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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 1 New Delhi December 26, 2015

Fear of War rising in Europe

Saturday 26 December 2015, by Apratim Mukarji

The author was recently in Italy and Greece, the two European countries most affected by the refugee-migrant influx. Here he shares his experiences and impressions of the visit with our readers.—Editor

In late-November, anti-war rallies were criss-crossing squares and avenues in European cities waving placards and banners and calling for peace and amity. The day Turkey brought down a Russian jet (November 24), the fear of an impending war spilled over and peace activists, academics and Leftist politicians went hyper-active. TV channels and the print media pored over the disconcerting signals of European countries getting increasingly shrill and abusive against each other amid fast-spreading waves of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and intolerance towards economic and political immigrants.

2015 began as a year of unprecedented levels of political refugees fleeing the war-ravaged Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan into Europe, and for many months thereafter governments in Europe were preoccupied with the immediate task of bringing the unending inflow of refugees under some kind of discipline and order. That the majority of the refugees were Muslims was not an issue in the beginning; and more importantly, while Rightists and ultra-Rightists, who were gaining in political clout in recent years, began calling for a halt to the inflow, Leftists and human rights activists were far more vocal in calling for unhindered entry for illegal immigrants, those who were being smuggled into Europe.

By September, however, the mood in Europe drastically changed as Germany was increasingly isolated on the immigrant issue while southern and eastern European governments hardened their positions and virtually signalled their complete rejection of the immigrants’ case for entry into their territories.

As the squabble over immigration boiled over, the situation was further complicated by the ingress of several factors. The most visible and effective of these was the increasing identification of immigrants as mainly Muslims, co-religionists of those who were terrorising European cities and seeking to wreck the European way of life.

However, no less pertinent to the situation was a second factor, the rising tide of ultra-Rightist sentiments and politics which were, inter alia, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic. With the far-Right National Front snatching power in as many as six out of the 13 regions of France in the first round of elections held on December 6, the ultra-Rightists’ and ultra-nationalists’ ascendancy reached the heart of Western Europe. These elections were held primarily on the issue of illegal and unchecked immigration, and conservatives and the far-Right naturally hailed the results as a major vindication of their stand on the deeply divisive question. However, it is important to note that the issue of illegal immigration and the necessity to checkmate it gained traction because the economy in almost all the European Union member-countries had been stagnating with rising unemployment and harsh austerity measures.

It is also important to note that the present scenario in Europe is being compared to the eve of both the World Wars. “This is how the eve of the First World War could have looked like,” wrote Pinter Bence, a perceptive Hungarian journalist in The Express (September 23, 2015). “Complete hesitancy, the termination of the usual channels of diplomacy, the lack of solidarity (among the EU partners), the pressure to take a step, and the countries issuing threats to each other, (these are) reminding us of that (the situation on the eve of the First World War). It definitely does not look like a cooperating Europe.”

US trend forecaster Gerald Celente wrote: “The current crisis draws parallels with a previous huge global conflict—the Second World War.” Breitbart, London, said in its website that “the rise of Right-wing politics is what European elites fear most from the migrant crisis”. And the New York Times called it “the most dangerous moment for Europe as fear and resentment grow”.

The expressions of apprehension about what the future holds for Europe were not confined to journalists, academics and other non-state actors. Even elected heads of government were not immune from expressing their dire forebodings about the future. Both the Italian and Hungarian Prime Ministers have spoken in terms of apocalypse and “huge dangers of unchecked floods of immigrants” from Africa and the Middle East which have set the “previously peaceable” EU nations against each other.

As noted above, sections of Europeans are expressing themselves unabashedly not only against Muslim migrants but also against European Jews, residents in their countries for generations, and this factor in particular seems to have alarmed political leaders, academics, journalists and others. As many as 7000 Jews left France in 2014 to relocate themselves in Israel. Frequent attacks on Jews have been a regular phenomenon over the recent years not only in Europe but in various other countries as well, compelling the United Nations to examine the issue in detail in January 2015. The French philosopher, Bernard-Henry Levy, told the UN General Assembly at the time: “The world has to confront the renewed advance of this radical inhumanity, this total baseness that is anti-Semitism.” In November 2014 the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steineier, said: “(The) hatred of Jews is on the rise across Germany and the rest of Europe, spurred by violence in the Middle East.” Chants like “Gas the Jews” were hurled during protests against the six-week-long conflict between the Arabs in the Gaza Strip and israel during July and August 2014. This conflict left as many as 2150 people dead, more than 98 per cent of them Arabs.

In fact, anti-Jewish sentiments have been so palpable in Europe since 2014 that Jewish leaders in Denmark, the Netherlands, Britain and Germany have been demanding that the governments should guarantee Jews’ safety “wherever they live”. They have also vowed “not to be chased out”, a sad reflection of the race’s history.

Analysts in Europe tend to view the rising Islamophobia and anti-Semitism—apart from the embedded racial prejudices—as essentially an outcome of the combined consequences of a number of internal and external factors. These are the continuing decline of the economies of a majority of the EU member-states and the consequent rise in unemployment and depri-vation, the civil wars in Iraq and Syria, and the expanding US-led war against the Islamic State (IS. ISIL or Daesh) and Russia’s military involvement. The fact that the IS has declared that it will endeavour to get the United States involved in a ground war with its jihadis appears to have drawn considerable attention in various circles in Europe, contributing to the feeling that the present situation may eventually facilitate a catastrophic conflaglation involving multiple European states.

However, saner voices are still being heard. For example, German Chancellor Angela Markel said in the aftermath of the jihadist attacks in Paris on November 15: “We believe in the right of every person to seek happiness and enjoy it, in the respect for others, and in tolerance.” And Ashley Gilbertson, an Austraian photographer who interacted with West Asian and African migrants in Greece, wrote: “On the rocky shores of the Greek island of Lesbos, people scrambled out of their boats, welcomed by an ad hoc group of dedicated and passionate volunteers. Almost 700, 000 refugees have arrived in the country this year after making the dangerous passage by sea from Turkey. ‘Welcome to Europe,’ they called out, hugging relieved refugees. They were many in tears.... Their welcome is to me the only warmth in a cold and ardous journey... I expected the scenes of grief, trauma and desperation. I was surprised to find the many moments of relief, even joy, as the refugees built bonds and passed through hardship together. It is crucial that we bear witness to all of these aspects of the story.” (‘Uncertain Journeys’, International New York Times, November 24)

Apratim Mukarji is an analyst of South and Central Asian affairs. He has recently returned from Europe. Apratim Mukarji is an analyst of South and Central Asian affairs. He has recently returned from Europe.