The French tricolour illuminated the National Gallery, the fountains around Nelson's Column, and the hearts of all gathered at Trafalgar Square, London on the evening of the 14th November in solidarity with Paris. This sight was, for me, the perfect reflection of how much Europe has developed in only two hundred years - the monument, originally built to mark the victory over the Franco-Spanish forces at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, was now a bridge between cultures; the perfect reflection of Europe.
The attacks on Paris of November 13th will have extremely long-lasting effects on Europe, and could be a turning point in the war against ISIS (very much depending on developments that take place over the next few days). Some of the consequences of the attack thus far have included:
· An intensification of French airstrikes in Syria, in particular on the city of Raqqa (though the effectiveness of these has already been brought into question)
· Calls by French President François Hollande for a reform of the Constitution, giving more power to the President to act in the face of a terrorist attack.
· Calls for an all-inclusive international coalition against ISIS, issued by both François Hollande and Nicholas Sarkozy, to include Russia.
· François Hollande, in his speech to Congress on the 16th November, called on the activation of the ‘mutual assistance’ clause 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty (calling on all EU member states to provide ‘aid and assistance’ if one of its members is the victim of ‘armed aggression), to which all EU states has replied positively.
· French lawmakers have voted to extend the state of emergency in France to three months.
While events unfold at their own natural pace, there are a few key issues that the European Union must tackle in order to prevent further attacks from taking place, as well as maintain peace and security on our continent. I will focus on three of the issues I consider of greatest importance.
Firstly, one of the issues that the Paris attacks brought to the limelight was the extreme flaws in our intelligence and security services. France had already suffered a series of attacks at the beginning of the year, the most memorable of which was the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and another attack was thwarted by chance on the train between Amsterdam and Paris in August. In addition, both the attackers of Charlie Hebdo, and some of the attackers of the most recent Paris attacks had been listed by the intelligence services of France and of other countries. Pointing fingers is obviously counter-productive, but doing nothing is, as we have seen, potentially lethal. In light of the clear inadequacy of national intelligence services to protect their own citizens, and in light of the fact that the Paris attacks were a cross-border operation, involving places such as Brussels and, potentially, Germany, the solution is simple: intelligence and security forces must be pooled together effectively, with European Union oversight. We cannot allow that petty competition between national intelligence services and misplaced national pride stand in the way of the security of our citizens.
These attacks have also shed light on one of Europe’s biggest weaknesses: its inability to plan in advance. If we analyse the history of the European Union, we realise that it is very much a reactionary entity. For example, the development of some form of common security and defence policy came as a reaction to our inability to effectively handle the Yugoslav wars. Our response to the refugee crisis shows exactly the same reactionary attitude: while Europe has been dealing with an influx of refugees and migrants from North Africa and other areas for many years, only this year has it woken up to the problem. Terrorism, however, is too much of a threat for Europe to be reactionary towards. We must take this as a lesson and change our strategy across all areas of European policy.
The last issue that Europe has to deal with urgently (and which should have been dealt with long ago) is that of the social tensions that exist among the various communities within Europe, in particular with the Muslim communities. This is an issue of the utmost importance, and if left unresolved, could spell decades of social tension and conflict in Europe. We must acknowledge that Islam is as much a part of our continent as Christianity, and any other religion. The European Union, as a secular project, must not transform into the spokesperson for the Christian majority. We cannot have on our continent the dictatorship of the majority over the minority. How do we go about creating peaceful coexistence? We must kick-start an EU-wide social dialogue between the communities of Europe with an aim at creating this coexistence. As I stated in a previous article here on One Europe (“Xenophobia in Europe: Analysis and Solutions”), much of the xenophobia that exists towards Muslims is born out of a lack of knowledge of the Muslim faith and customs. Ignorance causes fear. The best way to dissipate this fear is by educating people on both sides and by promoting dialogue and shared experience. This is not, of course, the miracle solution to all our problems, but it must form a key part of any strategy implemented.
It is clear that a lot will (and must) change as a result of the tragedy that took place in Paris. It must serve as a wake-up call for the whole Europe: terrorism is as much a European problem as it has been a Middle Eastern problem. Terrorism knows no borders, and we are all vulnerable so long as it persists.
Our response must be firm, but at the same time pondered. The terrorists who have struck at the heart of Europe have one objective: to destroy our unity and to destabilise our continent. In light of this, our response is clear: we need more Europe, and to strengthen our unity as a Union. More importantly, while these attacks have caused pain and fear, we cannot allow, our fear to be transformed into blatant islamophobia and blind hatred for refugees. We allow this to happen, and the Islamic State wins.
Please note: when reading this article, readers should take note of the fast pace of the developments taking place, and the time it naturally takes between writing and publishing. The author encourages readers to stay tuned to any new development.