On Friday night, the world saw the deadliest attack on Europe since the 2004 Madrid bombings. This comes against the backdrop of a Europe torn over a refugee crisis and struggling with the rise of far-right parties with largely anti-Muslim messages. I fear the reactions of my fellow Europeans in the wake of these events, and the civil consequences to come.
The European relationship with the far-right is almost cliche at this point. It has been 70 years since the fall of fascism in Europe, yet far-right parties with explicit or implicit ties to Nazism, historical and otherwise, are growing strong. The Swedish Democrats became the third-largest party (out of eight) in my home country of Sweden this past election. France gave the Front National political party 25 percent of the vote in the 2014 European Parliament election. Germany has been dealing with Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident) and its protests drawing tens of thousands. They are all pushing an anti-Muslim message. Europe is tearing itself apart in trying to deal with the influx of refugees, many of whom are Syrians fleeing ISIS.
And now ISIS has claimed responsibility for an attack in Paris that left more than 100 dead and hundreds injured.
I remember when Anders Breivik attacked Oslo and Utøya back in 2011. I was at a party with some of my old high school friends. The first thing one of them said when we heard of the attack was, “and now Muslim terrorism has come to us.” However, Breivik, a right-wing extremist, is not a Muslim. He claimed he carried out his attack in opposition to multiculturalism in Norway.
I have little doubt how thousands, if not millions, of Europeans will react to these attacks. They will blame Muslims. These reactions will undoubtedly be shared by Americans, too.
It’s wrong to react this way.
It would be deeply racist to blame all Muslims for the actions of ISIS. There are something around 1.5 billion Muslims on Earth, and to consider each of them responsible for the actions of a terrorist organization is absurd and inhumane. It is akin to blaming all Christians, regardless of denomination for actions by the Westboro Baptist Church, or the Jewish people for perceived fault of Israel, or all Europeans for the actions of Breivik.
It would be disturbing to involve the refugees when reacting to this attack. The Syrian refugees who arrived on European shores seeking a new life did so to flee ISIS. The refugees fled brutality, war and inhumanity to come to a place where life would be better. The inhumanity may have caught up with them, but they should not face further inhumanity from us Europeans. We should instead react with solidarity and say, “we suffer from hundreds of casualties. You suffer from hundreds of thousands of casualties,” and then extend our hand in help.
To tackle the hardships ahead and the struggles Europe will face, its people need to stand united, hand-in-hand, facing the storm. We Europeans need a leader to represent us, a leader for us to join with. We need a strong leader who will call for decency, respect and pride, and lead us to a stronger future. We cannot be left to squabble over practicalities or the interests of the few at a time like this. The open-hearted majority who see Europe as a place for everyone need someone strong to lead the charge against the surge of the far-right in Europe. Those people need to see that our struggles can be overcome without losing ourselves to our darker past.
Finally, to blame Muslims and descend into a world with strong and clear delineations between Islam and everyone else is to lay down and let ISIS win. ISIS desires nothing more than a black-and-white world where there is Islam and the “Crusaders,” i.e. everyone else. By turning against Muslims at a time like this, Europe would only show that ISIS is telling the truth — that the world they describe is a real one.
The attack in Paris was an attack on the blended, diverse, wonderful way of life that Europe has continued to embrace. It was an attack on the values of the modern world and the values of those who attempt to live their lives with love and respect for all humanity. Giving up any of this love and respect would be to surrender to ISIS, and tell them they’ve won.
Max Filipsson, a graduate student in journalism at Boston University, is from Sweden.