28th Mar 2023


Europe must stop falling into the ISIS trap

  • The first reaction to terror attacks on European cities was unity. This quickly turned into increased polarisation - one of Europe's biggest problems (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)
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Four years ago, the global coalition to defeat the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) declared that its mission was accomplished. Indeed, ISIS was military defeated.

However, at least one element of the ISIS strategy is still gaining ground: creating polarisation in the West. This aim was to convince Muslims in the West that the only way to defend themselves is taking up arms and fight.

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When Germany announced it would welcome 800,000 refugees, and football supporters held up signs saying "Refugees Welcome", we saw panic on jihadist networks and this for the first time.

ISIS published 12 video messages in which it tried to convince Syrian refugees to come the Islamic State instead of 'Islamophobic' Europe.

It didn't work. That was a devastating blow to ISIS' strategy.

The following attacks by ISIS in European cities were meant to create chaos and through that an anti-refugee and an anti-Muslim environment in Europe.

Today we can conclude that the attacks by ISIS and the disinformation campaigns by ISIS, Russia and others have indeed succeeded in increasing fear for refugees and for Muslims in Europe.

They have also created hatred and violence against Muslims. As a result, Muslims in general, and refugees in particular, feel less safe, more discriminated against, less understood, and thus less at home in Europe.

Polarisation in general, and the one on Islam in particular, has become Europe's biggest political and societal problem.

Instead of defending the so-called "European way of life", the EU should come up with a consistent plan to reverse this polarisation trend.

Such a plan should first of all consist of new economic discourse based on facts and figures.

Real facts and figures from past

Recent literature shows how migration (guest) workers from Italy, Morocco, Turkey, Ukraine, Greece and other countries were fundamental for the economic growth and prosperity of parts of Europe in the 1950s and 1960s.

Unfortunately, there is no study available that calculates what the figures would have been without this migration.

There is no doubt that the impact of migrated workers was enormous, as they often worked in the coal mines, one of the backbones of the European economy.

A study that gives the facts and figures on the positive impact of this migration wave, both the short and long term, would make people think fundamentally different about migration in the past.

As a matter of fact, the current economic and social situation of Europe, and more specifically in Western Europe, is similar to the one of the 1950s and 1960s.

An ageing European population results in a shrinking workforce. The consequence is that vacancies are not getting filled, and an economic growth that hardly surpasses one percent of GDP.

Even though there is a structural unemployment of around seven percent, it appears that vacancies cannot be filled by these unemployed.

Migration will be necessary in order to keep pensioners out of poverty. However, there is no study with concrete calculations and concrete numbers and recommendations.

The fact that Europe closes its borders ever more, and makes it more difficult for non-Europeans to get the Schengen-visa, is creating a short- and long-term problem in the labour market.

It is necessary for the EU to make a serious study on the need of migration labour, and a plan on how to make it happen.

Fighting disinformation

Secondly, there is an urgent need of fighting disinformation at an EU level

It is clear disinformation has fractured European society.

There are the conspiracy theories on Covid-19 which have created a health risk for the entire population, but also led to an increasing distrust in government and the European institutions.

Connecting refugees with terrorism and with crime had an equally fracturing effect on the European population.

Both cases show that stopping misinformation, coming from abroad (Russia or ISIS) or coming from inside (mostly far-right) is an urgent task.

Therefore, we need a European agency to fight disinformation that goes much further than just collecting Russian disinformation.

Common history

Thirdly, it is necessary to show how Islam and Europe have a lot of history in common.

Islamophobia is becoming an increasing problem in Europe. There is no doubt that 9/11, as well as the terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels, and other European cities have created a fear of Islam and Muslims all over Europe.

This has resulted in a discourse on the right that 'we' have to defend Christian Europe against Islam, just like 'we' did in the battle of Poitiers in 732, and the sieges of Vienna in 1529 and 1683.

Appointing an EU commissioner to defend "the European way of life" is an example of how a far-right discourse has been integrated in the thinking of the European Commission.

This toxic discourse of 'us versus them' is historically debatable, to say the least.

Islamic science, medicine, trade and philosophy have had a very important role in the rise of Europe, starting from the Late Middle Ages.

Therefore we need the European Commission or other institutions to invest in history research into the constitutive role of Muslims in European history.

The EU does not need to become a counter-propaganda machine, but looking for and providing of the right facts will be the only way for Europe to stop falling into ISIS' polarisation trap.


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