Parallels between the recent acts of terrorism by Islamic extremists in Denmark and France are astounding and should make Europeans sit up and think. It was clear in both attacks, as it was in Madrid, London and Brussels before, that the perpetrators had been known to the security agencies for some time, in some cases for years.
Nevertheless, they were able to murder and demonstrate the weakness of the state.
The understandable yet misguided public conclusion wasn’t long in coming: The state is doing too little for security! A better conclusion would be that the state is going about it the wrong way.
Instead of following the usual knee-jerk reaction and demanding more law and order, more telecommunications surveillance, more data recording, more laws, and more police, a look at the parallels between these acts of murder would have been more useful.
All of the perpetrators became violent Muslim criminals over the course of time, after they had grown up in the breeding grounds of violence on the outskirts of large European cities.
They came from sleazy ghettos, they often lacked goals, were usually unemployed and had weak family bonds.
Most of them were radicalized in a dismal environment that was first socially, then psychologically, and ultimately ideologically, violent. They found their way into political cliques where, as friends and helpers, preachers of hate only had to wait to use them for their radical goals.
The defense against violent Islamic extremism is too complex and socially explosive to leave to the security experts.
In a study, the British domestic intelligence service MI5 found two main causes for Islamic acts of terror. It determined that third-generation Muslims, those with European nationality, were the most socially discriminated against of all.
The desire for citizenship, be it British or French, proved to be of little help in gaining these men even a modest advance in work or society. Access for Muslims remains blocked.
The British intelligence service identified another cause to be the West’s lack of credibility. It is seen through the prism of Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, as well as the torture centers in Europe, which handled almost exclusively Muslim victims.
In the eyes of emotionally charged young Muslims, these Western failures make it seem as if liberal democracies don’t live up to their own professed commitments to human rights, equal rights and the rule of law.
Muslims see such horrors as a global reflection of their everyday discrimination turned global.
In their ideologically fixated minds, this fits in perfectly with the charge that the West has double standards. Marginalization in poor suburbs and foreign policy against the Muslim world only serves to back up this sentiment.
Poor integration and discrimination are at the core of the problem. The Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman describes disaffected and violent youths as “defective and disqualified consumers” who are excluded from everyday life and are incapable of politically abstraction or having a social sense.
The Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek believes democracies must intensely measure themselves by the conditions of their fringe groups.
That is more easily said than done. In reality, it is a concern that marginalization will remain the first step to radicalization as long as the majority of society doesn’t properly address hotbeds of neglect.
Observers use this connection to deplore society’s increasing sense of “us and them.” Right-wing populists such as Marine Le Pen, of the French National Front party, deliberately embrace this strategy of segregation.
As a result, the anxiety-laden reservations that an average citizen has about Muslims grows to become a mental and political barrier that the state can no longer remove.
There is no plain and simple cure to erase the appearance that the state has shoved some of it own residents to the fringes of society. That is disastrous, considering the fact that 10 percent of Europe’s population are Muslim.
The necessary conclusion is as simple as it is difficult to act on. The defense against violent Islamic (and anti-Semitic) extremism is too complex and socially explosive to leave to security experts, police and intelligent services. They are hopelessly out of their depth.
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