GP Insights

GP Insights # 436, 8 November 2020

Europe: Austria and France seek pan-European measures against Islamic Extremists
Harini Madhusudan

What happened?
On 5 November, Austrian and French officials said that they are planning a joint campaign to push for European Union-wide measures against Islamic extremism. This comes in the wake of terrorist attacks during recent weeks in both countries. 

At the forthcoming EU summit on 19 November, the Austrian Chancellor and the French President are expected to propose discussions with senior EU officials regarding issues/measures that include a better screening of asylum seekers, tougher penalties for citizens sympathetic to the Islamic State (or other terror groups) and supporters who have participated with extremist groups abroad. With three horrific attacks in the past six weeks, Europe faces a law and order issue along with an ideological challenge. 

What is the background?
First, the attacks in Paris and Vienna. On 25 September, a knife attack in Paris injured two, near the former offices of Charlie Hebdo at the beginning of the trials of the 2015 massacre. On 16 October, another attack in Paris, witnessed the beheading of a teacher after he showed the controversial cartoons of Charlie Hebdo to his students. On 3 November, in Vienna, four people died, and 22 people were injured after attacks by a gunman in six locations, including the city's main Synagogue, who went on a nine-minute rampage before he was shot down. 

Second, Europe's struggle with Islamic extremism. With three major terrorist attacks in West Europe, within the span of a month, it has become difficult to identify whether the perpetrators were self-radicalized or are part of a larger network(s) of extremists. There remains a popular narrative within Europe, which refers to a paradox of Europe's battle; on the one hand with the rise in the numbers of first and second-generation immigrants from Muslim countries. And on the other hand, the rise of Islamic extremism within Europe. Tracing such individuals or groups is difficult because they use simple tools such as knives, do not claim political or organizational allegiance, and extensively employ social media with privacy modes. 

What does it mean?
There has been a strong response to the attacks in Europe and the rest of the world. There has also been a debate about Europe being overwhelmed by the rising number of immigrants.

The current move by Austria and France brings the dichotomy of Europe's passion for multiculturalism against their decades-long resistance to assimilating the immigrants into their society. Since the immigrant crisis in Europe has now become a popular election ploy, public opinion has been highly divided. 

The law and order agencies in both the countries, seem to have failed to foresee the attacks or even have a profile of the perpetrators. A joint initiative by Europe with uniform measures of verification makes it the only timely response that could help reduce such attacks in the future.

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