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A Dangerous European Moment: Extremism And The Failures Of Multiculturalism

04/04/2016 4:54 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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The Belgian and French flags fly at half mast along with EU flags during a minute of silence outside of EU headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Belgian authorities were searching Wednesday for a top suspect in the country's deadliest attacks in decades, as the European Union's capital awoke under guard and with limited public transport after 34 were killed in bombings on the Brussels airport and a subway station. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

The recent attack in Brussels highlights what has been and promises to be an especially trying time not just for Europe's leaders but also for European society. It is only too easy to be tempted into one or the other of our simplistic binary views of the world. Either we're too liberal to ever call radical Islam radical Islam, or we are too bigoted to be careful about the distinction between the adjective and the noun in that phrase. Both positions are, ultimately, unhelpful, and partly responsible for global policy failures in recent years. The former philosophy's illogical extreme might be seen as the increasingly failing multicultural experiment in Europe. Nominee-presumptive Donald Trump in the United States of 2016 exemplifies the latter attitude. Both are intellectually lazy and miss the crucial nuance that our complex world demands.

[T]o reject cultural exclusion, religious stereotypes and mass hysteria is not the same as accepting the current liberal narrative.

Paris, Brussels and other Islamic State attacks in recent months mustn't be viewed in isolation of the badly integrated Muslim minorities of Europe. Equally, they mustn't be separated from Western intervention in the Middle East over the first decades of the 21st century. Europe's response here must express a steadfast commitment to the best European values. This means that a populist, borderline (and sometimes explicitly) racist ideology cannot take hold of European politics. Mistreatment of the Continent's Muslim communities will not only complicate matters directly, but also wound European identity--that which makes Europe, frankly, Europe.

But to reject cultural exclusion, religious stereotypes and mass hysteria is not the same as accepting the current liberal narrative. The Western relationship with radical Islam is a complex one. Many of Europe's core values clash fundamentally with radical Islamic ideology, while those same values constrain its responses and policy options with regard to terrorism and cultural antipathy.

Social, cultural, ideational assimilation with the very values that are at the heart of Europe must be expected of immigrants from anywhere...

European principles do and should exclude categorically a Gestapo-style crackdown across the Continent in response to these incidents. But they shouldn't prevent an honest public discussion about the single greatest weakness of Europe's failing multiculturalism. This weakness is the mistake of not encouraging immigrant communities to do more than follow just brightline laws. Social, cultural, ideational assimilation with the very values that are at the heart of Europe must be expected of immigrants from anywhere and they must be encouraged to embrace European ideas. Instead, a misguided consequence of multiculturalism has been to try to hide immigrant communities away in suburban and inner-city ghettos as discontent and frustration are inflamed by the war in Syria-Iraq and the free flow of individuals along the axis from Afghanistan to Western Europe. So long as territorial ghettoization exists in Europe and our liberal multiculturalism prevents us from ever discussing the importance of underlying civic values, Europe will be vulnerable to its disgruntled Muslim minority becoming a vehicle for the violent extremism of Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab, Boko Haram and the various Lashkars of South Asia.

An alternative narrative to Europe could and should be a focus on the gradual but determined cultural assimilation of the largely peaceful Muslim communities.

[I]t is indeed possible for ethnic communities in Europe and America to maintain deep cultural roots while also truly adapting certain critical 'Western' attitudes and traditions...

Exemplars of successful diaspora populations show that it is indeed possible for ethnic communities in Europe and America to maintain deep cultural roots while also truly adapting certain critical 'Western' attitudes and traditions, especially with reference to the separation of church and state, human rights and freedoms and religious tolerance. Counter-terror policy thus requires short-term modification and expansion to the intelligence and security apparatus, but that will not be enough if it is not combined with a long-term policy push to bring these isolated populations of Europe into the mainstream.

The immediate changes ought to focus on minimization of intra-European red tape, real time intelligence sharing, pre-emptive action and targeted strikes. But, perhaps more importantly, Europe must develop a common, worldwide anti-terror strategy that is formulated and implemented at a 'European' level rather than nationally. Terrorism is itself an evolving threat, and the trans-national, trans-continental nature of the current iteration necessitates a supranational response minimizes the 'cracks' between systems and agencies. There isn't yet a common global legal framework to investigate, prosecute and punish transnational terrorism. In the context of a rapidly changing security environment in international affairs, the International Court of Justice's focus on state conflict is outmoded.

[W]idespread coordination between governments and concerted, multi-front policy responses are our only way forward.

The sober truth is that widespread coordination between governments and concerted, multi-front policy responses are our only way forward. Today's world is defined by multi-layered conflicts that are not easily explicable--from a Sunni-Shia narrative in the Middle East to the American neo-conservatism of the early 21st century; from explanations that focus on structural inequality between the West to ones that rest on a deep understanding of literalist interpretations of Islam as root causes. We live in an increasingly global system that really doesn't allow for linear explanation. At the very least, we ought to avoid simplistic and narrow characterisations of our past and present.

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