The attack on the office of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo created shockwaves across the world. The assault, which was allegedly an act of retaliation by Islamic fundamentalists against the newspaper’s ‘improper’ depiction of Prophet Muhammad, killed 12 including its editor. What’s worrying is that it was the second time that such an attack had taken place within the span of just two months, the first one being the 16-hour long siege in a Sydney cafe which claimed the lives of two people.
Radical Muslims have long been a big problem for the Western world; particularly so, since the 9/11 twin tower attack in New York. But they have started to pose a greater threat in recent times thanks mainly to the swift rise of fundamentalist group Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East and their growing influence. Not only has the group attracted 16,000 Muslims from 90 different countries, it has also cast an influence on many other younger Muslims living in the West. Although the terrorists in Paris attack owed their allegiance to Al Qaeda and not Islamic State, it reflected the rising trend of radicalization amongst young Muslims.
The increasing number of extremist attacks since the dawn of the new millennium has led many to associate terrorism with Islam. Despite movements urging people not to stereotype, many Muslims in West find themselves getting labelled. In the wake of the recent attack in Paris, there were fears that the attacks could trigger further backlash against the community. And it did. In Germany, tens of thousands of Germans participated in an anti Islamic protest earlier this week.
According to reports, more than 50 anti-Muslim incidents happened across France alone including shootings and physical assaults in less than a week since the attack. Other European countries witnessed similar acts. The impact of this sort of backlash can be even more dreadful. Not only are they likely to further intensify the already existing tensions, but it also has tendencies of breeding a future generation of extremists capable of inflicting much bigger damage.
Part of the problem lies with the inability of the European countries to assimilate its Muslim population. Take for example, France. The country, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe, has most of them living in the downtrodden Zones Urbaines Sensibles (ZUS) - the sensitive urban zone, often seen as the dark ghettos of the charming Paris city. Numbering almost 800, these zones suffer problems nothing less than an underdeveloped country; from poverty and high level of unemployment to low percentage of school graduates, it has it all. Residents claim that the government largely ignores them. A Newsweek report in August suggested that almost half of the young French Muslims, mostly from this area, remained unemployed. The infamous riots which erupted in the area in 2005 and 2007 (the earlier one causing as much as 200 million Euros of damage) are signs of growing dissent. Alienated and frustrated, these young French Muslims become easy targets of fundamentalists. As a result, many second and third generation of the community become even more religious and radicalized than their parents.
Some of the legal provisions made by the European governments in recent times are signs that show how they have failed to incorporate Muslims into their mainstream culture. In 2004, the government passed a controversial law prohibiting the wearing of the headscarves and veils, the Burqa, in public schools. Seven years later, the government formally banned full-face veils in public places, ostensibly as a security measure. Belgium, with considerable Muslim population, has promulgated a similar law. In a direct move to curb the formation of Muslim religious organizations, Hungary introduced laws making it difficult to register religious organizations resulting in the decline of number of religious organizations from more than 300 to fewer than 30. Along with inviting harsh criticism, such alleged ‘anti – Islamic’ laws have given rise to an angry lot of Muslims. A survey conducted last year found that 15 percent of French Muslim citizens had a positive opinion of the Islamic State. In another survey, many said that they felt ‘offended’ by such laws.
Seeing an opportunity after the wave of terror, right wing anti immigration parties are slowly starting to capitalize on the situation. Experts say that this is adding fuel to the fire. Parties like Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Germany, the Front National in France, the Northern League in Italy and even right wing parties from countries like Switzerland were quick in finding fault with the minority community for their role in terrorist activities after the Paris attack.
Despite many governments in Europe being vocal that they would not be biased against any minority community, these right wing parties are slowly striking a cord with the people. Thousands have taken to the street to show their support; a worrying sign that can further increase the divide. As long as the European countries do not work to assimilate its minority population, danger of a rise in the ranks of radical young Muslims will only increase.