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Don’t Make Refugees Pay for Terror They Flee


The recovery of a Syrian passport at the site of one of the Paris terror attacks has the European press and the continent’s right-wing politicians in an uproar.

The document, found near the bodies of one of the suicide bombers had been registered by Greek authorities on the island of Leros on October 3, 2015, leading to speculation that some of the assailants may have been jihadists traveling from the Syrian battlefields to Europe posing as refugees.

Even as the identity of the actual passport-holder remains unknown (the document could have been stolen), the xenophobic right is already seeking to capitalize on the news for political gain.

On Saturday, Poland’s new right-wing government slammed EU plans to deal with the ongoing refugee crisis by redistributing asylum-seekers among member states. The country’s Minister for European Affairs stated that “Poland must retain full control over its borders, asylum and immigration.”

Horst Seehofer, conservative prime minister of Bavaria and a key ally of Angela Merkel, similarly declared that “we need to know who is traveling through our country. As well as more security measures, we need tighter control of the European borders, but also of the national borders.”

Of course, we all hold our breathe as right-wing extremists will undoubtedly step up their verbal and physical violence against Muslims and refugees in the days to come.

Following in the footsteps of such shameless fear-mongering and nationalistic bigotry would be the biggest mistake Europe could make right now. It would give the extremists precisely what they are after: the intensification of internal tensions, the framing of the attacks as part of a religious conflict, and the closure of Europe’s borders to the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the war in Syria and Iraq.

The truth is that the narratives and objectives of Europe’s xenophobic right and the religious extremists of ISIS feed on one another in a vicious cycle.

Every time there is a terror attack, there is an uptick in support for the anti-immigrant right; and wherever Europe’s xenophobes feel emboldened to attack or rail against Muslims, the jihadists present it as yet another justification and recruiting tool for their holy war against the infidels and crusaders.

The only thing that can break this vicious cycle is to step out of it: by refusing to give in to the fear, the binary narratives, the calls to close borders, to further abrogate civil liberties and militarize society.

Solidarity remains our single greatest weapon against terror. As the Arab Spring activist Iyad El-Baghdadi – who actively follows the chatter among hundreds of jihadist and Islamist accounts on Twitter – has noted, “Nothing pissed off Islamist extremists” more than “watching [Europe’s] very humane, moral response to the refugee crisis.”

This observation makes sense. Many of the Syrian refugees who found a sanctuary in Europe are directly fleeing ISIS terror. Others, of course, are escaping the state terror of the Assad regime, while a handful, undoubtedly, are foreign jihadists returning to Europe. And yet large parts of European society (not its states) welcomed these refugees with open arms, fundamentally undermining the “class of civilizations” narrative on which both the European far-right and the jihadists depend for survival and success.

In this sense, the #RefugeesWelcome mobilizations of the past summer were a thorn in the side of extremists on both sides of the supposed civilizational divide – precisely because it actively broke down the false binary opposition that sustains it.

Unlike the last round of attacks in January, this time the jihadists struck neither the symbols of the French state (like its police, army or national monuments), nor its Jewish community or its public intellectuals with a reputation for criticizing Islam (like the Charlie Hebdo editors or the Kosher supermarket).

Instead, as Manu Saadia has noted, the attacks directly targeted the symbols of cosmopolitan Paris: the bustling nightlife on the multicultural rive droite (“the land of hipster socialists”); the young people attending the concert of a Californian rock ‘n roll band; and the national stadium – the very epitome of the black, blanc, beur ideal of the Republic’s “successful” integration of immigrant minorities.

These cowardly attacks, in other words, deliberately avoided the agents of imperialism and Islamophobia – rather, they directly targeted the progressive elements in French society, not just because they constituted an easy-to-hit “soft target”, but precisely because they represent such an elementary threat to the various ideologies of hatred.

As for the Syrian passport, we still do not know who the document really belongs to, but one thing is clear: whoever brought it with them wanted it to be found. Why else carry a passport on a suicide mission? This was clearly intended to send a political message to the French people: “You bombed us, yet welcomed our enemies with open arms. Now we have penetrated your borders and infiltrated your society. You are not safe.”

If this sounds uncannily like the type of statement right-wing politicians like Marine Le Pen have been making over the past years, that is because it essentially reflects the same belligerent worldview – which is precisely why we must reject it.

The vast majority of refugees who have been arriving on Europe’s shores these past months are people fleeing from precisely the type of murderous violence that has now struck in the heart of Europe. Instead of setting us apart with ever higher walls and fences, these attacks should bring us closer to the victims of conflict everywhere.

As human beings, we have a moral obligation to continue welcoming those fleeing state terror, religious terror and imperialist terror, wherever they may come from – just as we, as European citizens, have a strong political obligation to continue the fight against fascism in all its forms and guises.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute, and the founding editor of ROAR Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at@JeromeRoos.

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