By Jake Wilde
In the days after the cowardly, murderous and unjustifiable attacks upon Brussels, Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of France, stood out for me as the one European leader prepared to address the enormity of the challenge facing Europe. Valls said:
“We are at war, in Europe we have been subject for several months to acts of war. And faced with war, we need to be mobilized at all times.”
After the Paris attacks Valls said that France’s war against Daesh would take place both abroad and domestically. In respect of the former the method was clear – military action in Syria and Iraq. As part of the latter Valls warned that Europe must take strong measures over border controls:
“It’s Europe that could die, not the Schengen area. If Europe can’t protect its own borders, it’s the very idea of Europe that could be thrown into doubt.”
Valls was at the European Commission on 24 March renewing his push for a Passenger Name Record (PNR) Directive, a measure that would oblige airlines to hand EU countries their passengers’ data. Although nobody thinks of this measure as a panacea on its own it would be an important step in applying controls over free movement.
On the same day Simon Jenkins wrote in The Guardian of politicians being driven by the prospect of there being “big money” to be made out of “terrifying” the public, and of “megaphoning” the attacks to “promote” Daesh’s cause, He mocked the warnings of the security services and talked of England “becoming old East Germany”. Jenkins instead called for “a quiet and dignified sympathy”, to “downplay” the attacks and not to “alter laws”. In other words, to do nothing.
The problem with Simon Jenkins’s approach is that it assumes that a love of freedom and democratic principles flows intrinsically through the veins of the whole population of Europe. There might have been a time when, in liberal elitist circles untroubled by exposure to extremist religious and/or political ideology, this was an easy assumption to make.
Here’s where Simon Jenkins is wrong and Manuel Valls is right. For too long Europe has simply assumed that the brief post-war interlude of peaceful, progressive liberalism – Western Democracy™ – was a benign contagion. That the belief in its principles was so inherently powerful that all who grew up in, migrated to, or became part of through “expansion”, Europe became automatically imbued with them. Or, put another way, that integration just worked without having to do anything. That is simply untrue now, if it ever was.
In 1961 Ronald Reagan said:
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
Reagan’s words have not been heeded. Perhaps they were assumed to be a relic of a Cold War era rhetoric. That somehow they no longer applied because communism, in Europe at least, has been defeated. We have stopped fighting for freedom in Europe because we think we won.
The threat of Islamism is no different to the threat that communism posed. Individual human rights; freedoms of speech, religion, assembly and expression; democratic elections; an independent judiciary; the right to a fair trial; legal protection for minorities and independent trade unions. All of these rights, the hallmarks of Western Democracy™, cease to exist in an Islamist society in just the same way as they did in communist ones. Yet we have failed to recognise this threat or, if we have, then we have not taken it seriously.
Jenkins’ article exemplifies the attitude that we have, as Valls says, “turned a blind eye to terror”:
“We closed our eyes – everywhere in Europe including France – to the progression of extremist ideas, Salafism, neighbourhoods which through a combination of drug trafficking and radical Islamism perverted, and I’ll use this word again, a part of the youth.”
Just as with communism there are both external and internal threats. The attacks by foreign nationals that characterised the Al Qaeda methodology have been replaced by the use of radicalised national citizens of European countries to undertake Daesh’s bombings and shootings. In his article Jenkins draws a comparison with how UK governments handled the IRA (though some may dispute his recollection of events). I think this comparison is wholly invalid. The IRA were trying to force the UK government to cede territorial control of a defined geographical area. Daesh are not. Daesh are not attacking European cities in order to conquer them. Or to force countries to leave them in peace in their so-called caliphate. They attack because they wish us dead. If they had nuclear weapons they would use them. There are no demands from Daesh because they have none. There are no warnings before bombings because this is not about terror, it is about death. There is nothing to negotiate, nothing to discuss over a cup of tea.
After every atrocity there is a routine, outlined by Douglas Murray in The Spectator recently:
“All of the ‘models’ [have] failed. So here we are – stuck with a problem our politicians have given us and to which they have no answers. Perhaps all this pointless chatter is just what people do to distract themselves before they have to face up to that fact.”
We can no longer under-react. We should listen to Manuel Valls and finally start to fight the war we are in.