We are Better than Blaming Refugees

By Erika Brady
Columnist, PhD Student at the Handa Center of Terrorism and Political Violence

The attacks on Paris on the night of 13 November 2015 have united the world yet again against terrorism. People are shocked and appalled at what has happened. Nowhere is this more clear to see than on social media, where people have been updating their profile photos with the colours of the French flag on Facebook and hashtags such as #prayforparis abound on Twitter.

Everyone has an opinion. The vast majority of these opinions are calls for peace and shows of support. But there are underlying currents of tension, anger and frustration that are leading to unhelpful and negative comments as well. One example of this can be seen in the tweet of Joe Walsh, a former US congressman, who stated “Terrorists arrested claim to be Syrian & ISIS recruits. Hey Obama, can we speculate now that they were Muslim? Or still too soon? SMH”.

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Making out the issue at the heart of this crisis a Muslim one is simply wrong. In addition to this tweet being shocking in its complete lack of understanding from the complexity of the situation, what is most disappointing is that this ‘leader’ is criticising President Obama’s very careful statement released shortly after the attacks correctly indicating that it was too soon to know what happened – a plain truth.

Other negative comments cast blame on the failings of various countries’ counter-terrorism policies, and racial and theological slurs abound.  A very interesting snapshot of the polarisation that has taken place can be seen (here) where people try to blame refuges for bringing terrorists into Western countries, and the fallacy of this argument is patiently pointed out to them. This is the wonder that is the Internet, where everyone has the right to voice their opinion. It is also one of the fundamental freedoms of democratic countries and something we are vociferously proud of.

But how can we balance this important freedom of opinion with clarity and accuracy in our judgments? By calling for revenge and pointing fingers at the nearest and most convenient group to blame, how are we acting differently from those elements of the Muslim community that espouse this terror?

But how can we balance this important freedom of opinion with clarity and accuracy in our judgments?

What needs to be made clear is the fact that terrorist attacks are happening on a daily basis across the world. Unfortunately, because they are so regular, and often do not seem to affect us directly, they tend to blur into the background as something horrible that is happening far away. We feel sympathy, but in the end, what can we do? What we need to realise is that more and more, these far away incidents are not as distant as they may seem. The result of war and terrorism in the Middle East is the direct cause for the immigration crisis that has hit Europe particularly hard over the past few months and which will continue to be an issue far into the future.

The backlash against this crisis has been support for far right-wing political parties all across Europe, particularly in Eastern European countries where the problem is straining resources to the maximum and also in Western European countries such as France.

Prior to the attacks in Paris, far-right politician and leader of the National Front in France Marine Le Penn had already seen increasing support for her anti-immigration stance, and looked set to gain significant ground in the upcoming regional elections. Following the attacks she issued a statement calling for the “immediate halt” to immigration to France. She also said the following on Saturday 14 November 2015 “Islamist fundamentalism must be annihilated, France must ban Islamist organisations, close radical mosques and expel foreigners who preach hatred in our country as well as illegal immigrants who have nothing to do here.”

The type of blatant dismissal of the complexities of the situation is dangerous, and only one example of the attitudes of far-right politicians across Europe. The most concerning thing, however, is that following incidents like the attacks in Paris, people start listening to them more carefully and looking for answers which simply do not exist and are highly unlikely to come from this type of rhetoric. How “Islamic fundamentalism” is to be “annihilated” was not something Ms Le Penn seems to have offered any information on.

Blaming refugees from the Middle East will gain us nothing.

Hungary’s “Jobbik” and Greece’s “Golden Dawn” are also putting this type of unhelpful and uncompromising perspective across, and in light of the tension and fear many are feeling in Europe and across the world at this time, people’s attitudes are starting to become more open to this rhetoric. The unfortunate thing is that, in light of the fact that at least one of the attackers appears to have come to France through the immigration route, these right-wing parties will gain far more support than they could have expected previously. We cannot say that issues in the Middle East are not impacting our daily lives anymore; we just haven’t quite got our minds around it yet.

Blaming the refugees for this crisis is nothing short of stupidity and short sightedness. These people want to get away from the horrors of their homelands just as we would if there were such horrors overtaking our countries. Take the Irish for example. Ireland’s troubled history has resulted in us becoming more populous out in the world than we are in our own country! As an Irish person, I often wonder where any of us would be if countries had not opened their borders to us in times of crisis in the past – the famine and the strife with England over the past century are primary examples of significantly increased immigration, with an estimated 4.5 million Irish people immigrating to America alone between 1820 and 1930 alone. That this trend has continued to the present.

This mass immigration took place over many years, and was not without its own problems, but certainly the contribution Irish people have made to society cannot be overlooked. And it seems that countries such as  the US have been content to accept Irish immigrants over the past century and a half, despite the fact that the IRA was a terrorist group carrying out atrocities against the British on a regular basis for much of the 1970s and 1980s. Indeed, throughout the 1980s the IRA was known to train groups in Libya and elsewhere in various terror tactics – its global impact has also been significant. 

Blaming refugees from the Middle East will gain us nothing. If ISIS wants to hide its supporters among the masses, there is no easy way to pluck them out of the crowd without undermining the fundamental beliefs of Western society. Indeed, with all of the issues surrounding people leaving Western countries to join ISIS, how much more likely is it that the source of these terrorist issues in Europe will not be our own citizens holding passports from a multitude of European countries and with a multitude of ethic backgrounds?

A solution to this crisis will not be easy and results will not be obvious. The negative reports emanating from Brussels on how the recent talks on the refugee crisis in Europe are stagnant and are not addressing the real issues do little to reflect the reality.  The European Project that is the EU was never going to be easy. Historical, cultural and economic factors simply pull the leaders of the countries of Europe in too many directions at once, and politicians are obliged to at least provide some semblance of listening to their voters. That being said, at least there is communication and attempts are being made at finding a solution. It may be slow and painstaking, but that is the democratic way and a far better way than war and violence.

A solution to this crisis will not be easy and results will not be obvious.

Unfortunately, attacks such as those carried out on Paris on 13 November instil fear and anger, and the obvious result has been a call for action. The loudest group emitting this call will be, without a doubt, the far-right political groups, and politicians like Le Penn will continue an already established upward swing in popularity among those who are most afraid. The impulsive and, to be honest, ignorant, views of these groups sounds safe and comfortable to people who do not understand that the option to maintain an insular society is no longer possible in this day and age. 

The fundamental problem is that human nature is not inherently patient, and if a solution is not immediate we consider the situation a failure. The world, unfortunately, is not black and white, and carefully considering how to move forward following this heinous attack might take longer but the outcomes of such deliberations will have greater long-term impact.  The sooner we realise that war in the traditional sense does not solve these kinds of problems, the more likely we will find appropriate solutions for the 21st Century, and not simply fall into a dismal cycle of violence and retaliation. No solution will be perfect, but a non-violent solution might just be the stepping-stone to the resolution of bigger issues.

The Paris attacks seem to have brought out the best and the worst in people, and each year that passes provides us with better and more technology in which to share our thoughts and opinions. The internet is a tool – let use it to communicate to our leaders that warfare will not achieve the results needed instead of making negative and uninformed statements about retaliation and who is to blame that contribute nothing helpful. We are better than that. 

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Feature image courtesy of Halibutt, Creative Commons.

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