The challenge to Europe's leaders
Published 17/07/2016 | 02:30
The Isil claim of responsibility for the atrocity that took the lives of 84 people in Nice on Bastille Day seems to confirm worst fears that the terrorist group's poisonous ideology has evolved into a potentially widespread and random threat to European society and the way of life in general.
An Isil-run media outlet has said the man who drove a truck into a crowd in the French coastal city is a "soldier" of that group. The attacker was quoted as having "carried out the operation in response to calls to target the citizens of coalition countries fighting the Islamic State".
The nature and scope of attacker Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel's relationship with Isil has yet to be established. Clearly, he also had psychological problems, and as such was perhaps more susceptible than otherwise might be the case to Isil's evil propaganda. The extent to which Isil directly or indirectly influenced him remains to be seen. There is still no evidence that he had pledged allegiance to Isil, but that is not the point. The point is that his actions, which bear a striking resemblance to a recent twisted call to action by Isil, have been claimed by that terrorist organisation. As such, the threat to Europe and wider Western society has increased exponentially. Another deranged attack could take place at any time and in any place. There is no avoiding that grim conclusion or, indeed, the conclusion that life in Europe will carry on regardless. There is no choice.
By now the words of world leaders in condemnation of and resilient against terrorist atrocities such as occurred in Nice have become customary. Those words remain necessary and important, but words need to be backed up with greater actions to protect the citizens of Europe. In that regard, there seems little doubt that Europe has responded somewhat, and with a measure of success, but the response is still disjointed and inadequate. It would be difficult, in the extreme, to prevent an atrocity such as occurred in Nice. The random nature of such an attack is virtually imposs- ible to foresee, and will likely become more frequent. That is not to say that Europe's leaders can be absolved of further responsibilities.
However, at a time when Europe needs to show greater solidarity and cohesion, the continent is pulling itself apart, egged on by a mixture of politicians and citizens with a poor knowledge of history and an even weaker grasp of geo-political realities. Faced with threats as insidious as Isil's ideology taking root on home soil, and from events on the periphery in Turkey, Russia and elsewhere, the failure of political leadership and direction in Europe to rise to the demands of these events is troubling in the extreme. It is not, however, a recent failure, the consequences of which are now evident of the streets and boulevards of the continent's great cities. Failure comes in many forms, and has been evident through the generations, most notably by a refusal or inability to help properly integrate the great passage of people from other cultures and histories into the enlightened embrace of Europe. There is a greater risk that the fallout from the atrocity in Nice will be felt beyond France and across Europe, bringing a sinister boost to xenophobic narratives which conflate immigrants and refugees with the threat of terrorism, and the consequent election of extreme voices anxious to exploit the vacuum of leadership at this most critical time in the history of Europe.