Donald Trump
Photo: Associated Press

Harry C. Blaney III

The sad and tragic attacks in Paris have resulted in many disparate reactions on both sides of the Atlantic. It provided excuses for the far right to push their racism and ideology and hatred of “the other.” And on the liberal progressive side, while generally supporting action against ISIS, we see increased sense of sharing a common tragedy, trying to learn how these events may be a way to come together, and the need for healing against the conservative push to blame generally immigrants or refugees for these acts.

It has become the norm for conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic to advance far right ideological and often racist agendas.  There has been a significant reaction towards the more destructive, dismaying, and bias self-serving side. The Republican presidential candidates seem to want to use the attack in Paris to show an even more extreme and crazy adherence to the worst elements of  their stance of existing racism and xenophobic prejudices. Unbelievably, Donald Trump said he would be open to the idea that Muslims should carry a special ID and could be placed under surveillance “to learn about the enemy.” He added that mosques should be shut down, they represent “hotbeds” for terrorists.

Paris was an excuse for many Republicans to attack immigrants and refugees. Another prime example was the House of Representatives passing overwhelmingly with some Democrats, a law that aims to almost completely restricts Syrian refugees from entry into the U.S.  President Obama has already said it would be vetoed. Some states have also said they would not take Syrian refugees.

In Britain and continental Europe there has also been acts by many right wing parties and fascists groups to use the Paris attacks for their own, long held, ideological and racist goals. These include calling for restrictions on already settled migrants and Muslims, calling for identity papers to indicate if a person was is Muslim, and an imposition of new barriers to immigrants especially from the Middle East and Africa. Already some states have closed, almost completely, their borders to refugees, with some EU nations saying they would only take Christians. And these are only some of the proposal to marganialize immigrants and even settled residents.

There are moves by far right parties to pass laws that could increase loss of civil rights for certain groups. France has already passed a three months state of emergency act which restrict rights of citizens and France has also put up new barriers at their borders. Some of this is understandable given the extent of the killing, but it is also a way to institutionalize some discriminatory practices.

If these are the kind of prejudice filled restrictions and possible police widespread clampdowns that apply to Muslim citizens and new refugees, the result will only be more harsh marginalization of these groups and more resentment and sense of helplessness and anger.

In this case the terrorists will have won with their vicious acts in Paris. This will be a loss to terrorism, and a massive increase in military and police forces, which will cost the nations billions of Euros. They will have also won with their argument that Christians hate Muslims and will never permit them true integration in their nations.  

Further on the positive side, in the UK the initial reaction was to stand in unity with the French in their moment of tragedy. Here in Britain, there were many events of people gathering with flowers and candles, there was  a “friendly” European football match in Paris, between England and France, where both sides sang the French national anthem.

The media in Europe is divided on how to deal with these attacks and how to approach the serious problem of a large influx of especially Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan citizens, as well as North African immigrants and refugees. Here in London some conservative papers, which make up a vast majority of journals, have pandered towards the worst prejudices. And they also have argued for major police clamp down, increase of funding for police, and for a mostly military approach and solution to the Paris attack without much analysis of cost, means, or consequences. Also left parties have been attacked by these conservative news media for their lack of support of strong major military actions and questioned for their defense of the nation.

To be honest, the same seems to be true with American media. The Wall Street Journal in their 11/18  editorial “A Syrian Refugee Lesson for Liberals” and their publication of a  quote by the British right wing scholar and super hawk Niall Ferguson, seem together to think that all the problems of the Middle East, including ISIS and the refugee crisis, is due to President Obama, and liberals. Their aim seems to entice America to send massive armed combat forces into Syria and Iraq and accusing the West, especially President Obama, of “weakness.” They have learned nothing by Iraq, and again their only real answer is sending in more American solders to fight on a murky and unintelligible landscape with no idea of how to shape the end outcome and create sustaining peace in the region.

It is critical to winning the struggle against terrorism that the “better angels of our nature” are at work as an important and constructive element. We need a common sense of sympathy and shared compassion in the face of brutality. There have been in Europe, groups and individuals of Muslims and other religious traditions who have stated jointly their unity in both denouncing and opposing terrorism. Nations need to not permit discrimination or reprisals against the vast majority of moderate Muslims, to win against terrorism.

At this writing it is unclear whether the “better angels” or the bigots and war hawks will win in either Europe or in America — sadly.

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