By Surya Sankar Sen:
ISIS’s recent activities in Europe may be viewed as a part of a larger campaign to polarise Europe’s multicultural society along religious lines. The group, over a span of two years, has not only inspired, but also funded and organised successful attacks in countries such as the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Germany as well as Kosovo and Bosnia. The primary impetus behind these attacks seems to be as straightforward as seeking retribution against America’s coalition partners in Iraq and Syria as well as against unallied countries fighting against the ISIS. Attacks on Western European countries have fueled a rising surge of rightist nationalism across the continent’s multicultural societies. These trends have manifested in the form of social backlash against religious and ethnic minorities, especially Muslims. These growing trends are indicative of the fragile nature of the balance that exists within multicultural societies, no matter how old, and the very thin line that separates co-existence and co-option from disharmony. This balance is what the ISIS seeks to destabilise. The matrix of multiple identities which intersect each other is made even more complicated in the context of globalisation. Global exchanges and interactions facilitate the formation of even newer identities, which makes it difficult to keep the oldest bases of recognition (such as religion and ethnicity) insulated against such incursions. As a consequence, a reaction in the form of consolidation of primordial identities may take place. In most cases this assumes a very rigid oppositional stance against incursions and social transformation and ascribes to a culture of antagonistic negation towards the same, supplemented by violence in some instances. The ISIS embodies a similar ethos and seeks to propagate the same through their actions or by re-interpreting history. Their efforts are directed towards substantiating the reasons behind their antagonistic reactions towards such transformative forces by means of evaluation through binaries such as East and West, Christian and Muslim and Faithful and Heathen.
The Islamic State boasts of an extensive command and control network, recruitment bases as well as sleeper cells across Europe. These networks are the restored remnants of support channels which were previously utilised by the Al-Qaeda in Iraq. In addition to acquiring a pre-established channel of control, communication and coordination, the ISIS has through the years taken concrete steps to augment the outreach of the same by establishing their very own network of recruitment, as well as channels for disseminating propaganda. These networks have helped the group harness the vast European Muslim population in a manner which enables them to draw a substantial proportion of their recruits from within the region. In all likelihood, the group will expand its span of operations across the region, whether sponsored, directed or inspired. The Islamic State’s ranks boast of a substantial number of foreign nationals from Europe with the adequate ‘local’ knowledge that would aid in organising attacks across the region in a more efficient manner.
The European Union still exists as an economic and political union, devoid of a military apparatus. This situation renders the Union as a whole, completely dependent upon the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO for military protection and assistance. “In this sense, the foreign policy of the EU is not credible without NATO. This credibility is based on the military capacity to respond to an act of aggression against Europe.” The disarmament program in Europe after the Cold War reduced their collective military capacity and also substantially abridged the region’s ability to deal with threats beyond the border such as the one posed by the Islamic State. Therefore, what needs to be addressed is the presence of the latent violence-enabling prejudices which exists within European societies, as a fail-safe in case of the regional countries’ inability to engage with the group militarily. The crisis in the Middle East and its resultant aftermath has led to a redefining of Europe’s social structure.
The inflow of migrants from the ISIS-affected Muslim majority states in West Asia has significantly altered the social, economic and of course the demographic structures of countries such as Germany and France. With this influx has come fearfulness amongst the Europeans, borne out of the stereotyped perceptions propagated at large by mainstream media. Therefore, what is required is a time-phased solution which focuses on relatively ‘softer’ issues such as the reconfiguration of employment and housing policies in an effort to accommodate the migrant populations without disturbing the pre-existent social balance. These issues require to be addressed immediately, failing which might evoke strong responses primarily from within the European community as a reaction to dwindling opportunities in the contemporary context of vast population inflows. These policies need to be supplemented by efforts aimed at containing a polemical culture of hate perpetuated using social and mass media. The misuse of social media has the potential of opening up fresh social caveats within European countries in several ways. For instance, the European population’s disdain towards the situation carries the potential of being channelled along violent and jingoistic lines. Whereas the disaffected migrants stuck in limbo between their own culture and that of post-Enlightenment Europe may find recourse in anamorphic and distorted causes worth killing and dying for. However, the task of regulating popular means of expression and opinion is complicated. Ideally, maximal freedom of expression needs to be secured alongside social responsibility so as to prevent social destabilisation.
Europe’s current situation is likely to persist for years to come. The continuing waves of immigrants making their way into the continent in search of a new life will only sustain the already established cycle of influx and adjustment. Europe’s future is to be determined by the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East as well as the issues of migration and the influx of jihadists into the region. In time, after the proverbial dust has settled, a new Europe may emerge – either substantially strengthened or weakened by its experiences. What remains to be seen is whether the European Idea endures this test of time.