Summary of First Thursday discussion, April 7th 2016
The Daily Mail published an article (on page 2) about the recent Frontex report, under the headline “Immigration will destroy EU values says its own report”. A 70% increase in the use of fraudulent documents to gain entry to the EU and Britain means that “terrorists” and “jihadis” could “sneak into the EU and plot atrocities”. Whether the article fairly represents the report itself can be checked at http://frontex.europa.eu/assets/Publications/Risk_Analysis/Annula_Risk_Analysis_2016.pdf (Frontex is the EU agency, “Frontières Extérieuses” responsible for the security of external borders. In December 2015 the European Commission proposed replacing it with a new European Border and Coast Guard Agency.)
How should we deal with these risks? Should we adopt the Australian policy of interning immigrants an island until they are vetted? Is there a “war with Islam” that should suspend all international agreements, including those on refugees (and except for that on torture)? Are large numbers of unaccompanied young men themselves a risk (for example recently in Cologne). Does the pressure from mainly Muslim Turkey to join the EU risk the “Christian identity” of Europe?
Security depends far more on good intelligence than on (potentially forged) identity cards. And that depends crucially on good relationships with minority communities. Part of the problem in Brussels and Paris may have been the relative isolation of Muslim communities in those cities. We cannot allow that to happen in Britain- or to allow the Government’s “Prevent” programme to create greater alienation. Islam can be interpreted in many different ways (for example the Hadith story of Mohammed standing in respect as a Jewish funeral passed by), not only in the way ISIS appears to do.
The Sunni/Shia dispute in Islam is a key part of the Syrian conflict. Although that dispute had its origins centuries ago, in the years immediately after Mohammed’s death, in the modern world such religious “identities” are more often a convenient “label” for strategic political or economic struggles (as happened also in Northern Ireland). And today local and regional conflicts are inextricably linked to the globalised economy (with its tax havens), in which resources are owned and controlled by a small minority through international companies. These select the people with the “right” skills and attitudes to be offered the available jobs, leaving others to be supported by the declining resources which governments are able to allocate to public services and welfare.
Resentment and potential violence are less likely to emerge among the extremely poor, than among those who feel they have been unjustly pushed aside in the economic race. Religious labels can then obscure and divert attention from the economic realities that cause the conflict. The way to counteract this is not to try to reassert a “Christian identity” for Britain or Europe, but to build a just society which has a place for people of all faiths.