This blog has been re-published as a Manchester Policy blog, http://blog.policy.manchester.ac.uk/posts/2015/11/the-quest-for-solidarity-in-a-fractured-europe-ii-in-the-aftermath-of-paris/
A few months ago I wrote a blog on the failed quest for solidarity in Europe in light of the contemporary movement of refugees and migrants. The main response in too many countries then – and I wrote that blog in the week in July when ‘Calais’ and the attempt by refugees to cross the English channel was the big news story – were securitisation policies, a fortification of borders and in the case of the UK the call to create a ‘hostile environment’ for those who enter the country ‘illegally’. Calais was then even described as a ‘war zone’ by British freight officials.
In the wake of recent attacks in Paris, it seems, the ‘solidarity’ that was missing then – in an EU that could not even agree on burden sharing mechanisms for a mere 40.000 refugees – has now come about. It did not come about for reasons of compassion or care for the suffering stranger, but because the ‘war zone’ had moved from the outskirts of Calais to the centre of Paris. And those who were the victims had moved from refugees and lorry driver to people like you and me, people who went about their normal lives in bars, restaurants, a football stadium and a concert hall. French President Hollande called the attacks an ‘act of war’ –and Pope Francis referred to a ‘piecemeal Third World War’. While the latter can be read as an acknowledgement of the fact that this so-called ‘war’ might have started quite a while ago in the far away battlefields of Syria and other countries in the region, or even beyond, it took the fact that wars that have been fuelled by Western interests had come home to haunt us for some form of European solidarity to emerge, a solidarity that suddenly even included ostracised Russia. This ‘solidarity’ is bent on fighting ISIL/daish with all it takes, from increased bombing to potentially the involvement of ground troops and no doubt an increase in drone attacks, a sort of warfare in itself potentially illegal under international law.
France called the first state of emergency since the Algerian war and its first curfew has been put in place since the days of WWII. At the same time, Hollande threatened to change the constitution – I use the term threatened, as such reactions are never based on sound reasoning but play into the hands of those who have for a long time sought tougher laws to undermine civil liberties, liberties at the core of European values, or so many of us believe. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the same intelligence services that committed quite a few blunders in the run-up to the attacks now indirectly blame whistle-blower Edward Snowden, with the CIA perversely making the claim he had ‘blood on his hands’. But it is in times like this we need people like Snowden to retain oversight into the murky dealings of a shadowy world not accountable to democratic oversight and process, and too often not to their own governments.
But let me come back to the issue of my original blog, the lack of solidarity among European countries in light of the contemporary refugee crisis, and the all too dominant impulse to erect fences and close borders, an impulse that even before the attacks in Paris arguably made all our lives as European citizens less human – at least if compassion and aspiration are seen as core parameters of humanity.
As a part justification for a response based on securitisation rather than compassion, security services had warned for a long time that ISIL or daish might use the refugee movement to smuggle ‘terrorists’ into the EU in order to carry out attacks. This always seemed slightly far-fetched as in reality enough ‘Western’ born and educated youth were indeed attracted by the message of ISIL/daish and voluntarily travelled to Syria and the wider region as recruits – men and women alike. Thus there was little need to ‘recruit’ locally in the areas governed by ISIL/daish and ‘smuggle’ people into Europe. Neatly for those who had nevertheless warned about the ‘terrorist’ threat posed by refugees, one of the Paris attackers seems to have entered Europe via Greece and indeed disguised as a Syrian refugee. While the evidence for this is murky, this ‘fact’ has received much attention and is a gift for those always bent on a securitized response to the present refugee movement. Few ask the question whether ‘Western’ societies are not falling for a plot neatly constructed by ISIL/daish and its followers.
Because it are those countries in the EU that have been welcoming to refugees even as their numbers kept rising that pose a real threat to ISIL/daish propaganda and its wider objectives. ISIL/daish is out to prove that peaceful co-existence between those who follow (its version of) Islam and those of other faiths and beliefs, the essentially infidel in its parlance, is impossible. Therefore the need for an ‘Islamic State’ stretching to the widest geographical extension possible, where those of ‘pure faith’ can all live together and follow strict rules. The fact that many of those who flee the ISIL/daish version of Islam and the oppression that comes with find sanctuary and a life they value in ‘Europe’, this imagined entity of evil and decadence, is a thorn in the flesh of ISIL/daish. It rather prefers ‘Europe’ to be an entity that lives behind walls and closed borders, unable for ‘others’ to enter.
It remains to be seen what the Paris attacks will do to the future of an EU refugee and asylum regime that was already too focused on the securitization of EU borders and increasing surveillance of all of us. For now, France has suspended the Schengen agreement of free cross-border travel and it remains open what other rights might become suspended. If those who propagate the ever tighter surveillance of our daily lives get their way, ISIL/daish has indeed secured a victory – it is up to us all to not make that happen and stand up for the values that are at the core of a free Europe