The old virus for the open, multi-faith European societies is terrorism. The terrorist attacks seem to occur in the spur of a moment. However, they are regular and share a similar pattern: all are done by the Islamic extremists and all aim at destabilising the belief in multiculturalism.
Unfortunately, the referendum ‘Leave’ result didn’t save Britain from the problems of multicultural societies, as has been proven by the Westminster attack on March 22nd. It is nerve-wracking to see how Theresa May momentarily lost her bearings as she was led to the car in her escape to Downing Street from the Palace of Westminster. Exactly a year ago, a series of suicide attacks took place in Brussels, a tragedy symbolic of the European Union falling apart that many believe we are witnessing today. In October 2015, just a month after Russia started its air strikes campaign supporting Bashar Al-Assad, a Russian passenger plane was downed which cost the lives of the 224 people on-board. The Syrian conflict, which is strategically crucial for Islamic State, has once again turned the Middle East into an international battlefield. We do not have an idea as to whether those who take part are defending international peace or purely their own interests, perhaps these two coincide. The terrorist attacks IS have owned up to include the ones in France, Turkey, Germany, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Syria and Afghanistan, and are likely to include many more.
The ‘Islamic State’ aims to destabilise the real ‘states’ with strong leaders. These attacks are arguably leading many European citizens fear Islam. In reality, the ‘lone wolf’ attacks, like the one in London, represent the power of propaganda, no more. IS wants to show that Western world leaders and the nations they lead are vulnerable to attacks. Today, Russia, the United States and Iran are the main players in the fight against IS, but Europe must play a part too.
European nations have to prove that they have a strong identity and even stronger beliefs. To ‘forge a more global Britain’ is Theresa’s May justification of Britain’s current political trajectory upon exiting the European Union two years today, as she signs the letter which will trigger Article 50 this morning. Moving away from nationalistic implications and celebrating multi-ethnic Britain is the end goal of May’s recent political address in Scotland, and this is what we should remember at all times when we are witnessing terrorist attacks across the world. Brexit should not be seen as a sign of the total collapse of the Eurozone project.
Since Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the United States as President, the European bloc has been balancing on a knife-edge. Nationalism, gaining increasing support across the continent, might seem to answer the populist needs and fears of the day. Yet Geert Wilders did not gain the majority of votes in the closely watched Dutch general election last week. The liberal, centre-right VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte overtook the anti-Muslim and anti-EU far-right Freedom Party (PVV). In the words of Rutte, the Dutch elections were a ‘feast for democracy’, as Wilders won just 13% of the vote and 20 seats, whilst Rutte won 21% and 31 seats to lead the next Government of the Netherlands.
Apparently, the democracy Mark Rutte is talking about seeks to prevent extremism and heavy propaganda, as just before the Dutch elections, the Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu and other representatives of the Turkish government were not let into the Netherlands. The aim of their visit was to to speak to ethnic Turks in Rotterdam who are eligible to vote as part of the campaign for the upcoming constitutional referendum in Turkey. The outcome of this referendum, which will happen on 16th April, would significantly increase President Edrogan’s power, as the proposed changes in the Turkish Constitution would see it adopt a fully-presidential system of government, eliminating the post of prime minister. Soon, Turkey will almost certainly cease to have a functioning parliament with real powers, regardless of the formality of the upcoming referendum. On one hand, the presidential system is better for the government because the executive and the legislature powers are represented by separate bodies. On the other hand, it is able to accommodate the growth of authoritarianism in Turkey which the West fears. 71 % of Dutch people want the EU to pull out of its association agreement with Turkey. This disagreement said to have secured Rutte’s victory as after this international scandal he emerged as an even stronger leader. There are several things that can be inferred from this. Edrogan’s aim is to emerge as a strong leader, and he sees his emigrants, nationals of European countries, as an important audience working seeking votes from. Second, the European Union is contracting, not expanding, as Turkey is not longer seen as a part of Europe. And finally, adherents of the multi-faith communities are the ones who can radically shape new world geopolitics.
Strong is not always synonymous with radical. Angela Merkel is seen to be the European anchor. Accused by Edrogan as a “Nazi” after Germany refused to let Turkish officials hold referendum campaigns within its borders, just shows how such mindless accusations bounce back. In his wish to emerge as a stronger leader, the Turkish president must remember that his government is the one who fails to admit Turkey’s mistakes, and not the German one.
Merkel’s victory in the regional elections last weekend showed her to be a strong leader. Trump, being famously against Merkel’s immigration policies, congratulated her on her success. Strong leaders have to be stoic in their approach in dealing with the challenges of globalisation and to not give up the European fight. After all, nobody said it was easy.
As the French presidential elections approach, there comes another wave of uncertainty about the destiny of the European Union. The far-right candidate Marine Le Pen of the National Front was welcomed to Moscow last week, yet another sign of the shifting geopolitical situation. Le Pen is anti-EU and anti-immigration. She expresses an opinion that sanctions on Russia should come to an end and accepts that the Crimea belongs to Russia. Is a strong leader necessarily a good leader? Does Le Pen prioritise a strong message over a good message? One of the reasons why Russia is antagonised at all in the West is because of its policy of doing good for its own country, regardless of the ethical nature of these policies.
More than 1000 people were detained in the anti-government protests led by Alexei Navalniy in Moscow alone (amongst them a British tourist). President Putin is still supported by the vast majority in Russia (over 80%). He is a good example of a strong leader, primarily because what he says and does is masqueraded by very real actions, or very real laws, or very strong propaganda. Those who have more access to alternative media sources and oppose Putin’s authoritarianism are concentrated in the major cities, mainly St. Petersburg and Moscow. However, those in large cities, where life is drastically different to life in small towns and the Russian countryside, enjoy a much higher standard of living to the rest of the country. Similar to London, Moscow is where people are too busy to take a breath, as they have to beat the competition and survive. Subsequently, they have little time and need to go on protests.
Ukraine, perhaps, was too late with its revolution to cut ties with Russia and join the EU. Today is perhaps the worst time to rely on the European states for protection from ‘Mother Russia’, and yet, what makes the European Union strong is its image of being at all times impartial, at all times democratic, at all times favouring co-operation and morality. For countries like Ukraine, the EU shows that prosperity and corruption are binary opposites.
However, populism is on the rise as it progressively becomes synonymous with strength. However, if Europe stays centrist and united, it can emerge as a firm standing soldier in the war against cowardice. Nationalism is a form of cowardice. It can be described by the Russian saying ‘my house is on the outskirts’. In English this is well known as the famous politics of ‘splendid isolation’ which is precisely what Brexit is, and what Frexit and the possible collapse of the European Union would be too. The polls encouragingly predict that even if Le Pen emerges as a winner in the first round of the elections, she is likely to be defeated in the second by Emmanuel Macron from the centrist En Marche.
The citizens of the Western countries, wrapped up in warm blankets, seem to forget sometimes that they are the ones who have the real face and the real identity. The Western culture of individuals seems to be losing to the societies that are more communal. If people in Europe remain cooperative, the European Union could save the collapsing world from itself.
The British should not reject their Christian and European past, perhaps not yet, because the morals behind this past make the United Kingdom strong. We have to support strong, moral, intelligent leaders, as in our own lives we aspire to be the same. As propaganda and politics are nowadays synonymous, the polls might just help France to remember the EU motto, In Varietate Concordia.