November 13 will be carved into the memory of the Parisians, the French and all Europeans. On this day, not only innocent people were attacked, but so were Europe’s core values. All that Europe stands for is increasingly being put under pressure. Angela Merkel, who, dressed in black, spoke from Berlin about the terrorist attacks, called on the Europeans to stand together in defiance of an assault on the liberties that the old continents represents. “Those whom we mourn were murdered in front of cafes, in restaurants, in a concert hall or on the open street. They wanted to live the life of free people in a city that celebrates life. And they met with murderers who hate this life of freedom,” the German Chancellor said.
True enough, the terrorists who commit such sickening attacks on innocent civilians, seed uncertainty and fear in the heart of the Europeans, thus undermining the very values and lifestyles the ‘Old Continent’ embraces. The first high-profile demonstration came very soon after the attacks when Poland’s new government announced that the country would not accept EU migrant quotas following the Paris bombings. Apparently, Poland’s new leadership does not realize that the refugees are trying to flee from exactly the same people who carry out such acts of terror.
The attacks like those on Friday create a vicious circle. The more the Europeans are called on to help refugees from the Middle East, many of whom are Muslims, the more they are confronted with the worst of what religious extremism has to offer. This in turn gives rise to populist parties, who are using the current situation to their advantage to gain domestic support. And all across Europe, there is no shortage of populist parties. If such politicians happen to be in power, such as in France where Marie Le Pen’s party’s approval ratings have risen to their record levels, Europe will likely become a much more xenophobic place rejecting the basic values of multiculturalism and tolerance.
However, all haters and bigots miss an important point. The society will not become a safer and a more inclusive place by ignoring problems all around. Europe might close itself but refugees will still keep on knocking on its doors trying to get in. Europe might keep on ignoring the problems in the Middle East but those will only keep on providing a fertile ground for organizations such as the Islamic State. Now, given so many problems in most of its neighboring regions, Europe must stay true to its core values – of freedom, democracy, humanity and dignity but also solidarity. At the same time, it cannot hide itself behind the veils of “intellectual” humanity and dignity in order to postpone a series of more decisive steps that need to be taken to effectively make Europe a safer but also a more inclusive place.
So far, it has become clear that what has made Europe much more vulnerable to terrorist attacks is the continuing war in Syria. However, Europe’s actions – like those of the international community – have been too lukewarm for far too long. The European Union, just like the United States who were too reluctant to launch another military adventure in the Middle East following the fiasco in Iraq, need to take concrete – namely military – steps in the region. The EU needs to redefine itself as a global player and reconsider its attitude towards military interventions. The Middle East could be, or perhaps should be, the place to start. This ought to be part of the solution designed to the root out what is perhaps the main cause of many of Europe’s current troubles.
The second part of the solution is related to security at home. Although European intelligence and security agencies have been strengthened since the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier in January, the fact that they were unable to prevent the latest attacks, which must have taken weeks to orchestrate, is only further undermining the sense of security in Europe. In light of the terrorist attacks last Friday, the security and the freedom of movement will be further challenged and likely redefined. For example, Czech President Milos Zeman has already promptly urged European leaders to reinforce the “Fortress Europe”, thus suggesting sealing Europe’s borders.
The big question now is how Europe will manage to juggle its core values and the responsibilities of a leader faced with problems outside the EU borders and fear inside of them. “Let us answer the terrorists by living our values with courage,” said Angela Merkel recently, which is perhaps suggesting that Europe is determined to face this immense and unprecedented challenge.