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The far-right reaction to the Paris shootings raises already-high tensions in Europe

Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Geopolitics reporter

This morning, in Paris, gunmen attacked the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing at least 12 people (10 journalists and 2 policemen) and injuring others. The shooting appears to be the work of Islamist terrorists—Charlie Hebdo has been subject of attacks in the past for its irreverent depictions of the Prophet Muhammed and other Muslim icons.

The attack comes amid rising ethnic and religious tensions across Europe, in particular between the supporters of upstart far-right political parties and immigrant communities, especially Muslim ones. Some groups are sure to use the shooting to further stoke anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic feelings.

Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, was quick to condemn the attack in a press conference to France’s freedom, and freedom of speech, blaming ”the hypocrisy” of those who don’t label the attack, as she does, ”un attentat terrorist commit au nom de l’Islamism radical” (“a terrorist attack perpetrated in the name of Islamic terrorism”).

While being careful in distinguishing “notre compatriots Musulmans attachés à notre nation et à ses valeurs et ceux qui croient pouvoir tuer au nom de l’Islam” (“our Muslim compatriots attached to our values, and those who think they can kill in the name of Islam”), she calls for strong action “face à cette guerre que lui est déclaré“ (“against the war that has been declared”).

In Italy, Matteo Salvini, leader of the Northern League, and rising star of the country’s rightwing scene, called for anti-Islamic action following the attack in Paris, without the nuance of his French counterpart:

(“If the MASSACRE of Paris is confirmed to be of ISLAMIC origin, it’s at this point clear that we have our ENEMY at home. #stopinvasion #now!”)

Salvini, whose party has gained support by shifting its former position calling for a split from Italy’s poorer south to one more explicitly against foreign immigration, continued:

(“We need to verify who, how and why finances MOSQUES. Who doesn’t respect Life and Freedom deserves nothing.”)

German anti-Islamic group PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), which has organized a series of marches in recent weeks—the latest drawing some 18,000 participants in Dresden earlier this week—wrote on its Facebook page:

Die Islamisten, vor denen Pegida seit nunmehr 12 Wochen warnt, haben heute in Frankreich gezeigt, dass sie eben nicht demokratiefähig sind, sondern auf Gewalt und Tod als Lösung setzen! 

(The Islamists, against whom Pegida has been warning for the past 12 weeks, have shown today in France that they are not capable of democracy, but see violence and death as a solution!)

Geert Wilders, leader of the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, wrote “we are at war” on his blog. “The only way to defend our democratic values and fundamental freedoms is to start the de-Islamization of our societies.” In a tweet, he called out political and other opponents, asking ”Islam is toch vrede en liefde” (“Is Islam still peace and love”).

But while today’s tragedy may provide fodder for anti-Islamic and anti-immigration figures, there is also a visible, moderate opposition. The vigils in France and elsewhere today, mourning the victims, have not had political overtones.

Previously, counter-demonstrations against the anti-Islamic marches in Germany attracted thousands of followers; Cologne cathedral switched off its lights this week in protest, with the dean of the cathedral condemning “racists and the extreme right-wing” elements behind the marches.

What is for certain is that Europe’s fractious politics will be shaken further by today’s tragedy in Paris. In its annual look at the biggest geopolitical risks in the year ahead, consultancy Eurasia Group cited “the politics of Europe” as its top worry for 2015, thanks to “domestic dissent, squabbling among governments, and external threats.” One of the key external threats includes this prophetic, tragic observation about the risk of Islamist terrorism on the continent:

Terrorist threats from Islamist militants are much greater than in any region outside the Middle East, given the number of European citizens fighting in Iraq and Syria, and the size of Muslim communities inside these countries.

Quartz’s full coverage of the attack in Paris can be found here.

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