Wednesday

1st Feb 2023

Opinion

Perspectives against extremism

  • Escalating fear will have serious consequences not only for basic rights and liberties, but also on (the peacefulness of) our daily lives (Photo: Gwenael Piaser)

We need to try and understand why the Paris and Verviers attacks were committed by young adults born and raised in the heart of Europe.

Since the Paris attacks the media has become a huge fear-producing machine. Mainstream media, across all European states, covered every second of the events, as they feared that after France, they could be next.

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  • Since the Paris attacks the media has become a huge fear-producing machine (Photo: EUobserver)

On social media, and even beyond its bounds, one hears references to ‘World War III’, ‘Attack on the West’, ‘War with Muslims’ and so on. To some, the Paris attack was a inevitable sign of Armageddon.

In Belgium, where I live, police unions demanded that policemen be able to take their service weapons home "against the danger of IS".

The ministers of defense and internal affairs are even investigating a legislative amendment to allow the deploying of the army on our streets. In Antwerp, the police raided several homes and arrested people because they had been spreading "hate messages on social media".

There is growing insecurity all over Europe because of the crisis we are facing. In fact, several sociologists claim that we live in a fear society.

Escalating fear will have serious consequences not only for basic rights and liberties, but also on (the peacefulness of) our daily lives.

The media and politicians undoubtedly have a significant responsibility on how they interpret and inform citizens on events such as the recent ones in Paris.

Extremism

Europe is in crisis and this carries consequence, whether we like it or not. It can have positive ones; such as the growing number of innovative solidarity projects all over Europe.

But this crisis also has negative consequences such as the growth of extreme right parties and movements all over Europe, from Finland to Greece.

Looking at the profile of Greece's Golden Dawn voters or supporters of the anti-immigrant anti-EU UKip, it appears that such parties are gaining popularity among socially excluded people.

The three perpetrators in France all spent their youth excluded and marginalised from society. We also know that the overwhelming majority of European youth who are leaving to Syria live in poverty and exclusion.

This raises the question: ‘Are these youths falling victim to extremism because of their social and economic status’?

The case of Belgium

Belgium has the highest number of jihadist recruits per capita of any western European country. This is no coincidence.

According Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), no other country in Europe has fewer immigrants active on the labour market.

There are two reasons for this OSCE says: racism and discrimination on the one hand, and inequality within education system on the other.

According to figures from the University of Antwerp, half of the Turkish and Moroccan migrants live in poverty. Figures from the ‘Policy Research Center’ show that about 30 percent of the migrant youth drop out of school without a degree.

Brussels delivers almost half of the recruits and Vilvoorde, a little city in Flanders, the highest number proportionally speaking.

Both of the cities have the highest rate of inequality and overwhelming poverty.

Even highly-educated migrants face racism and discrimination. Six percent of Belgians with a high degree does not have a job.

For Belgians from a migrant background (non EU countries) with the same degrees the figure is 22 percent. Although the majority of IS recruits are drop-outs and/or living in poverty, there are a small number highly-educated youths joining IS.

History

The social-economic misery is not the only cause.

History is also important - as any dialogue with a Muslim youth will show. Muslims have been oppressed in their own countries by dictators such as Muammar Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein, both supported by Western countries.

The West has started many wars in the Middle East, such as the two most recent in Afghanistan or Iraq. The Iraqi war was based on lies, as there were no weapons of mass destruction found.

Palestine is occupied by Israel, which on a regular basis attacks Gaza and is responsible for the death of thousands of innocent citizens.

The war in Syria is still going on and three million Syrians already left their country, thousands have died while the West stands idly by.

The Muslim youth knows this, sees the images on the Internet and are revolted by the injustice. Some of these youths fall prey to Al-Qaeda or IS recruiters. This is why our focus should be not on punishing them but punishing the recruiters who brainwash our youths and take them away from their families.

Negative image

Long before 9/11 and especially since, Muslims and Islam have been depicted as a danger to the West. It does not matter where these Muslims live, nor that they have been born and raised in Europe, they remain strangers and a potential danger.

Media, politicians, and authors have created this image and still promote it.

Many in the West fail to see and acknowledge the normal lives and positive examples of the 99.9 percent of Muslims by focusing on the extremist 0.1 percent.

This fact revolts many Muslim youths, who feel that while they struggle through life as most of us do, they are labeled unwanted and considered a danger.

Muslim community

A third cause is the failure of the Muslim community on certain points, such as informing their youth about Islam.

Most of the youth that has left and is leaving to join IS or other movements, have little or no knowledge of Islam.

We need a better framework and network within this community to inform and educate. Parents also have an important role to play. In this respect, the state should support the community and parents where and when necessary.

The best way to deal with extremism of any kind is to offer people a future they can believe in. The Muslim youth who left to fight in Syria and Iraq are youths with few or no prospects in Europe.

What the EU and European states should do is tackle the social-economical problems.

But it important not to forget the wider context. Western countries' foreign policy is a huge problem. Equally important is that media and politicians assume their responsibility and realise that their discourse on Islam and Muslims matters.

It would be a step forward if they would focus more on the overwhelming majority of Muslims, their problems and challenges, as well as their contributions to European countries.

Bleri Lleshi is Brussels based political philosopher and author of various books. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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