Governments face complex challenges in maintaining peace and security and at the same time preserving constitutional values, writes Henry Anozie and he suggests what has to be done to fight the war on terror successfully.
The series of violent attacks – from the shooting in the Munich shopping mall to the suicide attack in Ansbach – within a week in July sent shock waves through German society. For it signalled the arrival of what most citizens had feared most since the beginning of the refugee crisis and the entry of more than one million migrants, mostly from the Middle East and Afghanistan, to the country.
“Islamist terrorism has arrived in Germany,” said Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer and leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), adding that Germans were “full of fear”. Two of the attacks, in Wurzburg and Ansbach, were perpetrated by young men from Syria and Afghanistan who had sworn allegiance to the so-called Islamic State terror group.
The reaction in the population has been understandably that of bewilderment against the background of the generosity of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to allow the refugees in despite the legitimate misgivings of not only other European countries but many Germans.
Mocking German generosity
“They mocked the country that received them. Their actions make a mockery of both the helpers and volunteers and also the many other refugees seeking help from war and violence,” Chancellor Merkel said, condemning the assailants at a press conference in Berlin on 28 July. “Taboos of civilisation are being broken,” she said, referring to a series of deadly attacks in France, Belgium, Turkey and the US state of Florida as well as Germany.
Expectedly, critics have been quick to lay the blame of the attacks on Merkel’s migration policy. The fact that three of the terror attacks took place in the state of Bavaria is a “nightmare” for locals, Thomas Jahn, a vice chairman of the CSU, the region’s dominant party, said. “It’s really a nightmare what politicians brought to Germany and Bavaria.”
Chancellor Merkel has rejected the criticisms, insisting that Germany will continue to offer refuge to those fleeing war and political persecution. “I am still convinced today that ‘we can do it’ – it is our historic duty and this is a historic challenge in times of globalisation.”
Ending the Syrian war
Since the attacks in Germany have to be situated within what French President Francois Hollande has rightly described as an ongoing war being waged by the terrorists on Europe, it has become necessary for Europe to better cooperate and coordinate their counterterrorism efforts, say security experts.
Germany, France, Belgium and the UK are among the largest contributors of volunteer foreign fighters to the Syrian conflict, and as such are broadly accepted to face a bigger threat of terrorist violence than other European countries. “Any idea of stopping terrorism in Western Europe without finding a solution to the Syrian conflict won’t work,” said Daniel Heinke of the Ministry of the Interior in Bremen.
Like Hollande has vowed to do, defeating the IS in the territories they currently hold in Syria and Iraq should be a priority of Western governments as it will deny the terror group a base from which to inspire murderous Jihadists all over the world.
This can only be achieved by making tough choices, say analysts. For example choosing between supporting the Assad regime in defeating the IS and allied terror groups in Syria or allowing the current impasse to continue, enabling the IS to continue to employ the images of immense suffering of civilians in its recruitment of foot soldiers and as a justification for terror attacks.
Ending the Syrian war would require the West working with Russia, which is backing Assad, despite their disagreement over Ukraine. Restoring order and the territorial integrity of both Iraq and Syria as well as supporting the internationally recognised government in Libya to assert its authority over all of the north African country is a very important albeit not the only necessary action that would need to be taken to fight the Jihadists in Europe.
Why deporting radicals is not enough
Some politicians have called for the expulsion of refugees suspected of radical Islamist leanings. “We need to control our borders, that is the most important thing at the moment, and we need to send dangerous people with Islamist ideology back to the countries outside Europe,” Jahn, the CSU politician, said. “Deportation to a war zone should not be taboo as well,” he stressed in an interview with the daily Suddeutsche Zeitung.
However, as seen in France, the country that has suffered the most attacks in recent months, perpetrators were either long-time legal residents or born and bred in France. Threats will therefore not be removed by deporting radicalized migrants as there is a problem of home grown radicalism.
How governments can fight violent extremist ideologies within the Muslim communities without curtailing religious freedom and alienating ordinary Muslims is the biggest challenge in the fight against terror.
“The attacks put our relationship between freedom and security to test,” the chancellor rightly noted at the press conference, adding that the perpetrators would like to sow “hatred and fear between cultures and in our society”.
Curbing radical Salafism
Pierre Conesa, a French scholar and author of a report on counter-radicalisation, said all terrorists that claimed to act in the name of Islam belonged to the Salafist movement, which he described as “the most racist, sectarian, homophobic, anti-Semitic, misogynous and sectarian branch of Islam”. He said France had been guilty of allowing Salafism to thrive on its soil.
France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, whose portfolio also includes religious affairs, has said that Salafism “has no place in France” and is considering measures such as restricting foreign funding for the construction and running of Mosques in France from the Middle East and allowing only imams trained in the country to preach in mosques.
Police raided a mosque in the German town of Hildesheim as well as the apartments of eight members of the German-speaking Islamic Circles (Deutschsprachiger Islamkreis or DIK) association that runs the mosque, on 27 July. “The DIK is a hotbed of radical Salafism,” Lower Saxony’s interior minister, Boris Pistorius, said. During prayers and seminars held at the mosque, calls for “hate against the disbelievers” had been made, the minister said. Such a crackdown has long been overdue, say commentators, advising governments to work closely with Muslim communities and not to alienate normal, law-abiding Muslims.
The long-term strategies to fight violent extremism, say experts, must include curbing the influence of the Wahabi ideology, a puritanical interpretation of the faith, on Europe’s Islam. It is the doctrine that, experts say, spawned Salafism and breeds jihadism, the call on followers to wage ‘holy war’.
While the rights of religious freedom should not be weakened, it’s important that the state does not tolerate intolerance for the sake of political correctness, many analysts opine. Hate speeches and incitement, which are crimes, should not be cordoned not even if garbed in religious sermons. “We should be uncompromising in our demand that democratic rules be observed,” wrote the German journalist Gero Schliess.