Europe’s anti-immigrant sentiment was rising long...
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Jan 07, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Europe’s anti-immigrant sentiment was rising long before Paris attack

Despite encouraging gatherings Wednesday where thousands demonstrated defiance, a wave of anti-Muslim behaviour seems to be swelling in Europe

OurWindsor.Ca

Long before terror visited Paris with shocking precision, the wave was rolling: a surge of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiment rising from Europe’s political margins, threatening to wash fear upon the centre.

But as the dust settles over Wednesday’s broad-daylight strike on Europe’s most audacious satirical magazine, backlash — and the prospect that the nativist wave now could swell into something approaching tidal — seems dangerously real.

The early signs were encouraging in the immediate aftermath of the commando-style strike on unapologetically secular Charlie Hebdo. Even as a police dragnet bore down with three gunmen still at large, Parisians voted with their lives, gathering in the thousands at Place de la République in stoic defiance.

The spontaneous show of solidarity was matched in town squares elsewhere in France and around the world, answering an attack on modernity with modernity itself. The bilingual memes “Not Afraid” and “Je Suis Charlie” took hold globally.

But the moment must be measured against the impulse that saw record crowds gather just two nights earlier in Dresden, Germany, in protest against Islam’s influence in Europe.

Also defiant — Monday’s gathering, estimated at some 18,000 people, ignored Chancellor Angeles Merkel’s public plea to snub the populist PEGIDA rally — it was par for a course that many fear will hasten a drift toward Fortress Europe.

PEGIDA, or Patriotic European Against the Islamization of the West, is demanding a harsh immigration crackdown and the targeting of “anti-woman political ideology that emphasizes violence.” Though it enjoys the backing of neo-Nazi groups, it resists far-right symbols and slogans, insisting it supports “integrated Muslims” living in Europe.

Such groups do not exist unopposed. Monday’s PEGIDA rally in Dresden triggered at least three smaller counterdemonstrations, with one organizer — Green Party co-chairman Cem Ozdemir — telling reporters that he, too, opposed any form of extremism, saying “intolerance cannot be fought with intolerance.”

“The line is not between Christians and Muslims,” he told Germany’s N-TV. “The line is between those who are intolerant and the others, the majority.”

German Interior Minister Thomas de Mazière addressed the backdrop of tensions in the wake of Wednesday’s attack in Paris, telling reporters, “The situation is serious. There is reason for worry, and for precautions, but not for panic.”

Panic, however, has become a hallmark of recent attacks in Ottawa, Sydney and, now, Paris, with security confusion in the immediate aftermath triggering false reports and sustained uncertainty. Wednesday’s strike was no exception, with a flurry of reports of French counterterror teams converging on the city of Reims, 80 kilometres northwest of the capital.

NBC News alone jumped ahead of the broadcast pack, reporting Wednesday night that one suspect had been shot dead and two others in custody, citing an unnamed U.S. official. But as the hours ticked by with no further confirmation, and other French sources offering denials, NBC withdrew the claim, citing “confusion.” French officials later clarified they were looking for two suspects.

Yet if the anxieties and confusion matched up, almost nothing else in the attack on Paris rang familiar. Where Ottawa and Sydney saw lone wolves, this was a pack; where the Canadian Parliament saw an antiquated hunting rifle, Paris saw AK-47s; where Canada endured terror in its do-it-yourself, raw form, the City of Light experienced co-ordinated killing that spoke to deep training. The worst fears, then, came true in Paris.

The connotations for Fortress Europe, here again, loom large as investigators work to unravel the muddle and assign responsibility. One eyewitness statement attributed the attack to Al Qaeda in Yemen, but as the night wore on social media became a battleground, with rival supporters of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda offering a flurry of claims and counterclaims.

In declaring a rare national day of mourning — just the fifth such designation in 50 years — French President François Hollande led a grim campaign of condolence, emphasizing France would stand firm in the face of “an act of exceptional barbarity.

“Nothing can divide us, nothing should separate us,” Hollande said. “Freedom will always be stronger than barbarity.”

Toronto Star

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