Europe’s challenge: How to prevent Islamic extremism entering along with its victims

Op-ed: As Europe grapples with a migrant crisis, its leaders might ask themselves if they could have done more to alleviate some of its causes

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Syrian refugees land on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos in an inflatable dingy across the Aegean Sea from Turkey, September 3, 2015. (AFP/Angelos Tzortzinis)
Syrian refugees land on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos in an inflatable dingy across the Aegean Sea from Turkey, September 3, 2015. (AFP/Angelos Tzortzinis)

These are early days in the new migrant crisis facing Europe. It could grow to dwarf its current scale. But at the risk of adding more questions than answers, I wonder:

1. Is Europe paying a price for its efforts to stay out of certain recent and ongoing Middle East crises, notably the civil war in Syria?

The West has known all along, in terrible, gory detail, that President Bashar Assad has been massacring his own people. And yet, to its immense moral discredit, it has allowed him to carry on doing so.

Panaceas for the Syrian civil war are in short supply. It’s easy to demand military intervention, and to complain about its absence, and far harder to put together a plan for intervention with a realistic chance of success. And yet the Butcher of Damascus has been allowed to eclipse the last Butcher of Damascus (his father) with near-impunity, permitted even to gas his own people without significant consequence.

Europe was certainly not insisting that US President Barack Obama punish Assad for his use of non-conventional weapons; indeed, it was the British Parliament, convening an emergency session in August 2013 to reject Obama’s promised US-led punitive action, that provided the president with at least a partial pretext for climbing down.

2. What exactly are the Middle East’s migrants fleeing?

Among the factors for the drastic upsurge in desperate efforts to escape this treacherous region are Assad’s murderous regime and others like it; regimes that are “merely” repressive rather than murderous; the brutality of Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other Islamist terror groups; poverty and inequality; and a host of related causes.

With the best will in the world — and there are plenty of Europeans, including some European governments, that do not lack for good will — such root causes are not going to be effectively addressed overnight. But an insistent reluctance in the West to tackle rogue regimes and to address the root causes of Islamic extremism — in this region’s leaderships, media, education, and spiritual messaging — has exacerbated the crisis. So, too, the failure to help stabilize nations that may be tottering but have not yet fallen.

The people of Egypt, for instance, are not yet attempting to flee en masse, but they can reasonably be expected to try to do so if their economy collapses, and yet Western efforts to help salvage the Egyptian economy, to push for greater transparency and thus to facilitate credible investment, have been distinctly underwhelming.

3. Sorry to mention that Israel thing, but might I ask whether, had certain world leaders and forums been a little less obsessed with the notion of Israel as the root of all Middle East evil, and a little more focused on tyranny and religious extremism as the root of most Middle East evil, Western diplomatic and economic leverage could have helped alleviate at least some of the horrors that various people in this part of the world are now seeking to escape?

4. And, apologies again, do the world powers truly believe that their latest act of “statesmanship” — rewarding Iran for its rogue nuclear program with a deal that sends tens of billions into the regime’s coffers and thus entrenches the rapacious, human rights-abusing ayatollahs in power — is going to foster greater stability in this part of the world?

5. Isn’t Europe overdue for some coherent immigration policies?

We appear to be witnessing the umpteenth example of world leadership patently incapable of strategizing, and forced to formulate ad hoc policies at critical moments. What now, for instance, is Germany, the economic powerhouse of Europe, to do in the face of what is certain to be the ongoing escalation of demands by the world’s oppressed to be allowed to join its citizenry? How can Germany, with its 20th century history, allow itself to close its gates to the needy and persecuted?

But how, simultaneously, to avoid a stark growth in right-wing extremism in reaction to the influx? And how to ensure that those seeking refuge and new opportunity today truly wish to integrate, rather than to skew Europe’s open societies? How to prevent the evils of Islamic extremism entering along with its victims?

6. To get parochial again, how should Israel be acting? Should the Jewish state throw open its borders to the peoples of the north, brought up to hate us? Plainly not. But we do have some obligation to the persecuted masses around us. Maybe the Druze of Syria are a special case, on whose behalf we should act more energetically?

It’s hard to imagine the West condemning us now for choosing, over the past few years, to seal off the border with Egypt in order to prevent the tens of thousands of African asylum-seekers who made their way to the only land-accessible democracy in the area swelling into the millions. It’s harder now to dismiss those Israeli leaders who contended that migration across a porous border could remake Israel’s demographic balance.

Should we allow people of Palestinian origin to cross from Syria and Lebanon into the West Bank, as PA President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded? Plainly, that would be easier if we were at peace with the Palestinians, rather than deadlocked, and if Abbas had publicly renounced the demand for a “right of return” that wields demographics as a weapon against Israel.

Too many questions; too few answers. And the validation of a familiar assertion: The Middle East is the dinner guest who never goes home. Ignore it or seek to disengage from it at your peril.

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