France will perceive the terrorist attack against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, one of its journalistic institutions, as Americans perceived 9/11. Islamic terrorists targeted the heart of freedom of expression in France. In recent years, French mainstream media became rather careful on how to report on Islam hoping not to insult its leaders. However, satirical media showed more courage. Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons were spot-on. The most recent headlined: ‘Still no terrorist attacks in France’ while showing a terrorist replying: ‘We still have until the end of January to present our best wishes’. Charb, the cartoonist, was among the 12 people killed.
For a long time West-European leaders hoped that Islamic terrorism could be appeased by political correct, ‘non-provocative’ attitudes and social programs. Politicians filtered their words with care and official media pursued a policy of self-restraint. But in European societies the undercurrent of Islamic radicalism kept on brewing unabatedly. Political correctness provided only a façade of stability, invoking words like ‘tolerance’ and ‘multiculturalism’.
At the end of May, a Jihadist who had returned from Syria walked into the Jewish Museum in Brussels and killed three people, among them a visiting couple from Israel. The attack took place on the day of Belgian and European elections. Political leaders expressed their dismay but hoped the atrocity would remain to be an ‘exceptional case’.
What they didn’t want to see was the terrorist potential of radicalized Muslims; born in Europe and leaving for Syria to join the Islamic State. Initially, many politicians greeted their departure because these social security recipients would not be a burden at home anymore. Intelligence services lost sight of them. Worries only emerged as the number of Jihadists continued increasing, into hundreds and thousands.
One day they would also return in big numbers, so governments started setting up ‘social programs’ to ‘accompany the former Jihadists back to peaceful European society’.
Unfortunately, European leaders did not properly perceive the mental transformation the Jihadists underwent. In Syria they had obtained military training and a killing instinct, both of which are most visible in recent terrorist attacks in France and Belgium. IS leaders had ordered them to ‘bring the holy war to Europe, and preferably also to America’. That is what we have seen in Paris where the river ‘Seine’ turned into the river of blood. The returning Jihadists are not longing for the European welfare state, they prepare for battle. In particular, the European left will have great difficulty in understanding this phenomenon because it believes all evils can be cured with the help of social policies.
I have always been an ardent reader of the French satirical press, like Charlie Hebdo and Pere Ubu. These magazines were one of the few open-minded in a press landscape increasingly dominated by political correctness. Islam became a topic too sensitive to touch. In Paris, radical imams and their followers were allowed to occupy the streets for Friday praying, pushing other people aside. Those who protested against these ‘sit-ins’ were depicted ‘agents of Islamophobia’.
Unsurprisingly, ordinary French people felt something was terribly going wrong in their society and one of the few ways to express disenchantment was to vote for Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, who publicly opposed radical Islam. At the European elections of last year, her party emerged as the biggest of France. Recent events will only boost her support.
West-European countries are paying a heavy price for ignoring reality for too long. Harsh facts impose themselves and the façade of political correctness is collapsing. In Germany, the pivotal country of Europe, a popular movement demonstrates against the ‘Islamization of Europe’, carrying banners through the streets of Dresden, Berlin or Cologne. German political elite tries to ignore these signals and describe the protesters as ‘far right individuals’. As German elites refuse to listen, the movement called PEGIDA will only grow and manifest itself all across Germany.
Anti-establishment parties are quickly growing throughout Europe to ventilate worries of ordinary people. The terrorist attack in Paris shows their worries are justified. Europeans are on the verge of a political ‘Awakening’, which their leaders have been trying to avoid for too long. The French 9/11 should open their eyes.
(Derk Jan Eppink is senior fellow of the London Policy Center)