In the wake of last week’s massacre at the offices of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, tougher anti-terror laws have been proposed in France and elsewhere in Europe. However, tougher laws aren’t the answer; they’re actually part of the problem. Oppressive laws targeting Muslims will further alienate an already angry and isolated demographic and give the impression that European nations are hostile to Muslims. Instead, Europe needs stronger assimilation policies to prevent future acts of terror and make their nations more inclusive.
France’s already tough anti-terror laws may have spared the Fifth Republic from a 9/11-style attack, but it is not immune to homegrown terrorists committing massacres on a smaller scale. In actuality, the government’s suspicion of Muslim immigrants has isolated the Muslim community. Suburban communities have become safe enclaves for Muslims, evolving into suburban ghettoes as a result of discrimination and unfair housing practices. As a result, young, underemployed residents fail to assimilate to the culture that is blatantly unwilling to accept them. They stew in their anger, stoked by fringe activists in their communities or those found via the internet. This is the seed of homegrown terror.
This problem isn’t strictly French, either. A lack of immigrant assimilation in Belgium resulted in large numbers of impoverished Muslim turning to extremism. The Belgian situation is very similar to France: Isolated Muslim neighborhoods, well-supported and anti-immigrant political parties, and laws banning the public wear of religious garb. It’s no surprise more foreign fighters in Syria have come from Belgium than anywhere else, and it will take more than a tough law enforcement stance against terrorism to solve the problem.
A great lesson in assimilation and acceptance of immigrants can be found next door, in Germany. Until very recently, “Germanness” was defined as one who was German both by birth and by blood, and second-generation immigrants were not eligible for citizenship. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has worked hard to erase this concept of national identity that alienated Muslim immigrants. While far from perfect, Germany now has a welcoming policy towards Muslim immigrants and their path to citizenship.
The German PEGIDA protests could be an excuse for European Muslims to continue their isolation and radicalization. To isolated and frustrated Muslims, groups like PEGIDA are a prime example that the West hates Muslims, and radicalization of young, angry Muslims shouldn’t be a surprise. However, Chancellor Merkel and the German government have condemned the protests as contrary to the character of the German people, and that Muslims, along with all immigrants, are woven into the fabric of German society and culture.
Tougher anti-terror laws that cast suspicion on the entire Muslim community will only make the homegrown extremism problem worse. Instead of targeting an entire community based on the actions of a few, European governments should work to include all immigrant groups as a part of their national framework. As the cases of France and Belgium have shown, tough anti-terror laws don’t stop extremism, and have pushed more and more Muslims towards a violent solution to their problems. Messages of integration and acceptance of immigrant communities is the best way to avoid another tragedy.
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