Combating extremism

The devil is said to be in the details. And that became startlingly clear with the issue of a joint statement by the European Union’s interior ministers in the wake of attacks in France and Austria that appeared to be a watered-down version of the draft first considered by them but sets the tone for how the EU might react in future.

Blaming the rise of extremism on the continent on the failure of migrants to integrate, the statement issued at the weekend highlights the need for greater social cohesion. It notes: “Integration is a two-way street. This means that migrants are expected to make an active effort to become integrated, while help in this regard is important.”

But as significant as what was finally agreed upon was what had first been put on the table. The EU removed a reference to Islam from the draft and deleted the demand for migrants to learn the language of the host state and for them to earn a living. Reference in the initial draft to sanctions against who refused to integrate was removed and a demand made by the European Council president to create a training institute for imams was expanded to cover all faiths.

The statement said: “Organisations that do not act in accordance with relevant legislation and support content that is contrary to fundamental rights and freedoms should not be supported by public funding, neither on national nor on European level. Also, the undesirable foreign influencing of national civil and religious organisations through non-transparent financing should be limited.”

Instead of narrowing the focus on religious instruction to Islam, the statement says that EU would promote religious training that is in line with “European fundamental rights and values.” Additionally, the statement has expanded its focus to raise concerns about far-right groups even as its primary focus remains on Islamic extremism.

But even though the statement has been edited to make it seem more politically correct and acceptable, the emphasis on integration suggests that
Europe appears determined, if incrementally, to make assimilation the cornerstone of its immigration policies. And although the linking of migration with counter-terrorism and the focus on Islam are no longer part of the position officially adopted by the EU ~ reportedly at the insistence of Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg ~ the direction that the discourse will take if there are more attacks of the sort witnessed in Vienna, Paris and Nice has been made quite clear.

That there is consensus on the way ahead was made clear by the German interior minister Horst Seehofer who called it a “great sign of solidarity”. It is evident Europe has had enough of efforts to target its original citizens by those who migrated more recently. And while the EU may choose to drop references to Islam and imams for now, the process followed in arriving at a consensus makes it quite clear who is being targeted.



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