Also published in Left Foot Forward http://leftfootforward.org/2016/07/a-new-europe-forum-could-help-tackle-islamist-terrorism/
It is plain now that we are in the midst of a civil war in Europe. It has been going on for some time with Europeans butchering fellow Europeans in London, Paris, Brussels and most recently Nice.
It is difficult for those of us who lack the murderous impulse of the deluded and inadequate perpetrators of such recent horrors to obtain any empathetic understanding of them. But perhaps one obvious but important truth is that those who aspire to mutilate their fellow human beings are alienated from the communities that they live among, and from the values of the societies that they seek to terrorise.
If this is indeed the case then the necessary security measures which the governments of Europe are scrambling to put in place will be inadequate in addressing the underlying causes of this alienation. Furthermore if clumsily managed, security measures can exacerbate the situation, accentuating the sense of alienation of some who come to the attention of the security services and driving them into the ranks of the fratricidists who live amongst us.
So what is needed, in addition to more police and intelligence operations to thwart aspiring killers, is a political response to the situation. It is difficult for an outsider to say specifically what measures would be necessary to counter the alienation of the communities from which the killers spring. But Europe could take a lesson from Irish history here.
In the dark days of the 1980s when the violence in the North of Ireland was taking on a permanent complexion in the absence of any credible political initiatives, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, John Hume, suggested the establishment of the New Ireland Forum as a means by which Irish leaders committed to non-violence could begin to plot a new political path towards a peaceful future. From these modest beginnings a new political process emerged which led, ultimately, to the Good Friday Agreement, and the first durable peace Ireland has seen in hundreds of years – at least until it has come under threat from the delusional aspirations of English nationalists to hack apart the European basis of this peace.
Following this lead the European Parliament should establish an inquiry into the causes of European jihadism and to propose political, economic and social responses to the alienation of the European communities from which this murderous jihadism springs. The inquiry should seek to take evidence not only from fellow politicians and academics, religious and community leaders, but also from ordinary people from all parts of Europe.
The evidence, as well as the analysis and conclusions from this inquiry should be published and European governments should be required to report on how they have responded to the recommendations.
Some measures to blunt the threat may be straightforward: people tend to be less likely to seek to destroy their society if they see plainly that the society is providing them with decent jobs and housing. Some measures may relate to addressing some of the chaos which certain European nations have helped create in the Middle East, such as establishing peace in Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Israel: Geography dictates that Europe simply cannot be at peace when the Middle East is in conflagration. Other initiatives may be more novel and unexpected.
The threat of violence that is posed is not yet an existential one for Europe. But it is a challenge to European values of pluralism, democracy, human rights and rule of law. If we cannot plot a political response to this violence that springs from and honours these values, then the arguments of the ideologues of bloodshed will be made a little stronger.