Sunday 18 August 2019

Tackle the threat without making things any worse

'All mainstream politicians must now mind their mouths, show leadership, and avoid descending to the level of their demagogue opponents'
'All mainstream politicians must now mind their mouths, show leadership, and avoid descending to the level of their demagogue opponents'
John Downing

John Downing

If Charlie Flanagan had the opportunity to take a 10-minute walk from the EU building in Brussels where he and his colleagues will meet today, he would see immediate examples of the problems of immigrant integration in Europe.

For 10 marvellous years I lived on the edge of the EU quarter in Brussels, close to the communes of Schaerbeek and St Josse, which are home to many of the city's huge Moroccan and Turkish populations. When I left in the late 1990s, there was already growing evidence of tensions, with the rising generation of the children of migrants whose poverty was compounded by a keen sense of not belonging to Brussels, Belgium or indeed Europe.

The memories, and reports of subsequent flashpoint incidents and the authorities' efforts to meet the many associated challenges, came flooding back this weekend amid the reports of the attacks in Paris.

The barbaric and utterly unacceptable series of attacks in the French capital on Friday night have laid down a huge, three-pronged challenge to the political leaders all across Europe.

Firstly, the murderous fanatics who claim Islamic allegiance must be stopped; they must be apprehended and punished.

In this process, every citizen and all others visiting Europe will suffer the burden of increased security and surveillance. But - and here is the real challenge - this increased security must not inflame an already beleaguered and dislocated minority, driving them into the arms of the affiliates of Isis and Al-Qaeda. Those of us of a certain age will remember internment in Northern Ireland and other heavy-handed and unproductive security initiatives, which only proved to be "the IRA's best recruiting sergeant". The same principle applies all across Europe.

But it is a difficult thing to do in practice, and calls for "something to be done" can lead to dangerous short cuts being taken.

This leads us to the third, interlinked point. It is simply that all mainstream politicians must now mind their mouths, show leadership, and avoid descending to the level of their demagogue opponents.

This is a heaven-sent opportunity for far-right political groups which are already feeding on fear of "the enemy within." Signals from Poland - where the government said on Saturday they cannot take EU migrant quotas due to the Paris attacks - are just one early sign of this. Upcoming elections next month for new regional assemblies in France may well see big gains for the right-wing Front National led by Marine Le Pen.

Ms Le Pen's party was already tipped as being likely to do well. Now the challenge for President Francois Hollande and his socialist colleagues and the centre-right republicans, led by former president Nicholas Sarkozy, is even greater. Mr Hollande was castigated last week for proposing an "anti-FN alliance" - perhaps the changed situation will get him a better hearing.

It is not an easy time to be promoting reasoned discussion and avoidance of extreme reactions and stances. But that is the essence of leadership - doing the necessary and not necessarily always being popular.

As Mr Flanagan summed up last night: "Those behind those attacks in Paris wanted to divide Europe. It is now imperative that Europe speaks with one voice on all of the issues concerning migration."

Much is made of racial tensions in countries like France and Belgium. But we must recognise that they have made efforts to reach out to their Muslim minorities as well to deal with problems.

Belgium, for example, now has an exchange programme with Moroccan police in efforts to put a better cultural perspective on its policing effort. It has also, so far, had some success in dealing with the terrorist threat.

Similarly, this is now a time for all of Europe to stand with the French authorities if their efforts are to have any hope of confronting the enormous challenges ahead. The need to stop terrorists, stymie far-right bigots, defend human rights, and maintain a generous response to migrants, are all interlinked concerns even if they are sometimes in conflict.

Each one of these is as big and urgent a challenge as the other. The spreading web of Isis attacks are a cancer which no one government can tackle alone. The key issue here is the sharing of intelligence, an area which has been lamentably lacking up to now.

At the heart of it all lies the need to address the four-year-old war in Syria, which has driven 20pc of its population out of their home country and left 16 million of its total 22 million people in need of some kind of support.

It is very easy to say that this war must be ended. But most of the actors now nominally engaged in the quest for peace have their own agendas. Turkey, which has an excellent record in supporting Syrian migrants, is understandably focused on the Kurds. Russia is keen to support Syrian president Bashar al-Assad at all costs. Al-Qaeda and Isis are thriving amid all this chaos which they are keen to export across Europe.

As often happens on these occasions, people will question what role, if any, Ireland can have. The simple answer here is that it is up to us.

We have a seat and a voice in the EU and the UN. We have an exemplary record of peacekeeping and humanitarian work in the Middle East. We must have no compunction or doubt about contributing on that basis.

Irish Independent

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