In the Hollywood film ‘The Dark Knight, the character of the Joker poignantly tells Batman that human society will always be prey to its base, survivalist instincts, where the notion of humanity is nothing more than a punch line. In that legendary interrogation scene he says, “their morals and code, it’s a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble. They are only as good as the world allows them to be. When the chips are down, these civilized people will eat each other.”
These words now come rushing back when I think of Paris, and the ensuing fear and confusion that has gripped citizens across Europe. Similar to the Joker’s antics, the dastardly attack by ISIS is a challenge to the world’s faith in the motto of ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’. As we now know that homegrown extremists carried out these acts of terror, the rise of right-wing political groups across Europe who denounce the ethos of multiculturalism seems to be the endgame of the terror group. Months after the Charlie Hebdo incident, ISIS is using fear to polarise communities in the West, to mirror its own twisted vision of ideological purity, where like medieval times, your faith is your uniform on the battlefield.
The Paris attacks have also cast a political lens over the refugee crisis, where thousands of people fleeing ISIS in Iraq and Syria are desperately trying to find shelter in Europe. The leaders of France’s Front National, Britain’s UK Independence Party, Poland’s Law and Justice and Hungary’s Fidesz party have all declared that the refugees pose a significant security risk to Europe, while also claiming that ‘Islamisation’ has placed European values under threat. This is clearly what ISIS wants – to replicate the racial profiling and string of ‘revenge attacks’ on Muslim groups in the United States post 9/11.
Europe rests on a knife’s edge, and now is the time for its governments to aggressively defend the secularism enshrined in their constitutions to counter the increasingly toxic narrative of the right wing. The French government’s decision to re-open schools and universities across Paris, and a national appeal for unity and political cooperation is an open defiance of ISIS, as it sends the right message to people across the world. At the same time, European governments can no longer afford to tiptoe around the menace of homegrown terror. They cannot avoid tackling the problem head on for the sake of political correctness. The fallout of this attitude has been that the extreme right is dominating the debate, and their narratives are emboldened by ISIS and other terror groups. De-legitimising the right wing’s control over the terror debate and defending secularist principles is a tough job, but Europe is the champion of multiculturalism and its liberal leaders must demonstrate that they are up to the challenge.
This is the time where everyone from a Prime Minister to a local community leader needs to embolden a traumatized citizenry to hold fast to the ideals that make them free and fearless. In these times, I remember the famous words of CBS news legend and civil rights crusader Edward Murrow appealing to the human condition when in turmoil, something I feel should resonate across the world – "We will not walk in fear one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to associate, to speak and to defend.”
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