How terrorism is deforming the face of Europe
Does Europe even recognize itself anymore?
Terrorism is beginning to disfigure the face of Europe. Besides the price of the carnage itself, terrorism is changing the character of Europe's politics, threatening to make the arrangements of the EU look like utopianism, and leading to new restrictions and hassles for the lives of Europeans.
Tuesday's terrorist attacks in Brussels, which ISIS claims as its own handiwork, killed dozens and injured hundreds. Officials there say they expected some kind of retaliation for the recent arrest of Salah Abdeslam, who was wanted in connection with last year's attacks in Paris. Until more evidence surfaces, it is impossible to know if this attack was that retaliation or something planned further in advance. Police forces have also turned up evidence that Abdeslam was also planning an attack before his arrest, perhaps this one.
Belgium is a small country, and hundreds of its Muslim residents have traveled to fight in Syria for ISIS and then returned. The security and surveillance demands this threat imposes already overwhelm Belgium's rather limited policing and intelligence resources. At a time when the problems posed by poorly integrated Muslim communities are leading to a renewal of Euroskepticism, the threats to Europe from within Belgium call for something like the opposite: more cooperation on security throughout the continent. How can Germany or France be doing their own job of protecting their citizens if, as last November proved, Belgium can be the source of serious terrorist threats?
But most frightening is the way Europe is changing after each attack. When security is threatened, liberty goes soon afterward. After the November attack in Paris, France's own military deployed in French streets, acting as a semi-permanent guard to synagogues and other Jewish institutions. The former certainties of continental politics are also changing. The Schengen Agreement that allows Europeans free travel across EU borders, perhaps the most tangible way Europeans enjoy modern Europe's peace, is now threatened by the upheaval from terrorism.
At the same time, the inability of Europe to deal with this threat of terrorism, or to maintain even the illusion of control over immigration into the continent fuels the rise of populist nationalism. These new parties, challenging the traditional center, right, and left alike, would do more than erase the Schengen accord should any of them achieve real power in one of the major European states.
Popular frustration over immigration is even starting to bring back early 20th century politics where popular movements dress in uniforms and march through hostile neighborhoods to express themselves and provoke reactions. See the way the English city of Luton has become a stage for an ongoing set of rival productions, Islamist or anti-immigrant.
Some attempts to deal with the problems caused by unassimilated migrants become a sick farce. After what seemed like a night of coordinated mass sexual assault on New Year's Eve, Cologne Mayor Henrietta Recker, an advocate for the cause of refugee resettlement in Europe, advised women to "stick together in groups, don't get split up, even if you're in a party mood.” She also said that perhaps European women needed a “code of conduct” that indicates they are unavailable to be groped by strangers in the street. At the very moment when the defining feature of Western life — freedom to show one's face in public — was temporarily occluded, a political leader was making a backhanded tribute to Sharia law, suggesting that unaccompanied or "frisky" women would meet danger.
When a sense of order and security disappears from a nation, freedom disappears soon after. Europe's leaders denied for decades that they had problems of assimilation, then convinced themselves that radicalization within the modern European ghetto would burn itself out. Now they have almost convinced themselves that a nearly uncontrolled wave of migration carries no significant risks to Europe. But, slowly, the steady pace of attacks, the threat of popular electoral revolt, and a foreboding climate of fear and self-censorship are transforming Europe into something it never intended to be.