Europe has had a long and conflicted history of terrorism, often from nationalist and separatist movements such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and political and religious extremism, most recently the Islamic State (ISIS). Since 2016, there have attacks in Barcelona, Paris, Marseilles, Istanbul, Hanover, Brussels, Nice, and London to a name a few. The rise in these attacks have made people and tourists more fearful and have forced government agencies to issue travel warnings and tips.
On the United States travel page, the following advice to U.S. citizens is given, “The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the continued threat of terrorist attacks throughout Europe. While local governments continue counterterrorism operations, the Department nevertheless remains concerned about the potential for future terrorist attacks.
“U.S. citizens should always be alert to the possibility that terrorist sympathizers or self-radicalized extremists may conduct attacks with little or no warning. Extremists continue to focus on tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities as viable targets. U.S. citizens should exercise additional vigilance in these and similar locations, in particular during the upcoming summer travel season when large crowds may be common.”
France, which has been repeatedly targeted has begun deploying guards to sensitive areas like places of worship, tourist sites, and shopping centers. After the attack in Nice, which killed 86 people and wounded 458 others, the French government said it would call up thousands of reserves to boost security and a state of emergency was extended for three months. After the airport attack in Brussels the Belgium government enacted several counterterrorism laws and regulations. They deployed over 1800 soldiers in major cities, and the Belgian police carried out several raids, detentions, and searches.
The director of Europol (the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation) described the situation in Europe as, “The highest terrorist threat we have faced for over ten years.”
With the frequency of these attacks in Europe, the motives of ISIS and other terrorist groups must be investigated. According to Time Magazine, “ISIS has carried out or inspired roughly 75 terrorist attacks in 20 countries outside Syria and Iraq. ISIS has gone global, shifting from operating purely within its region to a strategy of targeting foreigners abroad. And as it continues to lose ground in the Middle East — it’s lost 22% of its territory in Iraq and Syria since January 2015, and 8% in the past three months alone — the world needs to brace itself for an increasingly desperate jihadist group lashing out at every turn.”
Another reason European cities are being targeted is due to large recruiting centers from ISIS and fracturing European unity over the Syrian refugee crisis. France was specifically mentioned in a speech by ISIS spokesman, Mohammad al-adnani, after airstrikes led by the United States coalition that included France, where they were referred to as “the spiteful French.” Al-Adnani also advised Muslims in Western nations to “find an infidel and smash his head with a rock,” and to “poison him, run him over with a car, or destroy his crops.”
While the United States suffers from terrorist attacks it is significantly less than Europe. Making this issue more urgent to Europeans, who in 2015-2016 had 604 terrorist attacks, while the U.S. only had 100 attacks in comparison. America and Canada are insulted and protected by geography. “There are oceans separating North America from the main conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa,” said former Canadian intelligence analyst, Phil Gurski. The Middle East and Africa are the areas where recent terrorists have been radicalized. “It is far easier for extremists to get to Italy from Libya than it is for them to go from Libya to Canada or the U.S.” The threat may be international, but it is not evenly distributed.
Gurski also believes immigrant assimilate better in North America than in Europe. “North America has done a much better job at integrating immigrants than governments in Europe. You just need to look at what has happened in some of the so-called (immigrant) ghettos in France, Belgium and the United Kingdom.”
Many Muslims in Europe have faced discrimination, underemployment, and been targeted by police. Sajjad Karim, a member of the European Parliament and a Muslim said, “We are still at the stage where there are raised suspicions toward Muslims. At airports, I quite often get treated differently than my colleagues, even though I hold a British passport.”
Many European politicians have capitalized on Islamophobia. Populist Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party won 11% of the Dutch vote by running in anti-Islam platform. “Dutch values are based on Christianity, on Judaism, on humanism. Islam and freedom are not compatible,” said Wilders in an interview with USA Today. “You see it in almost every country where it dominates. There is a total lack of freedom, civil society, rule of law, middle class; journalists, gays, apostates — they are all in trouble in those places. And we import it.”
Another compounding difference between the United State and Europe’s terror problem comes from the differences in their Muslim populations. Muslim immigrants and communities in the U.S. are comprised of financially well-off members, whose incomes are on par with non-Muslim Americans. They experience a better quality of life in America.
In contrast, Muslims in Europe were viewed as transient workers who would return their home countries. “They came poor and, to a large extent, have stayed poor, with little access to higher education and much higher unemployment rates than the non-Muslim populations. And this is in countries already plagued by high unemployment. They tend to be concentrated in rundown urban neighborhoods,” said Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, Director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College. In Europe their upward social and economic mobility was not as available to them as in North America.
Also, the United States government has been working to eliminate and reduce terrorism for more than 15 years since the September 11 attacks. The U.S. has spent $650 billion on homeland security since 9/11. In 2009, the European Union’s counter-terrorism funding was €93.5 million. The U.S. also has a no-fly list which is constantly updated and strict border control, whereas movement within European countries is easy once entrance into the EU is granted.
ISIS has proven difficult to defeat. Like al-Qaida, it consists of cells and satellites and engages in crime and insurgency globally. A key difference is in hierarchy structure, where before if leadership was terminated the cells would become non-functional and dissipate. ISIS has lowered hierarchies, where the removal of one branch does not affect the other’s ability to work. The internet has also become prime recruiting real estate, which assure a predictable flow of members. Those members who are unable to fight in Syria are asked to stage attacks in their countries of residence.
With large resources at its disposable, the EU is implementing several strategies to keep their citizens safe. Germany for instance is strengthening its internal security, increasing police, speeding up the deportation process for immigrants who have committed crimes, and has the ability to revoke German citizenship from people who join terrorist organizations. Belguim, France, the Netherlands, and other EU nations have banned the burqa (the full body covering used by Muslim women). Regardless of the law or strategy imposed the European Union faces a difficult and complicated future as it faces the Islamic State.