A week after the brutal and dramatic attacks in Paris, nearly every knee-jerk political reaction has been contradicted by the facts: the stray Syrian passport found near the body of a suicide bomber outside the Stade de France is now known to be either stolen or fake, possibly dropped there purposefully by one of the attackers to seed anti-refugee sentiment. Despite security officials calling for back doors to encrypted messaging software, it appears the terrorists discussed their plan openly, through unencrypted text messages like the ones police found on a cell phone in a trash can outside the Bataclan concert hall. And none of the identified attackers are refugees, contrary to the hysterical claims of politicians around the world calling for changes to policies apparently too friendly to those trying to escape civil war.
The intelligence failures in this case are clear. Despite many of the attackers — including Salah Abdeslam, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, and Omar Ismail Mostefai — having been on the radars of various European security agencies for years, breakdowns in information sharing between agencies, even within the bilingual Belgian police force, prevented full knowledge of the plot until it was too late. And afterwards, as well: French officials stopped Abdeslam and two others as they drove away from Paris in a rented Volkswagen just hours after the attack, but let them go after a check failed to identify their car as the same one seen dropping suicide bombers off outside the Bataclan.
While the investigations of the events themselves continue, the ramifications of Europe’s highest casualty terrorist attack since the 2004 Madrid train bombings are already rocking the continent. On Friday night, without any confirmation that the attacks were linked at all to the influx of refugees from Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, right wing and nationalist politicians announced the end of their tolerance toward migration, and re-emphasized their skepticism of the nearly-borderless Schengen Zone.
Fear of the Other
In Poland, the recently elected Law and Justice Party’s minister for foreign affairs published an op-ed on Saturday morning on the EU’s plan to distribute refugees among member states, saying that he “doesn't see the political possibilities to implement a decision on the relocation of refugees.” Referring, one would presume, to the political environment he benefitted from in October, when the party’s founder reminded voters: “Cholera on Greek islands, dysentery in Vienna, all sorts of parasites and bacteria that might be harmless to these people can be dangerous here.”
In Britain, Ukip party leader Nigel Farage cited “research” to back his claims that “it is clear that the UK Muslim population are conflicted in their loyalties” and further emphasized that the continent’s Schengen Zone “has meant the free movement of terrorists, and it has meant the free movement of jihadists.”
In the Netherlands, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy called for closed borders, and later proposed a “mini-Schengen,” which would include just five nations — Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Austria.
The attacks come at a crucial political moment for the French far right party Front National, led by Marine Le Pen, as they head into crucial regional elections in three weeks.
Over the summer, Le Pen orchestrated the ouster of her father from a symbolic position in FN, a move seemingly meant to distance herself from the divisive figure — known for his anti-semitism and Holocaust denialism, as well as harsh anti-immigrant and Islamaphobic rhetoric — in preparation for her run for president in 2017. In 2012, Le Pen stunned election analysts by garnering nearly 18 percent of the popular vote, an historic record for her party.
After the attacks, pundits wondered aloud how Le Pen and other key figures in FN would respond.
And they wasted no time: In a speech on Saturday morning, Le Pen posited that France should ban all Islamist organizations, close radical mosques, and “expel foreigners who preach hate on our soil, as well as illegal immigrants who have no right to be here.” Her father reminded voters that FN “have criticised this criminal barbarism for years.”
In a profile published on Friday, right before the attacks, Marine Le Pen’s niece and FN rising star Marion Marechal-Le Pen told Reuters, "We're advancing step by step, we're building credibility… this is reassuring French citizens and breaks the 'fear argument' that people use against us.”
And yet, after the attacks, she gave her opponents plenty of fodder. “The ‘right to be different’ and ‘multiculturalism’ have fractured French society,” she tweeted on Monday (author’s translation). And two days later: “The fight against terrorism is not enough, we must also identify and fight against the ideology behind it: Islamism.”
In an article in the French magazine Valeurs Actuelles, Marion Le Pen called for border control, closing radical mosques and Islamic organizations, prohibiting the financing of mosques by foreign states, and non-negotiable controls on Imams who want to preach in France, among other things.
We will see whether the far right nationalists convince Europe to rid itself of Islam altogether. It is a grave proposition, and it should go without saying that this hatred was perhaps the entire point of the attacks in the first place: Daesh publications have openly claimed that their goal is to “destroy the grayzone,” in which European Muslims can be accepted in Western society, and confront them with a choice — “they either apostatize… or they [emigrate] to the Islamic State.”
Daesh’s war, like the Le Pens’, is a war against refugees and for religious control; a war against multiculturalism and for the politics of fear. Europe will decide whether it takes the bait.