Europe's Real Threat? Not Radical Islam

The continent is not about to succumb to hordes of Muslim extremists. But creeping xenophobia and separatism? That's another matter.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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France's Front National leader Marine Le Pen.Credit: Reuters
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

For much of the summer, Europe has been gripped by a fear of violence wafting from the Middle East and settling in the continent. For the public, the threat is the spectre of hundreds of homegrown jihadis, returning from fighting in the ranks of radical Islamic movements in Syria and Iraq and carrying out terror attacks in their countries of birth. Jewish communities have felt a double threat. First, there are the European jihadis who have succeeded mainly in carrying out attacks against Jewish targets: Mohammed Merah at the Otzar Hatorah school in Tolouse two years ago and Mehdi Nemmouche at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May. In addition, there has been the concern over the way protests against Israel’s operation in Gaza have prompted hundreds of anti-Jewish attacks and incidents throughout Europe.

These are very real threats – to Europeans and Jews in particular. All 16 people killed over the last decade in anti-Jewish attacks (including the Burgas bombing and the Ilan Halimi murder in France) were murdered by Muslims acting out of hatred of Jews. Dozens of similar plans were uncovered by European and Israeli intelligence services before they could be carried out.

But as bad as the threat posed by the European jihadis is to the continent’s security and to its Jewish communities, it is not an existential one. Even if radical Islamist cells succeed in carrying out major acts of terror, it won’t be the first time Europe has weathered similar attacks. It will be difficult and there will be casualties but there is no reason to suppose that the Jews of Europe, protected as they are both by the authorities and well-organized communal security bodies, cannot withstand these attacks.

No matter what some people tell you, Europe is not about to succumb to a wave of radical Muslim hordes. The numbers are simply not there. The overwhelming majority of Muslims in Europe want to integrate and are in no way represented by a few thousand jihadis. And besides, a backlash is already taking place, and in some cases it is taking the form of an old form of European nationalism that contains within it elements that could be just as dangerous, if not more so, to Europe’s minority groups, including the Jews.

There is a feeling among some Jews, particularly on the right, that for the time being it would make more sense to find allies among the various brands of nationalists and “patriots” in Europe and North America, who see the spread of Islam through Europe as a threat. They are willing to overlook or excuse the racist components of these movements in the belief that Islamism is the mortal enemy. This is a self-defeating approach, similar to the “pragmatic” attitude that sees the murderous and anti-Western regimes in Iran and Syria as allies of the West in fighting ISIS.

Neither should this be about left or right. The far-left has historically led the fight against some forms of racism in Europe, but at the same time has tried to whitewash other racist brands that were on the good side in their dichotomic worldview. The right may not have such a good record in combating racism in the past but it can argue that the vision of open markets, open borders and globalization, which are all right-wing ideals, offer the best antidotes to xenophobia. Fighting nationalism must not be about politics, but rather about decency and tolerance.

Nationalism is this season’s inescapable fashion in Europe. It comes in many shapes and sizes, but it was an almost uniform trend across the continent in the last European Parliament elections where anti-EU parties made significant gains. The latest polls in France put Front National leader Marine Le Pen ahead of President Francois Hollande and next week, in Scotland, European nationalism may achieve its greatest post-war victory when the Scots, as some polls indicate, could vote in favor of breaking away from the United Kingdom.

Scottish nationalists claim with a certain degree of justification that their nationalism is a tolerant and benign strain, untainted by racism (though the sectarian hatred between Protestants and Catholics has not been totally eradicated). As far as the Jewish experience in Scotland goes, this is certainly true. Scotland prides itself as being the only country in Europe never to have any form of discriminatory laws against Jews, a land where not one Jew has ever been killed because of his or her ethnic identity.

Long before there were Jews in Scotland, the 14th-century Declaration of Arbroath, a text much beloved by today’s Scottish nationalists, proclaimed, “There is neither weighing nor distinction of Jew and Greek, Scotsman or Englishman.”

If the Scots Nationalists win next Thursday in the independence referendum, the new Scotland may well prove to be an enlightened nation where diverse minorities live at peace. But there have already been ugly undertones to the independence campaign, including verbal abuse and even some violence directed toward supporters of staying in the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, in England the anti-immigration UKIP party has been making significant gains, jeopardizing the Conservative party’s chances of remaining in power. UKIP disavows racism and even has a few Jewish members, but xenophobic, racist and misogynist candidates have a knack of constantly turning up in its ranks.

Just as Front National claims to have changed, and a few French Jews even want to take it at its word and join it in fighting the Muslim menace, it has yet to repudiate Le Pen Sr.’s anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

There is no question that, historically, Jews have never been safer and better integrated than they are in the English-speaking nations that were either founded by immigrant groups (United States, Canada, Australia) or that, as in Britain, absorbed large influxes of immigrants over the centuries. None of these societies were perfect – they harbored racism and slavery, severely mistreated native populations and are still dealing with difficult historical legacies to this day. But no other countries in the world can match their level of tolerance and the freedom enjoyed by their minorities; the success of the Jewish communities in these countries is a testament to that.

Growing Muslim minorities are not threatening Jewish integration and success, but separatism and nationalist xenophobia might. It is no coincidence that the only openly anti-Semitic mainstream party in Europe today is Jobbick in Hungary, a country gripped in nationalism that has hardly any Muslims.

Open anti-Semitism is, of course, unthinkable in today’s politics in North America, but there is one party with representatives who periodically get away with what at best can be described as borderline anti-Jewish remarks – and that is the Parti Québécois, the movement which desires to break up Canada into Francophone and English-speaking parts. Once again, it is hardly a coincidence that this throwback to European nationalism in the New World falls foul time and again.

The venal corruption of some of the inane bureaucrats of the European Union has obscured this body's unique achievement. For the last six decades, it built a European society that turned back the tides of separatism and nationalism that had drenched the continent in so much bloodshed over the centuries, afflicting none more than the Jews. A return of these twin evils to Europe has the power to unleash destruction and hatred that Islamic jihadism could only dream of.

An image downloaded on June 11, 2014 from the jihadist website Welayat Salahuddin shows militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) waving the trademark Islamists flag.

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