There is a fine line between supporting freedom of speech and denouncing an entire religion. Too many in Europe have done the latter in response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, using the incident in an opportunistic manner to promote a negative cause rather than a positive one. Although the attack is not solely to blame, it has propelled a long-stewing sense of Islamophobia in France and other European nations.
According to RT, there have been 54 “anti-Muslim incidents” throughout France since the Charlie Hebdo attacks occurred. That includes 21 shootings at Islamic buildings and 33 reported threats. Violence and expression of hatred towards the French Muslim population is, unfortunately, nothing new. The Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) reported 691 “Islamophobic acts” in 2013. Elsa Ray, a spokeswoman for that organization, warned Al-Jazeera of the dangers of Islamophobia. “Like Jews 50 years ago, Muslims are now the new scapegoats of France and Europe,” she said. "The government and the media emphasize on the fact that Islam is the problem and Muslim people do not respect the republic and its values. It’s a system of creating a scapegoat for the society."
The comparison to Jews 50 years ago is being carried out in a chilling manner across the border in Germany. More than 25,000 people attended an anti-Islam rally in Dresden this week organized by the radical group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (Pegida). There was another, smaller protest of about 3,000 occurring simultaneously in Berlin. The group, which began holding anti-Islam and anti-immigrant rallies three months ago, has similarly used the Paris attacks as a method of growing their cause.
The United States has been dealing with its own form of Islamophobia at least since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Through fighting the global War on Terror, the U.S. has realized the ironic nature of unwinnable battles: Isolating and demonizing a population inevitably leads to the creation of more enemies. It’s a message that politicians like Ron Paul have been spreading for years — America’s anti-terrorism foreign policy ultimately leads to the radicalization of disenfranchised population. Thus, violent anti-terrorist efforts breed terrorists.
Paul reiterated this point when discussing the Charlie Hebdo attacks during an appearance on Newsmax TV. “This is pretty obscene when it comes to violence," he said." "But in the context of things, France has been a target for many, many years because they’ve been involved in foreign affairs in Libya … they’ve been involved in Algeria, so they’ve had attacks like this. I put blame on bad policy that we don’t fully understand. It doesn’t justify, but it explains it … it’s an overall policy which invites retaliation. We’ve been conditioned to believe that the only reason 9/11 happened is that we are free and prosperous, I don’t believe that for a minute … it’s retaliation, it’s blowback.”
The spread of Islamophobia in Europe is extremely dangerous, especially considering the continent’s history of starting world wars and promoting genocide. Rallying against violent extremists that commit mass murder in the name of religion is one thing, protesting the religion as a whole only demonizes those born into it. Even though there have yet to be any extreme violent outbreaks against Muslims in Germany, the growing popularity of nationalistic groups could be catastrophic.
Europe has made significant advances since the conclusion of the second world war. The establishment of the EU, a relaxation of border security and a more connected continent have eased the nationalistic tensions that dominated the early half of the 20th century. Yet Europe is still a continent of small nation-states, each of which has a rich and proud cultural tradition. It’s been sent over the edge before, and it’s not unrealistic that something similar could occur again. As long as the majority of protesters rally for freedom of speech and not against the Muslim population, Europe will have a better future.