Cool heads must prevail as Europe confronts terror threat

Europeans are questioning their security and tourism could be hit but the answer cannot be in turning to right-wing politicians who stir fear and anger

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 July, 2016, 12:40am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 July, 2016, 12:40am

Western Europe is among the world’s safest and most stable regions. That is a major reason why so many refugees from conflict zones have made their way there. But that has been tainted after attacks on ordinary people in France and Germany in recent weeks. Governments, residents and visitors have to keep matters in perspective to prevent emotions from getting out of hand.

It is odd to see the nations named along with Belgium on the Hong Kong Security Bureau’s amber travel alert list beside less-developed countries. But after a string of attacks in which dozens have been killed, the latest an elderly priest whose throat was slit by a known would-be jihadist who had interrupted a service at a church near the French town of Rouen, there is every justification for caution. French President Francois Hollande responded by saying that the threat to Europe from Islamists had never been so severe. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for several of the incidents, but until each case is thoroughly investigated, it cannot be said for certain how closely the terror group was involved, if at all.

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Europeans are questioning their security and tourism could be hit. Unlike the attacks in March at Brussels airport or in Paris last year, there was nothing sophisticated about the four incidents that occurred over a week in the southern German state of Bavaria: an axe wielded by an Afghan against train passengers, Hongkongers among them, near Wuerzburg; a pistol fired by a teenager of dual German and Iranian nationality at a fast-food restaurant in Munich and a machete-carrying Syrian at another in Reutlingen; and a suicide bombing by another Syrian, a failed asylum seeker, outside a music festival at Ansbach. They came just two weeks after a Tunisian immigrant drove a truck into a crowd in the French city of Nice, killing 84.

A backlash against migrants and asylum seekers could lead to further violence. Right-wing politicians and groups with anti-immigrant agendas have stirred fear and anger and support for them is growing. That is a challenge for leaders, Hollande and Germany’s Angela Merkel among them, and the peaceful societies that decades of economic and social policies have helped create.

Random acts of violence are difficult, often even impossible, to prevent. Europe is no more dangerous today than before the attacks, as low homicide rates attest. Stepped-up intelligence and security are important, but cool-headed leadership and grit and spirit are what is needed above all else to overcome the threat.