Eszter-Petronella SOÓS PhD

43. 10 extra hard questions to ask after the Paris terrorist attacks

It is no small task to write a reliable political analysis just three days after the last Friday’s series of Paris terrorist attacks. This is a time for security advisors: they are the ones to talk about how mass murderers manage to go about freely, armed with AK-47s, in the citadel of European culture, the most popular tourist attraction in the world. What the political scientist can do, at this stage, is formulate (regrettably serious and grave) questions: French, European issues and challenges to address are considerably harder after Paris than they were at the time of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

1. Is enough being done after Charlie Hebdo?

After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, we sat down with András István TÜRKE PhD, my colleague at the Europa Varietas Institute, to create an action plan to counter terrorism. Now, admittedly, many problems we raised then are being addressed since the attacks ten months ago, be that in the domain of national security, education or social issues.

I’d like to point out the amendment to the Intelligence Law, which gave – essentially – NSA-like prerogatives to the French secret services and would have allowed for widespread monitoring of foreign-bound communication also – if only the Constitutional Council didn’t kill it before entry into force. So now the two Houses of the Parliament are discussing a new amendment plan concerning the monitoring of international electronic communications, which is not ratified yet, so it is impossible to tell whether it would have been any use in the prevention of those heinous acts on Friday.

In other areas, however, no significant step was made forward: the services are still complaining about lack of resources and they find the concurrent, sustained monitoring of every suspected individual impossible (remember that the Thalys perpetrator was also an S-lister, just as one the identified Friday 13 terrorists is, that means he was listed as a potential threat to national security). The Prime Minister has been making rounds for months about how France is in danger and that there is no such thing as 100% security. 99%, however, is obviously not going to cut it for the constituents – it’s not happenstance that they silently accepted the new Intelligence Law that curbs their rights to privacy and freedom. The vows made by President Hollande in his Congress speech seem to be, on the other hand, the right way to go: he practically announced that law enforcement would finally get what it needs in terms of personnel and financing.

I realize it’s just as difficult in France as it is in, my country, Hungary to locate funds for necessary action in an environment where 2018 deficit reduction goals and mounting national dept loom large and where there is a general unwillingness to cut into welfare spending. And mind you, the French are not building stadiums that could be theatrically pointed to with the proclamation “there is your money, take it.” Nevertheless, more money IS needed for security, and France needs to open a vigorous debate about how and from where to get it (in a situation like this, I don’t think tax increase talks are off the table, either, only Hollande is just now campaigning with tax relief after a reviled series of tax increases early in his term, so it might not be good business for him to raise the issue before the 2017 elections).

2. Can the radicalization trend be stopped? How do we turn it around?

Let it be said about the French, they are earnestly trying to understand the reasons, sources and the social context of Islamic radicalization. They are trying to find a solution to reverse it: since Charlie, two reports were created on radicalization and the possibilities of its reversal at the government’s request. The government is dedicated (rhetoric- and action-wise) in this regard (Prime Minister Manuel Valls deemed radical Islam an enemy long before the Friday terrorist attacks, by the way).

The cabinet is taking highly visible steps against religious violence (especially concerning antisemitism, which tends to go hand-in-hand with Islamism, and concerning Islamophoby also). Especially notable are a hundred-million euro action plan and information campaign, which aims to step up against racism and antisemitism and a brewing strictness in criminal law in connection with freedom of speech and hate crimes.

However, these measures have not delivered results yet – they did not alleviate social tensions. Decision makers are still trying to understand the problem.

3. Are there any changes to the financing of churches? Are the changes still necessary?

(A subset of) experts have said many times: the big taboo, the standing prohibition of government financing of religious institutions that goes back to 1905 has to be rethought. In our January action plan, we wrote:

The big French taboo, the prohibition of government financing of churches has to be revised in order to prevent French Muslim communities from turning to radical Middle Eastern sources to finance their legitimate (religious, social, cultural or media) needs, and to prevent the exposure of these communities to long-term radical Middle-Eastern influences due to dwindling domestic financial and cultural resources.

I think this suggestion is valid to this day, since the issue was not even raised since January.

Islam is present in France, whether you like it or not. The problems it causes have to be dealt with even if previous frameworks have to be transcended during the process (I note here that revocation of citizenship can only work with the recently naturalized, but it won’t work with the third-generation – there is nowhere to send these people, especially not if you want Europe to stay Europe and faithful to its values).

The financing of communities of faith is therefore a domestic issue with grave relevance to national security. The bare minimum is to get the discussion underway.

4. How severe is the national security risk posed by the migrants?

We still don’t know whether the Syrian passport that was registered in Greece and other countries belonged to one of the perpetrators or not, although it seems a safe bet that it did, since the document was found close to the body. It is also noted that the fingerprints of a perpetrator match with a recent refugee’s fingerprints. What happens when / if it comes to light that terrorists came to Europe with the uncontrolled tide of refugees?

Should that happen, the Jean-Claude Juncker-statement from Sunday that says EU refugee policy needn’t change will obviously and rapidly become untenable, along with a host of other statements about how terrorism and migration are unrelated. If it transpires that migration is indeed a security concern, then European citizens are right to expect that their personal security be the first and foremost priority of their leaders, and that the control of the migration wave be powerful, firm and methodical.

In that case, I’m not sure Angela Merkel’s position will not weaken even further, since she became the symbol of Willkommenskultur.

The Notre-Dame in Paris
The Notre-Dame in Paris

5. What sort of labor shortage is there in Europe? Is migration really the only solution?

The main arguments in support of migration are labor shortage and demographic problems (especially in Germany, but you hear it in other countries, too). At the same time, youth unemployment rates can reach 50% in some southern countries.

The European Union’s struggle with unemployment has structural reasons – unemployment is high in one place, jobs can be found in another. There is mismatch between the makeup of the workforce and the needs of the job market. In a sense, there are operational anomalies in the Single Market that we would do well to correct.

(In parentheses: it may well worth reflection whether the cultural-political integration of a Spanish or a Greek young person in, for example, Germany isn’t a better investment over the long term, say, three generations from now. Less cultural tension and lower long-term costs may worth the higher initial costs of employing him/her. Thinking about these things means considering cultural, political and social capital concurrently with the economic challenge. And we have long known the necessary policy steps needed to give incentive to child-rearing in Europe (Nationalists and patriots! Be feminists!), but I’ll go into the details of this issue in another article.)

6. What should the European migration policy look like?

Nicolas Sarkozy and others have repeatedly called for a new migration policy – which usually means they want a system where Europe gets to decide and choose whom to let in. The logic of it, of course is that brain-drain isn’t necessarily a bad thing – as long as the drainer is in charge of the process. The expert opinion is that opening of legal immigration channels would also drastically lower illegal immigration.

Champs-Élysées, Paris, France
The Champs-Élysée in Paris

7. How much stronger can the European radical right get after the Paris terrorist attacks?

In a previous article (President Marine Le Pen?) I wrote that

“the European political environment might just become Le Pen’s biggest ally in the coming years.

If this statement was true last week, then it is doubly true today. We will quickly get to see how this plays out in practice: regional elections are coming up on the 6th and 13th of December, and we can expect the FN to snatch a couple of regions from the other parties.

I generally think that anti-migration sentiments, and the expected growing intensity of islamophoby will assist politicians who propagate ideas of isolationism, and the terrorist acts in Paris will vindicate them (especially if it turns out that the perpetrators came with the migrants, although we can expect a continued blurring of the immigration and refugee issues wherever they came from). It is clear that if the national security risk is validated, then Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s prestige would grow, perhaps not among the elite, but certainly among European citizens.

8. Is the cooperation between European secret services sufficient?

If proof is found that the Paris terrorist attacks had their origin in, or were coordinated from Belgium, then what the French secret services know or don’t know or what they are empowered to do will not be a primary concern of French citizens: the weakness (or inefficiency) of the Belgian secret services would pose a direct danger to French life and limb.

I wouldn’t be so surprised if the Schengen card came into play, since if the Belgian line checks out, then it follows that free borders assist the successful perpetration of terrorist acts. Logically, there would be two ways of solving this problem: either everyone pulls back into their own gated communities (which I suspect would make it worse for the small, but it wouldn’t improve anything for the big, either), or Europe creates an intelligence/defense network etc. that is capable of countering these problems. The short version is, if we want free space and freedom of movement in Europe, then we’ll have to defend that fre space in Europe together.

9. Will the French, American etc. policy change concerning Syria?

Surveying the USA press I see terrorism and the Middle East dominate the discussion. I was inclined to believe that the USA would wait and see how things go with Syria. One reason was Obama’s promise to the electorate that he would end two wars, not start a new one, and another is that a new incumbent, taking the oath of office on January 20th, 2017, would have more legitimacy to initiate. But the situation changed, and the weekend Syria summit shows that a sense of urgency could possibly lead to some sort of a deal. We might see action concerning Syria much sooner than early 2017.

As far as the French are concerned, I would be surprised if they pulled back in the Middle East and Africa because of the attacks – that would send a message to the terrorists that they need to push forward and attack to succeed. Plausibly, the result of how “something needs to be done” and that “a truly severe response is needed” will be that the French will set out on their own crusade of revenge, their own Afghanistan. Of course, all of this is speculation at this point, and the coming days will reveal what France’s next move will be. The first French air strikes on Syria and Hollande’s determination to negotiate with the allies tend to confirm this assumption.

10. Is the ideal of universalism crumbling?

Even conservative Europeans are adamant about rights to freedom in Europe – which is precisely why they are anti-islamic (allow for the fact that they are grossly oversimplifying the issue). In the value systems of the left and liberals, however, human rights are universal and if they are, then they have to be universally enforced. To simplify the issue, the immigrant has the same human rights as the citizen who already lives here. If security concerns are validated in connection with the waves of refugees, then the view that freedom and prosperity is a privilege of European citizens might begin to spread throughout Europe. This would be a huge paradigm change that would pose an enormous future ideological challenge to proponents of universalism. The left stands to lose the most with the terrorist attacks and refugee waves, and I’m not talking about elections, positions in government or mandates – a decades-old value system and way of thinking risks marginalization.

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