The ongoing immigration to Europe together with the related fear of terrorist attacks, has almost immediately turned into a hot topic for experts from social, economic and security fields becoming one of the highest priority for political decision makers and food for the media. Unfortunately, Europe immediately started to lose control over the situation. Often, decision-makers use the interpretation of the situation provided by the media, to meet the citizens’ demands. But at the same time, since the media want to sell their products, they use stories which appeal to their readership: if it is hungry for fear and blood, they will serve exactly what the readers want. Otherwise they will be replaced. Much like the politicians. As a result, individual countries lose their ability to keep distance from details and are not able to control the situation strategically.
Europeans soon understood that hundreds of thousands of refugees arriving with different roots, culture, social and religious backgrounds, will bring changes. When we do not know what to expect, our primary reaction is fear. The fear is supported on a daily basis by anti-refugee propaganda, which teaches us that every refugee and every Muslim is a terrorist. Every time there is a problem, we expect, someone will solve it immediately. However, we have to realize this is not so easy in a situation when the world undergoes intensive changes, often marked by destabilization of entire nations and regions. Because our society has faced many problems, including surviving world wars, I am positive, in the end, we will find a solution to the crisis.
There seems to be no easy solution to such a complex problem. However, I would like to offer our view, i.e. a view formed in a central European country, which is by and large conservative, has a relatively small but well integrated Muslim community and has an average European living standard. At the same time, it is a view coming from a country with no experience of conquering another nation, but which has suffered different types of oppression since the emergence of “modern society”. This produces a specific mixture of sentiments in the Czech population.
Let me first focus on the vital link between migration and terrorist threats. I believe a potential threat it extremely hard to measure empirically. There is no universal definition of terrorism and similarly there is no mechanism for categorizing refugees and their real threat. We seem to be unable to define suitable criteria, as our understanding of the term “refugee” ranges from a person who came to Europe in the last wave to all immigrants.
We evaluate our security systems in terms of their success/failure ratio. Each and every country’s security system is complex, with numerous layers, focusing not only on tactical threats, but also on preventive measures, immediate response and mitigation of consequences. However, it is difficult to measure success in this field. We all know that we cannot prevent all threats and incidents.
Terrorist groups have always been able to infiltrate the Western society. They do not need a refugee wave to conduct attacks as they are extremely successful in influencing individuals born in Europe by exploiting their grievances and frustrations without having a direct contact with them.
In my opinion, there is no direct link between a refugee wave and increased terrorist threat. We have understand the following two aspects: the immediate impact on security and the potential to influence security in the future, which I believe is much more important.
The immediate threat to security is more likely linked with frustrated refugees who could easily turn aggressive after long months of waiting in camps, living in horrible conditions. Those individuals could even result to killing people around them, but we could hardly describe this as an act of terrorism. However, when an individual kills someone outside of their immediate surroundings, i.e. outside of a refugee camp, we tend to label this as terrorism, because we want to see it this way. Such unfortunate incidents accompany similar crises and the security systems usually respond to them appropriately, unless they are blocked by political decisions or other factors.
In the beginning of the crisis, when the border control collapsed, refugees were registered only based on the information they provided. Measures adopted to maintain security in Europe, do not mean Europe is unwilling to help. On the contrary, Europe is willing to help, but in a controlled manner. Europe needs to be responsible.
The same challenge exists in the social and economic area. However, in time, individual states will adapt to the situation and will be able to provide suitable assistance to refugees. The biggest challenge, however will be long-term integration of refugees.
To illustrate this issue, I would like to use an example from the 1970s and 1980s when a large part of the current Muslim community arrived to former Czechoslovakia. They came mostly to study at universities. Those who decided to stay learned the language, adapted to the European culture and lifestyle, and made friends with neighbors and colleagues. The society at that time was not polarized and full of irrational fear and therefore it was able to accept these Muslims immediately. In addition, their family members or friends who followed them later, found an open society able to easily integrate them.
Europe is now very polarized on the issue of refugees and the situation is getting worse, which is, in my view, the main threat for the next ten or twenty years. Unfortunately, we cannot hope for gradual and easy integration of refugees when there are hundreds of thousands of them. Instead, we have to develop social programs and provide education to prevent future threats.
There are still many extremists in the European society, who would like to exploit the presence of immigrants to reach their goals, which is mostly power, influence and money. They employ the rhetoric of national patriotism and protectionism, and other populist gestures, when it seems that the state is failing. They utilize any excuse to attack refugees, verbally or physically.
Many refugees have been deceived by human traffickers. While they expect a better life in the wonderful West, the majority is unfamiliar with social, cultural, religious and economic differences they will have to deal with. This is true even for the few highly educated refugees, for example, doctors and engineers, because they do not speak the language and their education does not meet the European requirement. They will live as refugees for years to come. In the best case, they will work as unskilled laborers. They will not be able to live by the cultural rules and customs they used to. In the worst case scenario, their poor conditions, the continuous attacks of extremists, insufficient support and understanding on the part of the majority society can become a source of grievances and frustrations. They will thus become weak and can be easily targeted by terrorists or their ideas. Perhaps this will not include those refugees who came from war-torn areas.
Terrorists generally aim to sow overwhelming fear, to paralyze the entire society. When asked about refugees, most Europeans will answer they are scared of terrorism and losing their culture as well as their traditional lifestyle. A good example is the current influence of ISIS/Daesh. With their media propaganda, they are more successful than they would be with actual terrorist attacks. In addition, propaganda will attract lone wolves in future.
We used to face global jihad, a dangerous threat, yet we kept a rational approach and avoided hysteria. Since the creation of the almost tangible brand of ISIS, the situation has changed. The same has happened with the refugee crisis. This summer a horrific tragedy happened in Munich, where one mentally unstable individual shot innocent people. The majority of European media and politicians immediately labelled it as an act of Islamist terrorism orchestrated by ISIS/Daesh. Thanks to the highly professional reaction of German security forces, the situation was soon clarified. But a few hours after the attack, fear took over again and a new round of discussions was opened blaming refugees as a potential source of such attacks, even though the attack had nothing to do with Islamist radicals.
Another example is the problem with the alleged sexual attacks committed by immigrants in Europe. The official numbers reported by police or countries differ from the picture we are offered by the media. We need to avoid generalizing, as not all immigrants are linked with terrorism. On the other hand, we cannot expect only model citizens amongst the refugees.
These are the serious challenges for individual countries and their legal systems. They have to be able to control the situation and prevent individuals from committing crimes regardless of their origin or status. It has become apparent that tolerating behaviors which are not allowed in the majority society has created animosities leading to an even larger polarization, which is not desirable. Currently, one part of the society would like to get rid of the refugees, while another supports them unconditionally. My worries are that the rational middle-ground group is the smallest unlike in previous crises.
Terrorists are not responsible for the immigration crisis. The recent increase in their numbers is caused by the same conditions which led to the migration crisis. However, terrorists profit from the crisis. They want to see Europe unstable, polarized, and scared, because they believe they can change the world to suit their needs. They see the impact of the immigrant crisis in Europe in the news and they know every complication benefits them and their goals. Our task is to persuade individual nations to combat fear and trust the system and its ability to provide security.
The way out will be difficult, because the immediate reaction itself is not easy. However, the worst is yet to come. European nations will have to find a compromise between an open society promoting freedom and free movement versus building of fences at their borders and heightened security with the restrictions that accompany it.
Upon a closer look at the European ability to handle the crisis, we can see different levels of preparedness. I would like to go back to the security system layers I mentioned in the beginning. Those systems are able to discover threats and react to them. The question is whether they have or will have enough capacity to prevent all potential attacks. Threats are changing, and so are we. The mainstream media and political criticism of security systems and their cooperation in Europe does not reflect the reality. Even though, often the individual countries’ legal framework is not ready to handle the new situation, the security systems do work and cooperate.
It is not a priority for these systems to categorize the threats. From the security system point of view, a terrorist threat encompasses a wide scale of acts, thus it can only be detected, described and eliminated. The risk of a threat can be partially eliminated depending on the extent of knowledge on its masterminds and commanders. The security systems are typically blamed after each successful attack, but they can only handle the actors, their networks, and sources. However, they can never change the environment from which the social, economic, religious and other grievances grow. This is the main responsibility of the society and politicians. To think that an improvement of security systems alone will solve the whole refugee crisis, would be a serious mistake.