The current refugee crisis has produced a wave of xenophobia across Europe. Fascism and ultra-nationalism have also been on the rise. Because of the really large numbers of refugees all going to Europe, it seems to have put a strain on the countries’ resources and has led to some sort of political backlash which we are seeing in Europe at the moment — a resurgence of extreme right wing nationalist politics, such as UKIP in Britain, Marine Le Pen in France, and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
The rise in right wing nationalist politics in Europe means that many Europeans are now interested in preserving their culture. Some of them fear that the Muslim refugees will impose sharia law in their countries, which goes against Europe’s liberal democracies. Right wing extremism seems to be at its peak in Europe, especially in countries such as Germany, because of the large arrival of refugees into the country. For instance, the Alternative party for Germany (AfD) has gained momentum, and has won elections in several states based on the beliefs that they are anti-migration and anti-refugees. This shows that a growing number of people in Europe are not happy with the large influx of refugees coming into their countries.
Many European’s fear that by accepting refugees it will lead to the Islamisation of the west, for example, in Germany there is an anti-Islam organisation called PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) which is spreading throughout Europe; they argue that Europeans need to wake up to the threat of Islam.
In the past two years the numbers of Islamophobic rallies have grown. The PEGIDA movement in 2015 carried out a lot of protests against Muslims in the country and thousands of people joined these rallies, creating a wave of fear into the community. Extremist and anti-migrant groups such as PEGIDA have carried out an increasing number of attacks on Muslims or people they assume are Muslims. Additionally, neo-Nazi groups have used the influx of refugees as well as the terrorist attacks in Germany in order to demonstrate the failure of the government when dealing with the entry of refugees into the country.
While there have been many protests against the acceptance of refugees, there have also been many counter-demonstrations by Europeans who are shocked by the xenophobic attitudes increasing in Europe. Although there is a rise in xenophobia and far right extremism, some European countries have contributed a great amount to the refugee crisis. For example, the current government in Germany have accepted thousands of refugees as they believe that they should welcome the refugees, teach them the necessary skills and employ them in areas in order to advance their economic development in less developed areas of Germany. Thus showing that the German government has contributed to alleviating the crisis. Sweden is another country that has also accepted many Syrian refugees, and “it became the first country in Europe to grant permanent residence to all refugees from Syria.” So, both Germany and Sweden “represent positive models for many states in terms of providing remarkable protection for Syrian refugees.”
Another possible reason for the rise in xenophobia across Europe could be because of the increase in terrorist attacks in Europe. Islamist terror attacks have taken place in countries such as France, Belgium, and Germany. One example of a terrorist attack took place in France when the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published an offensive cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, knowing that it would probably incite violence. Two armed men believed to be a part of al-Qaeda entered the magazine offices killing eleven people. ISIS later claimed that they were behind the Paris attacks. Many europeans saw these attacks as an attack on freedom of expression. Ironically, France have banned the veil, and also banned the hijab and burkini in some areas of the country; this exposes the hypocrisy of its secularist state.
Unfortunately, there continues to be a rise in terrorist attacks all over Europe, more specifically in Germany, France, Belgium, and most recently England, resulting in the tragic deaths of many innocent people. Hence, many Europeans now have a fear that accepting refugees is a huge risk, as there may be terrorists among them.
However, the individuals who were behind these terrorist attacks have been raised in the West, and thousands of British born and raised citizens have gone to join ISIS; so ISIS are finding it easy enough to recruit from European born citizens, let alone having to sneak in terrorists with refugees.
Thousands of ISIS recruits have been radicalised online; so-called Islamic State has been using social media to attract followers from around the world. They are known for using Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, to reach out to potential recruits. According to Welsh et al (2017: 199):
ISIL has its own multilingual media arm, Al-Hayat, which produces videos using American-made GoPro action cameras. Al-Hayat has released videos featuring foreign fighters who speak Western languages and who encourage young people to come to Syria to wage violent jihad or help the caliphate in some other way.
So, ISIS targets their videos towards specific audiences; for example, in one video a white Canadian jihadist in his early twenties encourages other westerners to join up. Their videos make jihad look attractive and meaningful; therefore this false depiction could be the reason as to why so many foreign fighters have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join IS.
So-called Islamic State have also used Twitter to gain exposure and radicalise individuals; according to a US study there are approximately 46,000 Twitter accounts run by ISIS members. (Siegel, 2016) ISIS members can easily reach out to vulnerable people who use Twitter and Facebook, and brainwash them with their twisted ideology. Sadly, a minority of Muslim youth in Europe have been brainwashed by ISIS’s twisted ideology as they often post online propaganda to recruit fighters:
ISIL typically recruit’s Western youth who are isolated, uncertain, disillusioned, and who believe they have no purpose. Like other gangs, they offer a sense of family and belonging that appeals to teens and gives them an opportunity to join a group with a passionate purpose and direction.
Therefore, one potential reason as to why many youth are joining ISIS could be because they feel marginalised in an increasingly xenophobic Europe, and believe that if they join ISIS they can be part of a ‘brotherhood’.
It is important to remember that the Syrian refugees are fleeing for their lives because they disagree with what ISIS are doing. Muslims are the biggest targets of ISIS; so-called Islamic State have killed more Muslims than non-Muslims, showing that they will kill anyone who does not believe in their distorted ideology.