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On Nice, Istanbul and other attacks: Defending European values, which ones?

Acting in Faith  |  By Mati Gomis-Perez, Jul 15, 2016
Ambulance and truck from attack in Nice

Ambulance and truck from attack in Nice

Photo: Tasmin News via Wikimedia Commons / Tasmin News via Wikimedia Commons

As I spent some days off in my home country during the past Easter holidays in March, news of the bombings in Brussels and Lahore hit. Shortly after, already back in Jerusalem, I woke up with the news that the first group of refugees in Europe were being sent back to Turkey.   Since then, hundreds have been killed in bombings and more violence in Istanbul, Baghdad, Dhaka, Medina, and today in Nice.

The conversations in Europe as the details of the attacks in Brussels unfolded last March, did not provide much new but rather a confirmation of the same discourse around the “terrorism,” the “jihadist” threat and how to make European countries safer.   Most of the conversation focused on how to increase security and find the attackers.  At the Barcelona airport, as I was returning with my children to Jerusalem, my five and seven years old backpacks were searched and my daughter’s teddy bear was thoroughly checked for traces of explosives.  When my five year old asked me what that man was doing and why, I could not find words that could make her comprehend the situation.  This is how Europe reacted to make its airports safer: searching through children’s backpacks.

Istanbul airport via Wikimedia Commons

Three weeks ago, I was on my way, again, home and transited through Istanbul airport three days before it was attacked.  Then, while at home, news about the Baghdad, Dhaka, Medina bombings came through.  I heard no discussions in Europe about how to prevent that senseless loss of life so far away.  However, everyone seemed appalled at the events taking place in the United States and the shootings in Dallas.  Today, this morning, more than 80 people have been killed in Nice. 

“The devil is among us” some people in Europe will be saying, referring to the Muslim European population.  This morning, while reading about the attack in Nice, I could not help but to think about the discussions back in 2003-2004 when the drafting of the European Union (EU) Constitution was bringing debates to the table as to whether such a founding document should explicitly mention the Christian roots and values of the European enterprise.  Some countries in the Union were very adamant about including this as a clear message of what Europe is all about and where it comes from.  But, if that is the case, i.e. that European countries are rooted culturally in Christian history and values exclusively, does it inextricably lead us to the impossibility of having a Muslim-French, a Muslim-British, a Muslim-Spanish, who is equally and unequivocally recognized, accepted and considered ALSO European?

Right after the attacks in the Brussels airport last March, Europe started implementing its agreement with Turkey and expelled 200 immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Syria.  More have been sent away since then.  In addition to the fact that this agreement goes against internationally agreed refugee law, I wonder if this is all connected to the fact that the vast majority of immigrants are Muslim or at least, they are not Christian.   A couple of weeks ago the majority of the people in the United Kingdom voted to exit the EU in support of calls to control immigration (i.e. Muslim, black/dark, immigration). The proposed European constitutional text was not approved and has since been forgotten, but those early discussions reflected something that exists among some within European societies, as the Brexit vote has shown.

Mosque attack in Baghdad, Tasmin News via Wikimedia Commons

In the coming days, there will be few calls for ending the militarization of the Middle East or for ending the support to countries in the region which are sponsoring Daesh (ISIS) and Al Nusra.   We will hear political leaders calling for unity, for defending our values of freedom, democracy, etc, in the face of these attacks, because “these individuals will harm the way we live.”  I find it so difficult to understand what that means.  These calls for defending “our” values seem so hollow and as a European, I have to admit, they don’t mean much to me. 

Rather than a specific way of life being under threat, what I see is that the policies implemented by European countries in the Middle East for decades have had a total disregard for people’s lives, people’s rights and people’s well-being.  Policies implemented through proxy local governments and groups aligned with the objective of finding their own political and economic benefit  have created more poverty, more marginalization, less freedom, less democracy, more violence and disregard for human life.  Those are the European values a child growing up in the Middle East during the last decades has seen.

European leaders talk about the need to defend European values: which ones? The ones that apply to those that have a European passport and are based on human rights, equality, fraternity and freedom?  Or those that create violence, militarization of societies, fuel conflict and disregard human life that is not European?  Sadly, most of the population of the world, and particularly, the people in the Middle East have seen and lived through the impact of policies based on the latter and less of the former. 

It seems to me that the political leaders heading our countries see that we cannot have one without the other and that those European values come at the expense of others’ lives and suffering.  Hence, in the name of “our values," Europe will continue as is.  Until when?

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About the Author

Mati Gomis-Perez is AFSC Country Representative for Israel and Palestine based in East Jerusalem.  Before she joined the AFSC in November 2013, she worked for a number of non-governmental organizations in Spain and the occupied Palestinian territory, for UN Women in New York and Jordan, and the Spanish Agency for Development Cooperation in Jerusalem during the Second Intifada.  She has done consultancies in Cambodia, Sahrawi Refugee Camps in Algeria, and Colombia evaluating humanitarian and development projects.  

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