In the worst-case scenario, they are
recruited by extremist groups that seem to offer what they are
missing: a sense of belonging, identity, and purpose. After a
lifetime of marginalization, participation in a larger cause can
seem worth the lies, self-destruction, and even death that inclusion
In the wake of the attack on the French satirical
magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris and the thwarting of another attack
in Belgium, Europe needs to take a good look at itself. It must
recognize that second- and third-generation immigrants are
susceptible to the blandishments of terrorist organizations because
European citizenship has not translated into social and economic
inclusion. If anything, growing inequality – exacerbated by years of
crisis – is making the problem worse.
People need hope. They need to believe in a
vision, a project that promises a better future for them and their
communities. European countries once offered that sense of hope. But
the crisis, and the official response to it, has replaced hope with
frustration and disillusionment.
This has created fertile ground for anti-immigrant
populists and Islamist terrorists alike. More than 1,200 French
citizens are estimated to have joined the jihadi cause in Syria,
along with 600 from the United Kingdom, 550 from Germany, and 400
from Belgium. Other European countries, including Spain, are
experiencing a similar phenomenon. And some European citizens, like
the Charlie Hebdo assassins, have acted at home.
While intelligence services and police forces must
be engaged to prevent attacks, devising an effective strategy to
counteract extremist movements requires, first and foremost,
understanding what drives them. Western countries must go beyond
defending freedom of speech and improving police coordination to
develop lasting solutions that address adherents’ economic and
social marginalization, while avoiding cultural confrontation and
reliance on repression alone.
More fundamentally, such solutions require
abandoning the false dichotomy of liberty and security. If security
concerns trump basic rights and freedoms, fanaticism will have
scored a victory; and the same thing will happen if expressions of
Islamophobia and xenophobia increase.
A week after the Paris attacks, German Chancellor
Angela Merkel reiterated the sentiment expressed by former President
Christian Wulff in 2010: standing beside Turkish Prime Minister
Ahmet Davutoğlu, Merkel declared that Islam is as much a part of
Germany as Judaism and Christianity. This statement represents the
right way forward. Muslim immigrants, whether first-, second-, or
third-generation, must be able to integrate fully into European
society, gaining the same opportunities as Europe’s other residents
That principle should be applied at the global
level as well, through the establishment of an inclusive framework
that fosters development – and encourages the rejection of
fanaticism – in the Islamic world. The aggressive fundamentalism and
infighting that held down Christian societies for centuries has been
relegated to the past, and that is where it must remain.
A religion is not only a belief system; it is also
an institution, a language, and even a kind of market actor,
competing for supporters. Radical terrorist groups attempt to
consolidate their distorted version of “true” Islam as the only
institution, imposing their language to win the entire Muslim
Today, groups like the Islamic State and Nigeria’s
Boko Haram have joined Al Qaeda in a struggle to attract Muslims
from all over the world, thereby securing their leadership in global
jihad. These groups take advantage of unruly environments and weak
or collapsing institutions to gain a territorial foothold.
Indeed, it was the failed transitions in Syria,
Libya, and Yemen after the Arab Spring revolts that fueled the
Islamic State’s emergence. Millions of young people, though
disillusioned by decades of social paralysis, unemployment, and
brutal dictatorships, had dared to expect better. Though Tunisians
have made progress, the other affected populations, like many Muslim
immigrants in Europe, have had their hopes shattered.
Jihad, like any other reductionist political
program, is capable of seducing a wide variety of people. The
attribute they almost always share is a sense of futility or a lack
The West must recognize that, as Afghanistan and
Iraq have shown, conflict in the Arab world cannot be resolved
through foreign military intervention. The only way to restore order
and spur progress in the region is by empowering moderate Muslims,
so that they can triumph over the forces of radicalism and violence.
The West’s role is to identify them and offer them acceptance and
support. This lesson should be applied both abroad and at home.
Javier Solana was EU High Representative
for Foreign and Security Policy, Secretary-General of NATO, and
Foreign Minister of Spain. He is currently President of the ESADE
Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics, Distinguished Fellow at
the Brookings Institution, and a member of the World Economic
Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Europe.