Monday, January 12, 2015

New Wine in Old Bottles

Nearly 1.7 million Parisian rallied this Sunday. Prime Minister Valls declared at the rally, "We are all Charlie, we are all police, we are all Jews of France," referring to the victims of the attacks that included employees at Charlie Hebdo, shoppers at a kosher grocery and three police officers. In all of the digital ink being spilled, few are asking however: Who is we? Who is they? 

Hidden in the subtext of the French Prime Minister's remarks and #JeSuisCharlie is the idea that terrorism and intolerance is NOT native to their soil. There is someone or some people not integrating, not accepting French values. But "those aren't our children," the typical European would respond. These self-righteous Europeans believe that these illiberal elements are foreign and don't belong to France or German, which ignoring their own violent terrorist past. It's other people's children who are being seduced by Islamic extremism. They ignore the unpleasant reality that these young people who carried out the Paris attacks are native Frenchmen who were raised in a country with a history full of intolerance and contempt for liberal values.

If Europeans just walked down into their historical wine cellars, they'll see scores of wine bottles with labels of terrorist groups from the past. There are many different varietals down there. French Republican extremists used terrorism to target and kill their political enemies during the Revolution. A little more than 100 years later the first of Europe's two great conflagrations began with the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian anarchist. The IRA deployed this tactic often in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The November 17 Movement has used it in Greece. The Red Army Faction terrorized the German establishment for almost 20 years. Even earlier, French fascists upset with France's withdrawal from Algeria targeted President de Gaulle for assassination. The Red Brigades in Italy murdered a former Italian prime minister. Basques calling for their own homelandTerrorism is just as much a part of French and European history as laïcité and defending human rights. European extremists have long pulled the bottles of terrorism off the shelves to further their ideological causes. 

Contrary to how many Europeans are deluding themselves on Twitter today, Europeans responded to the attacks of terrorist groups of the past with nods of sympathy. Their respective causes--nationalists in Northern Ireland, opening up a stifling conservative capitalist order in West Germany, against colonial retreat in Africa--were perceived by many Europeans as legitimate. "While I don't approve of their actions, I can see where they're coming from," would be a typical refrain. While their means were unjustifiable, their ends were.

Europeans who grew up during WWII also acknowledged that it was their own children carrying out these attacks, although they may have been only slightly puzzled as to why. Parents in the 1950s and 1960s would look aghast and concerned. "What did we do to raise children that carry out such violence?" While quietly opposed to what their children were doing, they didn't disown them. The terrorists were still their children. These young ones just needed a combination of understanding and persuasion to be taken off their violent trajectories. These volatile bottles just need some special care, not be poured out down the drain. That won't happen in Europe today.

The result of not acknowledging how Muslim youth extremists are growing up and their own children will most definitely lead to violent backlash by white Europeans, which is happening already. The Far-Right will capitalize on the anger and subtle contempt many white Europeans have for those with darker complexion at the polls. They will cheer on heavy-handed police tactics against specifically targeted ethnic neighborhoods. They will demand other Muslims renounce terrorism and accept liberal values, but deny their own pasts and intolerance.

We are already seeing it in Denmark. the happiest place on Earth, where halal/kosher butcheries have been banned, because "this practice is no longer acceptable in modern Danish society," ignoring the fact that the Jews and Muslims practicing their dietary rules and practices are Danes themselves with the same rights. White, blonde-haired, Christian Danes get to decide what's truly Danish, even if that means discriminating against religious minorities. Who is not tolerating diversity and free expression now?

Rather than being cared for, listened to, and cajoled, European governments and voters cry, "Discipline them!" Discipline them in the ways of laïcité. Discipline them in the ways of secularism. Discipline them in what it means to be "French" or "German." There's no dialogue to be had with wayward youths alienated from society and then corrupted by evil ideologies, they would argue. Even though it was their own generation and parents who were in the past. Why not? Because these young terrorists are not "our" children. We can always kick them out or prevent them from coming in, if we have to, even though they truly are the children of France.

Terrorism is an old tactic from the ancient wine cellar of extremist European causes. Islamic extremism is just a new varietal sitting next to the extremists ideologies of the European past. To help this grape whither on the vine and be put the remnants far back in the cellar, Europeans will have to acknowledge what else is down there and work hard to understand why so many disenchanted youth are drinking terrorism and extremist ideologies these days, just like they did in the past.