

Too much has been said in dehumanizing the refugees coming to Europe in the name of simplification and nationalism (read here a previous analysis on the issue). The 71 refugees recently found dead in a truck in Austria is another horrific example of the tragedy taking place on European ground. Ensuing the discovery of the 71 corpses in the truck in Austria, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, made a powerful, and yet short, statement about the migration crisis in Europe. “This is a human tragedy” he declared “that requires a determined collective political response. It is a crisis of solidarity, not a crisis of numbers.”

It seems that the Austrian case has motivated Germany, France and the United Kingdom in seeking for a European solution. A call for action from Berlin, London and Paris is important as they are the most powerful capitals in the EU and usually action occurs once the three of them have set the motion on. However, on the question of migration, they have diverging reasons: Germany is the largest receiver of asylum seekers and seriously needs assistance from its European partners; the United Kingdom is rethinking its European membership and Cameron appears to be in favor of maintaining the UK within the EU, so he cannot move to far right; France receives a large amount a refugees and is dealing with rising cases of terrorist attacks. For the three of them action will always look better from a domestic standpoint. Ultimately on September 14th, the EU ministers of interior will be meeting at an emergency summit.

Even though the three EU powerhouses have agreed on seeking for a common approach, other EU Member States have adopted anti-migrants measures that go against the normative and ethical standards established, agreed and promoted by the European Union.

Anti-European Measures?

With increasing numbers of migrants coming from the Middle East, North Africa, and Africa, several EU Member States have implemented radical measures in dealing with the large movement of migrants (read previous analyses here and here on the issue). Interestingly enough, these Member States are not receivers of migrants, but are transit countries on the way to the final destinations of Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Sweden. The measures implemented by Bulgaria, Hungary, France, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (an EU candidate country) are troublesome.

Source: Europol & BBC
Source: Europol & BBC

Bulgaria, one of the most recent EU Member States, is a transit country for most migrants coming from Turkey. Bulgaria deployed troops, which included tanks, to its border with Turkey and Macedonia. Such political move has raised some serious criticism from human rights groups. The Bulgarian Ministry of Defense argued that it was simply a “preventive” operation. A military solution to a human crisis is generally not the most appropriate option. Bulgaria has as well built a 160-km fence along its border with Turkey. And Slovakia only wants Christian refugees.

Hungary has received the most negative coverage and attention for its approach to dealing with the crisis. Hungary’s policies are directly aligned with the government led by Viktor Orbán. His narratives against migrants and even the EU have been quite virulent. “The

Photo: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty
Photo: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty

prime minister and many members of his cabinet have made it perfectly clear,” argued Marton Dunai of Reuters “saying things like, we don’t want thousands and thousands rampaging through the country every day.” As Bulgaria, Hungary is a transit state to richer EU countries, as it is “the gateway to Europe’s visa-free Schengen zone.” In order to lower the number of migrants crossing the country, the government has ordered the creation of a razor wire fence along its border with Serbia. This fence is more of a nationalist stunt than a wall blocking migrants in Serbia. Asked on the wall being built by Hungary, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius expressed his anger towards the Hungarian initiative. “I take a very dim view, a very dim view” said Laurent Fabius. “Hungary is part of Europe. Europe has values and these values are not respected by putting up wire fences.” The comments by Laurent Fabius have created a fraught between France and Hungary. Hungarian Foreign Minister, Peter Szijjarto, responded that “Instead of shocking and groundless judgements, one should instead concentrate on finding common solutions for Europe” and has even summoned the French Ambassador to Hungary.

Source: The Economist. 2015
Source: The Economist. 2015

France should as well be listed as a EU Member State not doing enough in the case of the migration crisis. The recent call by the French government for an emergency summit is a positive element, but for too long France has let camps grow in the suburbs of Calais, first with Sangatte and now with the Jungle. The current situation in the Calais camp demonstrates the lack of desire by the French government to deal properly with the 5,000 migrants trying to reach the other side of the English Channel. European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans has announced that France will receive up to five million euros that “will be used to set up a camp that can provide humanitarian assistance to around 15-hundred migrants. The money will also go on transporting asylum seekers to other destinations in France.” France has not done enough in the last decade to create appropriate infrastructures in the region of Calais to accommodate the migrants.

The last case is the recent use of force by the Macedonian authorities. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is not a EU Member State, but a EU candidate. As Bulgaria, they do not belong to the Schengen agreement and are transit countries. Macedonia is directly on the path to Hungary. In the last two months, Macedonia has recorded over 40,000 migrants crossing its country to either go to Serbia or Hungary. In August 21st, the Macedonia authorities used force against migrants. This event comes at a time wherein the Prime Minister has been facing serious domestic criticism as he is facing allegations of illegal wire-taps, corruption and authoritarianism.

 

Cartoon: Kountouris
Cartoon: Kountouris

Amalgams and Political Games

Extreme-right wing and mainstream parties throughout the Union have oversimplified the migration crisis in the name of short-termism and nationalism. The rise of nationalist parties throughout the EU framing the debate and ultimately fostering fear in the hearts of many Europeans and elected officials are transforming the debate on one of the most important problems facing the Union into an absolute aberration.

The amalgam that has been made, and is starting to hold in the collective memory, that migration translates into an increase of terrorist and criminal acts has to be rejected by the elected officials. The recent tragic event in the Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris has nothing to do with the current migration crisis. But the link is continuously made and hammered by media and politicians that a belief with no empirical evidences, as most of the specialized literature on terrorism rejects, is being transformed into a fact. Elected officials, politicians in Europe and in the US are constantly reminding the audience of such belief.

Across the pond, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump,

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

has completely shifted the debate on immigration from a social problem into a security problem using similar strategy. In the brilliant piece published in the New Yorker, Evan Osnos quotes Trump’s 1987 memoir, wherein he wrote “I [Donald Trump] play to people’s fantasies. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration – and a very effective form of promotion.” The words and narratives made by politicians like Donald Trump, Marine LePen, Nicolas Sarkozy, Vicktor Orbán, David Cameron, Geert Wilders are a constant reminder of the danger of radicalizing a debate as contentious as immigration. The case of Thalys, perpetuated by a Moroccan citizen Ayoub el Khazzani, clearly a terrorist act, has no connection with Syrian refugees fleeing a warzone between dictator Bashar Al-Assad, ISIS, and a multitude of factions.

“This may not matter to the National Front’s core electorate,” wrote top French expert François Heisbourg in an op-ed published in the Financial Times “but it does mean that mainstream policy has largely conceded defeat when it comes to values. Europe is better than this; so is France. Europe’s leaders need to live up to our responsibilities as humans and as neighbours, assume part of the burden, and talk straight to the electorate. Continued European and French fecklessness will only improve the far-right’s prospects of success, and deepen what is already an unprecedented crisis.”

Juncker called in a recent op-ed for “collective courage,” rather than solidarity. Now is the time to do so. The migrant crisis has underlined a paradox between national asylum policies and the schengen agreement of open borders. This crisis, like the Euro crisis, demonstrates the challenges that the EU and its Member States are facing in balancing out national priorities (protection of national sovereignty like fiscal policies, defense and immigration) and the deepening of the integration process. One of the recent tensions between the Member States and the EU has been about the Schengen Agreement. If conservative parties want to reintroduce border control, either to stop migrants or terrorists, the Commission refuses to touch at the border-free agreement calling it one of the greatest European accomplishment.

The migration crisis is highlighting another paradox in the European integration process between European and national interests. The tensions between the Member States and Brussels cannot continue any longer. Letting migrants die and be mistreated on European ground is an unacceptable reality.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

HR Mogherini – A Foreign Policy Leader à la Clinton?

Photograph: Chatham House
Photograph: Chatham House

Even with an absent United Kingdom in European foreign and security policy, the excellent British think tank Chatham House has been the center of the euro-atlantic foreign policy world. Candidates for the 2016 US Presidential race are passing by as well as some high-level EU officials. If Scott Walker, Republican Governor of Wisconsin, did not want to talk foreign policy in a foreign policy think tank (read here the Q&A focusing on cheese and Wisconsin), the High Representative Federica Mogherini did not shy away from such exercise with a solid speech (read her speech here).

HR/VP Mogherini took office in November 2014 (read here a previous analysis on the transition of power from Ashton to Mogherini) and has taken full control of her role and position. The transition between her predecessor, Catherine Ashton, has been immediate and flawless. Both HR have their own strategy, personality, and leadership style. Ashton was much more of a bureaucrat and a shy foreign policy leader, while Mogherini is clearly at the forefront of the EU by always being present and visible, a little bit like former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. It seems that the EU has its chief foreign policy following the steps of Clinton. As Hillary Clinton, HR Mogherini has been using her voyages to put the EU on the map as a global power, launched reflections for an overarching strategy, and addressed each crisis facing the bloc. Both foreign ministers have been relentless in their missions.

Pressing Issues Confronting the EU

As expected, HR Mogherini highlighted during her speech at the Chatham House the most pressing issues threatening the stability of the Union and its Member States. “I [Mogherini] believe that there is no better way for the EU to have a global influence than to be a responsible power in our immediate neighborhood.” As she argued the challenges and threats at the doors of Europe affect directly the “vital national interests of our member states.” All of them are surrounding the EU on every front, East, South, and South-East. Eastern Europe is on the verge of a war, as reports continue to demonstrate that Russia continues to send heavy-weapons and soldiers, and the Mediterranean periphery is in flame (read here the very informative Q&A led by Quentin Peel of the Financial Times tackling additional topics like Turkey, UK declining foreign policy, and eurozone crisis).

  • Ukraine – Mogherini argues that the EU deeply believes that Russia should be a partner rather than a foe. But the evolution of the conflict in Ukraine does not allow such belief, but instead calls for European actions in order to assure the transition towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The EU is concerned about the consequences of the war in Ukraine on the stability of the continent.
  • Libya – the instability in Libya, Southern border of the EU, represents a similar challenge to the security of the EU and its Member States. The challenges in Libya are serious, complex and intertwined counting issues such as appearance of the Islamic State (IS), human trafficking, exit point for massive illegal migration in direction to Europe, and no state-authority over the territory. The power vacuum in Libya ought to be addressed.
  • Syria – the war in Syria has lasted long enough for seeing the rise of IS, many international failures to solving the crisis, a serious humanitarian crisis and a complex sectarian war with no end in sight. Without solving Syria, the threat of IS will only continue to grow.
  • Tensions in the Middle-East – seeking for a lasting peace process between the Palestinian authorities and Israel.
  • Iran – the nuclear negotiations with Iran are an important piece of the Middle-East puzzle. As argued by Mogherini, “for too long we thought of the Iranian issue as a zero-sum game.” In fact, she claims that “a comprehensive agreement would be hugely beneficial for both sides.” In the case of the negotiations, the EU is the leader in the negotiations.

HR Mogherini concentrated her analyses on the neighborhoods. But other issues and crises are affecting the stability of the Union, especially with the rise of instabilities in Africa and the region of the Sahel.

Mogherini’s Call for a New European Security Strategy

By the end of her speech, HR Mogherini finally introduced the fact that she initiated a work to reflect on a new European Security Strategy. “Our European Security Strategy, on which Javier Solana did a wonderful work, is also 11 years old. At that time, no one could imagine how fast the world and our neighbourhood would change in the coming years.” The 2003 version was an important document in identifying the European way for global actions and addressing the threats facing the Union as a whole. But in over a decade, the EU only produced one additional document the 2008 Report on the Implementation of the ESS simply adjusting the 2003 version, without any deep strategic changes and rethinking. The world in 2003 was certainly very different to the one facing the EU in 2015. Global politics shifted from a unipolar to a multipolar system. “Everything is changed,” argued Mogherini “we have changed.”

Soon after taking office, HR Mogherini initiated a process of strategic reflection to ‘reform’ EU foreign and security policy. A new strategy ought to be designed and implemented in order to address the new regional and global realities. ‘Effective multilateralism,’ the core of the EU strategy in 2003, may not be as effective in 2015 as it was in 2003 (thus, Mogherini does not have to seek for building unity among the Member States as it was required by Javier Solana in the aftermath of the 2003 war in Iraq causing great disunity at the time). The 2015 version will require to address the new global environment (multipolar world order and the rise of new powers), new security challenges (traditional ones: territorial security in the neighborhoods, nuclear proliferation; new ones: domestic and international terrorism (IS and Boko Haram), environmental threats, cyber threats), and the instruments required for the best response (hard power: through the use of the CSDP, NATO, CSDP/NATO, or by the Member States like France has done in Africa; soft power: institutions, partnerships, cooperation, negotiations, and diplomacy).

“But our foreign policy can sometimes be disconnected” argued HR Mogherini. “We need to connect the dots. And we need a true sense of ownership. A common vision. A common European interest. Our identity in the world. That’s why I’m starting from member states.” HR Mogherini responded to the criticism that there is no common EU foreign policy if one takes in consideration the latest actions by France and Germany to solve the Ukrainian crisis during the Minsk Protocol II. She claims that “a European common foreign policy does not call for Member States to give up their own foreign policies. On the contrary, each country can reinforce our common action with its own strength and expertise. But we see Europe at its best only when all the Twenty-eight push in the same direction.”

HR Mogherini is correct in seeking for the development of a comprehensive European Security Strategy. “There is no contradiction between an eastward looking and a southward looking EU. Only a comprehensive approach to our foreign policy can protect our values and interests in the long run. Events in North Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe affect the whole of us. No one can expect to close their eyes.” The new Security Strategy will permit the EU and the EU-28 to reflect on the threats the EU should address, the type of power the EU wants to be and play, and the way the EU should conduct itself in its neighborhoods and global arena.

Mogherini’s 100 Days in Office

With Mogherini at the helm of European foreign policy, the difference between her and her predecessor, Catherine Ashton, is undeniable. Ashton seemed uncomfortable, where HR Mogherini is being over-present and very much at her ease in facing the media. She travels the world from meeting to meeting. She understands the need to be present, even if it is for a 30 minutes handshake, in order to build relationship and put the EEAS and the EU on the map. If Ashton was not as visible as her predecessor, she was respected in closed-meeting with her foreign counterparts. It is not surprising that HR Mogherini kept her at the helm of the European negotiations with Iran.

In her first 100 days, HR Mogherini has done quite a lot as illustrated by the infographic created by the EEAS (see below).

Source: EEAS
Source: EEAS

Considering her relentless rhythm, some diplomats wonder about her longevity, but as well the type of foreign policy being shaped by HR Mogherini. As analyzed in an excellent article by Bruxelles 2, an experienced European diplomat confides that leaders do not have the time anymore to reflect as they constantly runs from one place to another. One of the core problems faced by current political leaders is their dependence on the agenda and the need to constantly respond immediately to new issues. Foreign policy in some ways has been hijacked by the immediacy of information, when in fact reflection and thinking are core requirements.

Last but not least, HR Mogherini argued when discussing the threats facing the EU that “this is why I believe any narrative of a clash among national interests and European interests is flawed. We hold a ‘joint place in the world’, and it very much depends on the unity and the effectiveness of the European Union’s international projection. It should be clear to everyone that we, the Europeans, are much better when we are together. It is a matter not of European interest but of national interest, for all.” The consolidation of a common vision by merging national and European interests under a common umbrella could be Mogherini’s landmark.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Ida – A Regard into Europe’s Past and Present

ida_4

Pawel Pawlikowski directed a wonderful picture, Ida, nominated at the 2015 Oscars for Best Foreign Picture. Ida takes place in Poland in 1962 and follows a young mysterious woman, Anna, whom is ready to take her vows as a nun (read the review here). The mother superior at the convent tells her to visit her aunt Wanda before making her decision. She goes to Warsaw and meets her aunt, a judge, whom tells her that she was born jewish and her birth name was Ida. She learns as well that her parents were killed during World War two because of their religion and culture. At this point they decide to find the graves of her parents and indirectly confront their faith and past. This picture tells a compelling story engraved in deep themes related to European heritage such as war, communism, politics, religion, history, identities, memories and power.

ida_poster-620x353

Ida was shot in black and white making it so precise, net and pure thanks to splendid movements of camera and sumptuous angles. As explained by Pawlikowski, whom left Poland when he was 14 years old, making this movie in Poland in the 1960s was a way to reconstruct a Poland at “a time I [Pawlikowski] vaguely but very intensely remember. That was my childhood.” Pawlikowski’s imagined and reconstructed Poland gives a very romantic and timeless tone despite the darkness of the story.

Ida is more than ever relevant today considering the resurgent tone of anti-semitism flourishing and spreading all around Europe. One core theme of Ida is dying because of one’s religion. World War two was in some degree the paramount of the organized killing of Jews across Europe. Ensuing the Wannasse conference in January 1942, the Nazis leadership institutionalized the killing of ethnic groups, principally the Jewish people and Tsiganes. This conference provided the baseline for the policy of antisemitism known as the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. Since 1945 and the Nuremberg trials Europe as a whole has been dealing with this dark past and heritage. Most European countries were complacent and ind- and/or -directly involved in this genocide. The ghosts of the Final Solution have remained in Europe since then. Ida is a reminder.

Antisemitism in Europe and France in the 21st century

This question of antisemitism is reappearing in Europe and especially in France and Germany since the turn of the new century. The rise of extreme right wing parties – as well called populist or ultranationalist – and their acceptations as powerful political force have changed the political narratives and rhetorics. Since the terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, it seems that the gates have been opened and that European leaders and ruling parties are now superficially addressing this problem of antisemitism for too long ignored. Several elements should be analyzed about the question of islamophobia, antisemitism, and extreme rights in Europe and France.

First, on February 17th, 2015, the Council of Europe published a 52-page report about the rise of intolerance, racism, hate speech and violence against minorities in France. “The1259153771 council is concerned” said Nils Muižnieks, the commissioner of human rights for the Council of Europe, “about the decrease of tolerance and the increase of verbal assaults and hateful and discriminatory acts recorded in France.” M. Muižnieks went on in his presentation of the report arguing that “In recent years, there has been a huge increase in anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and homophobic acts. In the first half of 2014 alone, the number of anti-Semitic acts virtually doubled, while the number of Jews leaving France for Israel tripled compared with 2012, which is a telling indication of their feeling of insecurity.”

In the Council’s report, he underlines that the intolerance and racism are not ephemeral, but are rather deeply ingrained. He adds that these acts are an illustration of the continuous and permanent decline of the ‘social contract’ and the principle of equality; in sum the welfare state and its basic virtue of tolerance related to the core value of fraternity. He calls national authorities to do more at the national level and implement a national action plan and severely condemned these daily discriminatory and racist behaviors.

Second, what about European public opinion? Is it all about political rhetorics? A second report, titled “Antisemitism in the French Public Opinion. New Understanding” (in French, L’antisémitisme dans l’Opinion Publique Française. Nouveaux Eclairages) published in November 2014, under the direction of Professor Dominique Reynié seeks to look at the segments of French public opinion sensitive to antisemitic sentiments (here is a link to a recent interview on French National Radio, France Inter). In the introduction, Prof. Reynié writes that the question of antisemitism, xenophobia, and racism is reappearing in democracies, in Europe and France. Even though there is nothing new, the preoccupation is about the renewal (le regain in French) since the 1990s, which required a clear attention and action (p. 5). He claims that there are several obvious factors such as: globalization, identity crisis of Western democracies, fear of the rise of new world powers, migration flux, societal malaise caused in part by failed integration policies (multiculturalism or assimilation), aging populations, economic and financial crisis (in Europe), and political crisis (in Europe with serious disillusionment with mainstream/traditional political parties and establishments).

However, the real contribution of the report, aside from the fact that antisemitism is shared across party lines from the extreme left to right, is that one element has been forgotten in explaining the rise of these extremist sentiments, the internet. Prof. Reynié argues that the internet offers a platform where people can express themselves in all impunity, without having to face the consequences of their actions and words (p. 6). Additionally the report shows that between 2000 and 2014, France has seen an increase by 91% of antisemitic acts (p. 7). The recent reports of acts of vandalism in French cemeteries were linked to antisemitic motives.

Source: Daily Mail
Source: Daily Mail

Undeniably, both reports coincide with the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen targeting journalists and Jewish people. As demonstrated in Reynié’s report and in other polls, Jews of Europe are being largely targeted and blamed for all Europe’s trouble. In the case of France, the extreme right – which is not as homogenous as believed and described – is seeing the rise of even more radical and racist sub-branches than the Front National.

The Front National is becoming, for better or worst, a mainstream party now accepted by a large segment of French and European population and by a group of right-wing politicians of the UMP (read here a lengthy article in the New York Times Magazine about the newly found respectability of the Party under Marine Le Pen). New parties, like the Réconciliation Nationale, led by French comedian Dieudonné and pseudo-intellectual Alain Soral are changing the bedrock of French political narrative. In the case of the Réconciliation Nationale, the party lines are multiple and contradictory: anti-zionism, anti-capitalism, anti-Europe, anti-bourgeois, leftist for labor policies, and rightwing conservative in political values. The rise of such party can be explained by the internet and social media. As argued in Reynié’s report, the internet has changed the way political communities are made and structured and allowed all types of rhetorics without impunities. In the case of the Dieudonné-Soral political union, the center-point is the website, Egalité&Réconciliation.

Some analysts have argued that the antisemitic sentiments in Europe is caused by Israel’s actions in the Middle East. However, it is difficult to take such argument seriously for several reasons: first, antisemitism has existed well before the creation of the state of Israel; and second, antisemites, as in the case of the Dieudonné-Soral union, are neither in support of Palestinian and Arab causes.

Ida – A Tail of Two Europes

How Ida and the rise of antisemitism in contemporary Europe can be compared? The main theme of Ida is a search of one’s identity. And in the current political chessboard of Europe, Europeans, and especially French in this article, are as well in search of their identities. Antisemitic sentiments have existed in most of Europe’s, and christian, history and continue to live on. Ida offers a wonderful look at several Europes: an historical Europe, one divided by the Wall between the Soviet Union and the West; and a present Europe in search of its identity and origins forcing to dig in the worst of its memories and realities. Today’s Europe is as divided as before, not by a physical Wall, but by an imagined-Wall between Europeans based on cultural-religious traditions and values.

Considering the odds of Ida winning the Oscars, the New Yorker writes “it’s hard to bet against the historico-politico-religious sanctimoniousness of ‘Ida.'” In his interview with the New York Times, Pawlikowski was asked about the warm receptions of his movie. “What seemed to have worked” he argued “is precisely that the film doesn’t try to explain things but actually draws the audience in at a very basic psychological and emotional level, and makes them feel as if they’re watching something timeless.” Even though the European construction is a political marvel, its dark historical root and heritage seem unfortunately timeless too.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

ISIL and Homeland Terrorism – Is Europe Going to War?

Source: AP
Source: AP

It took 10 days to shift a quiet and reluctant European Union and its 28 Member States from a closed-minded fortress to a group reflecting on the realities of its environment. Ensuing the terrorist attacks in France and the foiled ones in Belgium, the war narratives are emerging in Europe. In the case of France, the political class – in and out of power – has been hammering the same narrative: ‘France is at war.’ At war against radical islamists in Mali, in the Sahel, in Iraq and Syria, and just comes back from Afghanistan. All these foreign military interventions orchestrated by France since 2012 – aside of Afghanistan a multilateral military effort – had gone unnoticed by a French citizenry uninterested about French foreign and military policies as well as geopolitical realities.

Europe at War?

The week after the Charlie Hebdo attack, ‘France is at war’ has become the mainstream narrative of most French politicians. French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, and Minister of Interior, Bernard Cazeneuve, among others have all talked of war. During his allocution before the National Assembly, Manuel Valls declared “Yes France is engaged in a war, against terrorism, against jihadism and radical islamism” (“Oui la France est en guerre, contre le terrorisme, le djihadisme et l’islamisme extrémiste (…)). Additionally, the taboo in France has been broken, the political elite is finally underscoring on daily basis that French and European citizens ought to be ready to see an increase of terrorist attacks inside the Union. The linkage between the two points, increase of terrorist attacks and the war narrative, is France high level activity in fighting radical islamic groups around Africa and the Middle East. France among the other EU Member States ought to understand the dichotomy of the current fight: on the one hand, the fight against radical ideologies within the EU is not going to end anytime soon and will require serious societal-political debate; while on the other, stopping the rise of ISIL will not end the rise of extremism in Europe.

In the case of France and Belgium, the alleged terrorists have received training in Syria at some point. Both countries hold the largest muslim communities in Europe (in proportion to their overall population); both countries have faced recent attacks such as the killing at a jewish museum in Brussels and the killings orchestrated by Mohammed Merah against Jewish individuals in the South-West of France. Both countries have failed in their models of integration as a segment of their Arab youth has become radicalized or at least sensitized to the radical islamist cause.

Source: Pew Research Center
Source: Pew Research Center

Additionally, more and more individuals – most of them are indeed European citizens – are coming back to their homelands after receiving a military training in Syria and/or Iraq (look here at the excellent interactive map by Radio Free Europe). The numbers fluctuate in the case of France from 700+ (as described below) to roughly 1000 in January 2015. Ultimately, EU Member States are confronting a complex challenge connecting foreign war endeavor and homeland terrorism-radicalization of a segment of Muslims communities.

Source: Statista
Source: Statista

With the increasing numbers of European citizens fighting in Syria/Iraq under the ISIL umbrella, should the Euro-Atlantic community wage war in Syria and Iraq against ISIL?

The war narrative in France is interesting for one simple reason: Is France trying to get domestic support to a military intervention in Syria? Or is France trying to mobilize its European allies and the US for a military intervention in Syria? The current bombings over Iraq and Syria led by France (principally over Iraq) and the US seem insufficient in maintaining the rise of ISIL. As argued in a recent ECFR analysis, “months into the armed strikes, it is clear that the existing approach can only go so far. Western political leaders, thrown into a state of panic by the mesmerised media coverage of the beheadings of Western hostages, launched extensive military action against IS that has been heavily dominated by the US, in spite of the participation of regional actors who spend tens of billions of dollars on weapons each year.”

Scenarios to Addressing the Root Causes of ISIL:

Ultimately, in the aftermaths of the January terrorist attacks, how could the EU address the realities of the threat?

First, mobilization of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO may be the way to go for the military phase at first followed by a credible CSDP mission of state-building. The NATO-CSDP couple did work in the Balkans and has stabilized the region since the late 1990s (read here a volume on the Security Sector Reform). Certainly some states in the Balkans are more stable than others; and problems of corruptions, lack of rule of law, and other societal and economic problems remain a reality. Nevertheless, it is a more stable region than ensuing the fall of the Soviet Union. In the case of Syria and Iraq, both NATO-CSDP could be the instrument to first, use credible military forces on the ground and in the air, followed by a long-term reconstruction process overtaken by the CSDP. Inside the EU, the question of a credible CSDP mandate and operation will be a tough one to get. Large EU Member States, like the UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, may be reluctant to invest large amount of money, to provide credible military capabilities and soldiers. France and Poland cannot be the only two large Member States providing the bulk of the CSDP mission. The destruction/containment of ISIL is not an end in itself; but it is the re-construction and eventual creation of nation-states in the region. The reality is that 15 years later, starting with the 1998 bombing campaign over Kosovo, the CSDP and NATO are still present in the Balkans. Europeans and Americans must be consciously willing to commit to several decades of reconstruction in the Middle East.

Second, Russia and Turkey are the key to the future of the region. Russia was the state protecting Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad when France and the US were ready to sanction Syria following the use of sarin gas against civilians. President Obama did not

Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis, AP
Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis, AP

want to start another war in the Middle East and was certainly satisfy to find the best-worst short-term option in his playbook, an international supervision and destruction of the Syrian chemical arsenal. Since then Russia and the West have not been agreeing on the course of event in the region. Russia ought to understand that the current situation in the Levant is not aligned with its interests. The second key player is Turkey. Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been reluctant to use military force against ISIL. Turkish army is deployed at the borders with Syria monitoring the ongoing war in Syria. Both players are crucial for the future: Russia in order to get a military operation with international legitimacy, a Resolution by the UN Security Council; and Turkey, as a neighboring state and NATO member in leading the war effort in Syria.

Third, Arab States, especially Qatar, Saoudi Arabia, Iran, ought to play a credible role as well. Their contributions is greater than simple financial and military supports, it holds strong religious and symbolic dimensions. The involvement of Arab States would demonstrates that the war against ISIL is not a clash of civilization between the West and the Arab world as it has been framed, but rather as a war between radical islamism and the world. Without the inclusion and the assistance of these three regional powerhouses, the fight against ISIL will not be fully realistic, at least in the aftermaths of the military phase.

A New Regional Order?

The Arab Spring has transformed the balance of power at domestic and regional levels all around the Mediterranean. The EU, Russia, the US, Arab States may all have diverging political systems, religious beliefs, perceptions of the world, but the reality of the threat is undeniable and common. The long term solution is not military, but political. Behind the walls of its imagined fortress, the EU has thought that it would be immune of all troubles if it just ignores the threats and challenges knocking at its doors. The EU’s neighborhoods are on fire causing mass migrations, rise of terrorism, all sorts of illegal activities and political instabilities. European capitals must now address the problem, ISIL, as it is not only destabilizing the Mediterranean region, but now European societies. It is Europe’s fight. Europe should decide to take the lead on this one.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Nobody Kills Charlie

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Credit: Le Monde
Credit: Le Monde

Three gunmen armed with kalashnikov rifles opened fire in the office of the satirical french newspaper Charlie Hebdo killing 12 people, including prominent journalists and two policemen. Four top French cartoonists, Cabut, widely known as Cabu, Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb, Wolinksi and Tignou were all killed. Cabu, Wolinski and Charb have been important figures in shaping/mocking French society and culture with the ink of their pens for decades. Since the attack the region Ile-de-France, including Paris, is on its highest threat alert as the authorities are looking for the gunmen, recently identified. Even though, there are still speculation about whether the gunmen acted as lone-wolves or are part of a wider terrorist network, François Hollande, French President, immediately announced that it was an act of terrorism and an assault on freedom of the press. President Hollande and the Minister of Interior went to the location of the shooting and addressed the press (here is his evening allocution on the act of terrorist).

A combination of file photos shows (from L) French cartoonist of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo Georges Wolinski; cartoonist Jean Cabut, aka Cabu; newspaper publisher Charb; cartoonist Tignous. (AFP)
A combination of file photos shows (from L) French cartoonist of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo Georges Wolinski; cartoonist Jean Cabut, aka Cabu; newspaper publisher Charb; cartoonist Tignous. (AFP)

Since 2001, the European continent has been struck by two large terrorist attacks, 2004 in Madrid and 2005 in London. Both terrorist attacks were planned by members of Al-Qaeda and were of large amplitude. Since 2005, Europeans have been better prepared, and in some instance lucky, in stopping attacks before their phase of implementation. But a new trend has emerged on both sides of the Atlantic, the lone-wolf syndrome. In the last years, attacks have been perpetuated in London (2013), Ottawa (2014), Sydney (2014) and other failed ones in the US like in New York (2010).

Marks of Radical Islamic Terrorists?

Even though all the proofs haven’t been gather to confirm such attrocity as a terrorist attack, world experts seem convinced of its terrorist nature. Now, the question is: is it an attack of lone-wolves? or a terrorist attack planned by a wider terrorist network?

Radical Islamic terrorism figures as one of the many terrorist threats facing the EU today. EU Member States have encountered over the years different sorts of terrorist groups like the IRA in the UK, ETA in France and Spain, individuals like Carlos the Jackal, the Red Brigades, so on and so forth. However, a new emphasis has been placed on radical Islamic terrorism in Europe starting in the 1990s and especially since the deadly attacks of September 2001 in the US.

On the European continent several key terrorist attacks have led to tentatively deepen cooperation between EU Member States and increase vigilance domestically. However, counter-terrorist experts are witnessing a shift in the origins of alleged terrorists. For example, the cell in Hamburg linked to the 9/11 attacks was composed of foreign students; Moroccan immigrants were behind the Madrid train bombings; but the killing of Dutch filmmaker, Mr. van Gogh, in 2004 was initiated by a European-born individual (Leiken, 2005: 125). European experts argue that the radical Islamic terrorist threat in Europe is entering a new phase, the emergence of “Middle East-style political assassinations as part of the European jihadist arsenal and disclosed a new source of danger: unknown individuals among Europe’s own Muslims” (Bures, 2010: 62-63).

This previous distinction underlines the two existing categories of jihadists in Western Europe: insiders and outsiders. The Outsiders are legal aliens such as asylum seekers or students. Oftentimes they move to Western Europe in consequence of a crackdown against Islamists in the Middle East. The other category, Insiders, is composed of second- or third-generation immigrants, who were born in Europe (Leiken, 2005: 126-27; Laqueur, 2006). This second trend, of home-grown Islamist terrorists, has considerably increased since 2006 as reported by Europol. In the case of the Charlie Hebdo attack, it will be interesting to find out if both men were insiders or outsiders. Additionally, France has been in recent months a country with over 1,000 men deciding to leave Europe in order to join the fight with ISIL fighters in Syria and Iraq. Ultimately, a segment of French population, nevertheless minimal, have decided to follow a road towards radicalization.

An Attack on French Democracy and Values

Such action is a direct attack against the French democracy and its values. Charlie Hebdo is a extensive satirical newspaper mocking everything, anything and everyone. The New York Times described Charlie Hebdo extremely well when writing that “Charlie Hebdo is part of a venerable tradition in France, deploying satire and insolence to take on politicians and the police, bankers and religions of all kinds.” French citizens have remained divided on the work produced by Charlie Hebdo as “some saw them as powerful stands for free speech, and others as needless provocations.” The editorial director, Charb, was consistent in his understanding of freedom as he not only criticized anything even under foreign threat and national pressures (he has been under police protection for some time), but also called for the respect of criticism and expression by the others. François Mouly, the art editor of the New Yorker magazine was quoted saying “To have cartoonists slaughtered for publishing cartoons is something we haven’t seen since the 18th century,” and added that “They were troublemakers for my entire life” (listen here her interview on the issue).

The weekly newspaper, created in 1970, has a complex history. It emerged from the newspaper Hara-Kiri banned for mocking the death of General de Gaulle. From 1981 to 1992, Charlie Hebdo ceased to be printed for lack of funds. In the 1990s, it was resurrected and become highly visible after the publication in 2006 of cartoons representing the Prophet Mohammet priorly published by a Danish newspaper. Since 2006, Charlie Hebdo has faced threats for its publications and repeated criticisms of Islam. Ensuing the publication of the cartoons, French President Jacques Chirac called for greater responsibility by the press. Charlie Hebdo responded by claiming: “We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.” In 2011, the offices of the newspaper were under attack and damaged by a firebomb.

The symbolism behind this terrorist action is direct attack against French democracy and values, and overall France as a whole. The freedom of press and expression is a basic and central pillar of democracy in most Euro-Atlantic countries. Mockery, criticism, and self-criticism of the world, political systems, religion are necessary for fostering debate and pushing the limits of democracy. Mockery and satire have historically been a core component of French democracy and political life (see Les Guignols de l’Info, Le Bébête Show, Le Canard Enchaîné, and others).

Where does France go from here?

The spontaneous reaction by French citizens around the country and even the world has been the best one possible: spontaneous street meeting demonstrating the spirit of French unity behind its press and principles. Even though terrorism will never end and cannot be ‘killed,’ these attacks should be seen as a starting point in order to address the failures of French society and political environment and trying to reform them. France has been on the verge of a breaking point for quite some times. The society seems broken between the true-French and the rest (see the problem in this use of words). The true-French are unwilling to accept a reform and the opening of French values and cultures in accordance with the new realities; while, the rest feels rejected and sidelined in the booming French suburbs/ghettos. The society is divided into these two groups so intrenched in their narratives, beliefs and ideologies creating a environment propitious to such type of violence.

In addition to a broken society, the French political class is far from being exemplary. Political courage is needed in order to unite and once and for all ending the vitriolic and xenophobic tone present this last decade in mainstream political narratives. Unfortunately, these attacks are taking place at a time of breaking point for French society. The rise of populist and xenophobe parties like the Front National, scoring so highly at the recent European elections, and the vitriolic narratives of the mainstream right trying to attract the voters from the extremes has transformed the national debate. On the one hand, political parties and political leaders have created a dangerous amalgam linking terrorism, immigration, islam, integration altogether when the realities are much more complex. For instance, France hyper-activity in the fight against radical islamic networks in Africa, Sahel and Middle East has increased its vulnerability. While on the other, a taboo about the evolution of French society and the failure of its model of integration, through assimilation, have never been addressed properly. Last, mainstream political parties ought to reject/alienate the extremes and their attempts in normalizing their agendas.

Today France is mourning the death of its talented cartoonists. Tomorrow, France ought to face its realities and weaknesses. Combining a broken society and a toothless political class, the challenge seems considerable. The starting point is an obvious acceptance of the failure of the model of integration, the assumption of its standing as a leading democracy, and finally comforting the need to reform  its broken society.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).