By Phaidra Chrysostali,
The war between Israel and Hamas has caused many reactions worldwide and is felt by Muslim and Jewish populations across Europe, who both fear an Islamophobic and Anti-Semitist backlash. The majority of Western democracies have expressed their support for the Israeli government which was hurt immensely by the Hamas. The outburst of the conflict as well as the recent Islamist attacks in Belgium and France has raised worries around Europe about future terrorist attacks and the EU’s weakness to successfully integrate these communities and avoid dangers in domestic affairs.
France is home to a population of around six million Muslims, who often identify with Palestinians’ suffering through their own experiences of discrimination since France has not yet managed to fully integrate these communities and is still experiencing racism. France’s weakness to fully integrate them was proved by the terrorist attack carried out by Hamas in 2015 which indicated the political, social, and religious differences between France and these communities. About the ongoing war, French policymakers fear that the tensions will worsen and there will be an eruption of violent protests that will pose once again a threat to domestic affairs.
Moreover, the French government believes that extremist groups may exploit the current developments in Gaza to radicalize vulnerable individuals and carry out terrorist acts in France. There is no doubt that the ongoing destruction of Gaza has triggered personal and deep anger within France’s Muslim community and therefore protests were organized in Paris to demand Israel to stop its strikes in Gaza. But they did not stop there since; France was placed on its highest state of counter-terrorism alert after a school teacher was fatally stabbed by an alleged jihadist as well as threats of bombs in the Louvre, the airport, schools, and hospitals.
But do all these protests indicate a weakness in the European integration system or are they contained and mostly connected with the fact that European countries offer their citizens freedom of speech? France and other member states have been influenced by the war and have put a lot of effort into controlling the protests and countering any terrorist attack but their actions lead us to believe that they do not have the situation fully under control.
It is important to mention, that in July 2020, the Human Rights Committee published General Comment 37 (GC 37) on the right of peaceful assembly, a right enshrined in Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects an individual’s right to freedom of expression. Therefore, if a group of people wishes to protest to support their beliefs on a certain matter and to try to alter the government’s policy making then they have every right to do so without resorting to violence and extremism. However, successive governments have implemented laws that restrict the right to protest, as the Public Order Act 1986 offers the police the power to restrict protests by placing conditions on them.
As it is seen in France, the government decided to ban all pro-Palestinian demonstrations to protect the public order but it was characterized as illegal and it triggered the feeling of injustice and frustration that Muslims have been feeling. This contributes to the general belief that is reproduced that Muslims are Hamas, which raises concerns that they may be treated like strangers and terrorists in their own country. These concerns were confirmed when last week a six-year-old boy was stabbed to death in the U.S. because he was a Muslim. In the case of France, we can safely argue that the government is not in control of the demonstrators and any potential terrorist attack since their actions indicate the urgent need to restrict any upheaval that may influence public opinion.
The main concern of Member States is jihadist terrorism and any foreign terrorist fighters who travel to and from conflict zones. The recent attacks that were mentioned before demonstrate the intent and capability of jihadist terrorists to inflict mass casualties on urban populations to provoke terror through carefully planned attacks. These attacks show the elevated threat to the EU from an extremist minority, that operates in the Middle East, combined with a network of people born and raised in Europe. In addition, member states have intensified their cooperation when it comes to information exchange regarding the situation at external borders and the return of irregular migrants to their country of origin.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that Europe has never successfully managed to integrate Muslim communities due to distinct cultural and religious differences that did not allow it. The rise of far-right governments and the new anti-immigration trend has made the discourse, an anti-Islam discourse, primarily directed against Muslims, resulting in an alarming increase in Islamophobia cases. The aforementioned leads us to believe that the EU has not yet managed to integrate these communities and its values regarding the freedom of speech and expression have been the only way for these communities to express their disappointment. Their extremist acts have alerted Europe to take strict measures to protect their citizens from becoming victims of these violent acts. But are they in control of the situation?
- “European Cities See Vigils to Oppose Antisemitism and Rallies Seeking Relief for Gaza.” AP News, Available here
- Lons, Camille. “Torn Apart: How the Israel-Hamas War Is Dividing French Society.” ECFR, Available here
- Syal, Rajeev, and Rajeev Syal Home affairs editor. “Israel-Hamas War: What Are the Laws about Protest in England and Wales?”. Available here
- United Nations. “UN Human Rights Committee Provides New Guidance on the Right of Peaceful Assembly.” OHCHR, Available here