Warsaw, August 2017

A discussion with students from Warsaw university – but coming from different countries – was the reason for my short stay in the Polish capital, end of August. Since my last visit, which was not long ago, Warsaw changed again. Sure, you still see posters and exhibitions in the public space commemorating the heroic but also tragic Warsaw uprising of 1944. The permanent hint to that fight against German – Nazi- occupation is too often instrumentalized especially by nationalistic circles in Poland. To have historic references is a good thing and should be used more in many Western countries, but are overdone in some countries like Poland. And they are used in a very political sense.

But on the other hand you can see many young people in the Metro, on the walkway along the river and in museums who have probably other things in mind. They enjoy a modern city with many parks including on the roofs of the University Library and the Kopernikus Centre, a science „museum“ for the general public, with special programs for children. Strolling through the city, one recognizes an opening up of the society with some cautious development towards „multiculturality“. The mix of peoples and cultures are not comparable to cities like Vienna, Berlin, Paris or London. But some changes are visible. But now let’s go to the subject which I was asked to deal with by the organizers of the EU  students conference.

Where and when did migration between North and South start?

You can find two attitudes concerning the connection between migration and terrorism predominant. The one is negating any connection, the other is expressing the opinion, that migration – especially from Muslim countries – leads automatically to terrorism. Very few commentators try to differentiate by looking to reality and analyzing the situation carefully and thoughtfully.

We must start with recognizing the long and deep interconnection between the West and in particular Europe and the countries of emigration including forced emigration. Colonialism is one of the major factors defining past relationships. And this kind of unequal relationship is not over, if we look to neo-colonial and military and economic domination. Especially if you analyze the exploitation of many African and other ‚third world“ populations by Western companies and their local crony partners. And of course many military interventions like those into Iraq and also Libya – which was going far beyond the UN resolution allowed – are examples of a clear violation of international law.

So at the beginning of the relationship between South and North we find intervention, occupation, exploitation and several genocides committed by „Northern“ countries. And this interventionism is not over yet. Not all European countries participated and participate in these cruel interventions. But all of them profited and still profit from these unequal relations. Does this justify terrorism especially today against innocent people? Not at all. But to know the historical facts makes it easier to explain part of the migratory movements from the South towards the North. And it explains – at least partly – why some – mostly young – people are convinced by terrorists to follow their deadly arguments. History and especially its radical and demagogic interpretation play a role and they are influencing and manipulating uninformed young people.

Roots of criminal careers

But of course terrorism does not only happen with people newly migrated into European countries. Often these acts are committed by people of the second or even third generation, by people already born on European soil. Failure of integration and/or inclusion into society are often the background for terrorist crimes. And they lead not only to terrorist crimes but first to crimes like drug trafficking. Often the criminal career does not start with „islamistic“ beliefs and orientations and religious motivated crimes. It starts in many cases with the usual „criminal‘ activities of young people who did not succeed at school or to find a job. Extremist imams and ideologues and fighters of ISIS are using the deviation of these young people from legal behavior and they promise adventure, strength and salvation at least in heaven. So in these cases it is not migration at least not actual migration.

The role of Islam

Maybe it is Islam as such which is responsible for the new terrorism. Well, in several parts of Europe we know this religion and its practice since many years, often decades and even centuries. Islam was and is much more peaceful and tolerant than many non-religious ideologies. And for many years these Muslims have been more peaceful than Christian colonizers. But it is true, there are other interpretations which also rely on the Koran and it’s rather narrow minded and belligerent and cruel parts. The Wahhabi orientation, especially as these followers preach this form of religion since some time, is very strict and narrow-minded and is denying many tolerant interpretations of the long history of Islam. So we should be very critical about Saudi efforts to support the building of mosques and finance Imams. Some Salafists go even further they openly plead for a jihad against the West. Again they find some support amidst Muslim youth who finally see a chance to gain power and self esteem.

So religion does play a role, but it is rather certain interpretations which have a clear purpose in mind. It is not so much a way back as a „modern“, aggressive approach with some references to some specific streams in the history of Islam. But there have been many other reform oriented streams and interpretations which are denied and rejected by these extremist groups. And also today there are many personalities who are clearly representing an open and tolerant version of Islam. These religious leaders and their followers are very often threatened themselves because of their „liberal“ interpretation which fits into our modern society. Generally Muslims are the main victims of „islamistic“ terrorist attacks.

Against whom/what should Europe fight

We cannot abolish neither religion nor migration. But European political authorities must strive to manage migration and must define the principles any region must follow to be accepted by our society. Migration must be led into channels where it can be scrutinized to avoid as far as possible the clandestine infiltration by terrorists. But again we must be clear that people become often only terrorists once they live some time amidst „our“ European people. And of course we must not deny people in need the right to seek for asylum. That is a basic human right which is closely connected with our Christian and Western beliefs and attitudes. Certainly, also in this case Europeans must be watchful in order to prevent developments into radicalism on European soil.

Concerning Islam we have to find allies inside that religion. You cannot really change the religious teaching and habits and influence the interpretation of the Koran coming from the outside – at least not alone. But there are many allies inside Islam who would need encouragement and support to give Islam an interpretation which was over many centuries already present but has been under attack from radical extremists again and again. Europe needs common efforts of open minded representatives who are not attacking Islam as such but who are promoting tolerance and diversity. Islam is part of European society and must be part of European tolerance and diversity.

Fighting terrorism and managing migration

Finally we have to concentrate on fighting terrorism. This fight encompasses a lot of diverse issues. We have to combat the roots of terrorism in our society including the lack of integration and inclusion also due to the ongoing prejudice against Muslims – and other migrants. We must combat the ideology spread by some extremists imams. We must stop the trend to intervene militarily by some Western countries and the ongoing exploitation by Western companies together with local corrupt forces.

And of course we must also fight the newly established financial networks of terrorist organizations like ISIS. These are mostly informal networks often in connection with trafficking of persons, weapons, drugs, expensive minerals etc. Cutting the financial links and destroying its network in the Middle East is not enough. ISIS has already created a wider network of informal financial links, which have to be scrutinized and finally destroyed. Still terrorists may use normal cars and trucks to kill innocent people. But the strength of ISIS is also dependent on ample financial resources. European authorities must be much more attentive and creative in combating the financial network of terrorism.

In all cases our principle enemy and target are not migrants and even less refugees. It is terrorism and the different people who animate and finance terrorist attacks by „normal“ citizens. If Europeans want to preserve their freedoms and ways of life, they must unite the population behind a clever and targeted anti-terror fight. And they should not support the populist demagoguery against refugees and migration.

Back to the city of Warsaw

This was my message to the students who took part in the Warsaw Model European Union 2017. Of course there were not only Polish students participating. But especially students from Poland and Ukraine who had a leading role to play expressed their skepticism about too many migrants. But Poland and especially Warsaw are already changing. As mentioned at the beginning, you see still many monuments and exhibitions which are dealing with the tragic times of World War II and the uprise especially of 1944. But the streets, the walkways along the river Vistula and the exhibitions on modern art are full of young people who are clearly part of a more diverse and open society than the nationalist would like them to be.

Healthy societies need commemorations of the suffering of the people because of occupation, but they need also looking forward into the brighter future only a common und united Europe can offer. This, the present Polish leadership does not see or does not want to see. And instead of actively participating in forming a new Europe they are sticking to old forms of nationalism and right wing populism. And at the same time they undermine European principle and laws.