Editorial: Paris changed everything? It did not. The values must remain

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Reaction in Europe to the Friday night terror attacks in Paris were substantially different from before. The acts owned by Islamic State were coordinated and inhumanly cruel. Even so, some of the reactions have led to conclusions potentially hazardous to basic European values. Should these reactions be allowed to dominate, not only will the terrorist groupings will be sent a signal that have they managed to shake Europe, but our own principles may be endangered.

The background to the attacks hitting Europe varies from the beginning-of-year attack at Charlie Hebdo or the 2011 bloodbath in Norway. To the backdrop of the refugee crisis, faulty conclusions come easy.

At earlier, times, for the most part the European reactions have affirmed the values. Following the Charlie Hebdo attack, the French President François Hollande said that as freedom of speech was under attack, there’s a need to show that freedom overcomes barbarianism. After the Anders Breivik attack in Norway, their Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said the answer to those trying to suppress democracy could only be more democracy. Now, the tone has changed. Mr Hollande’s reaction to the acts of terror was more of the kind by George Bush reacting to the 9/11 attack, referring to military intervention.

But this isn’t the main difference. When a state is attacked, the state has a right and an obligation to defend itself. Rather, what is problematic is the eagerness in European politicians and the public to link the act of terror with the refugee crisis.  To cite but a few examples: Poland’s minister of European affairs Konrad Szymanski thinks that the earlier refugees-related agreements are now out of the question. And the Bavarian finance minister Markus Söder said that «Paris changes everything».

However, in an extreme situation, it is easy to not think rationally and to arrive at generalisations which may appear to be faulty and thus harmful to society. The more important to maintain a sound approach, such as makes the difference.

Firstly, a difference must be made between the refugee crisis and the terrorist attack in Paris. These are not related. Rather, the opposite is true: for the refugees and for Europe, this is a common threat.

The reasons to claim this are several. Unlike Sweden or Germany, France has not received large amounts of refugees. It is difficult to believe that people risking their lives to flee from the terror of ISIS do it only to don an explosives belt once in Europe. The actual terrorists knew Paris well, the sites of attack were not picked randomly. It has been officially confirmed that one of the terrorists was a citizen of France, the others were driving a Belgian rental car. We know not how and when they reached Europe, but they have nothing to do with refugees.

Secondly, it is important to distinguish between religious people and such as use religion to justify violence. It is not a matter of faith, it is a matter or radicalism. Probably, Moslems will suffer due to this terrorist attack as painfully and undeservedly as after 9/11. Rejection of believers in Islam, the ground is prepared for radicalisation. We cannot let this happen.  

Thirdly, it is erroneous to believe that terrorism is linked to one religion, region or nation. In 2011, the terror act in Norway was committed by Anders Breivik, a Norwegian citizen.

According to statistics published by The Economist, over these past 14 years Europe has featured 25 terrorist attacks with more than one victim. Nine of these have been committed by Islamists. With 16, it has been some other radical grouping of individual. Faith isn’t the problem. The problem is terrorism, hatred of what’s different, and of European values. It is terrorism what needs to be dealt with. Faith, nationality and roots are irrelevant.

Moving on: the question arises, what the events mean for France, Europe, European foreign policy. Alas, the terrorist attacks in Paris will probably not be the last. As potential targets, ISIS has mentioned London and Rome. Germany, the UK and several other nations have already held security meetings. Knowing that France proved unable to protect her citizens will force other European nations to try hard to improve international exchange of information on potential sources of threat.

Probably, extremist parties in Europe will see these events as an opportunity to turn it in their interests, intentionally showing causative links between the refugee crisis and the terrorist attacks. As has been proven in the past: during crisis, extremists and clowns get their chance. Often, it is both.

True, by refugee crisis European politicians have been pressurised and the fault interpretations of the Paris attacks will further escalate the tension. Fear and insecurity are no good councillors. But is Europe is in crisis indeed, this is not refugee crisis but a leadership crisis indirectly caused by domestic voter pressure spurred by the very fear and insecurity. This is causing hesitancy in liberal parties, and activism in the extremist ones.

Important, however, to keep in mind that with the Paris attacks it was not France or Europe alone that were targeted, but the overall European world view and way of life. As has been pointed out by both Mr Hollande, David Cameron and Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Citing Mr Cameron, the terrorists aim at splitting us and destroying or way of life. Thus, more than before, we need to join in our stand against them and stick together. And continue our way of life which we love, which we know and which we will not give up.

Indeed, to the backdrop of a large part of the world Europe is a place in many ways special, where people can live their own lives, earn money, create, love and speak their mind irrespective of who they are by background, religion, gender or nationality. That violent regimes try to use Europe’s own basic values to weaken it is nothing new: information freedom has been used to spread disinformation; democracy has been used to weaken democracy. Europe has managed that before. The worst of reactions right now would be to alter these basic values. The principles of «Even more freedom of speech» and «Even more democracy», just like protecting the human rights, pluralism, tolerance and helping those in need are something we cannot give up, for without that there would be no Europe.

A reaction to the Paris terror attacks was a cartoon drawn by a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist. It reads: for centuries have those who love death tried to hinder us from living life. They have not succeeded. Instead of creating divisions between those who love life, we ought to fight those who love death and remember what is of value: our way of life.

The task now before the nations of Europe is finding a way to protect themselves without endangering their own values. The leadership crisis must be overcome; the terrorism needs to be fought; a stronger control needs to be created regarding the external borders, so we would know who and why is arriving in Europe, without rejecting those needing help. People need to be provided the assurance that security is ensured. But this must be done without fear and populism, and what’s most important, without forsaking the values.