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UPDATED: July 19, 2015
World on Alert
Paris attacks show that there is a long way to go in rooting out terrorism due to ethnic and religious complexities
By Bai Shi

THE ASSAULT: Two gunmen, Cherif Kouachi and his brother Said Kouachi, keep a standoff with the police after attacking the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7 (XINHUA/AFP)

Deep-rooted problems

The Paris attacks have raised concerns over tensions between mainstream society and the huge Muslim immigrant population in Western Europe.

On the whole, differing ethnic groups live in peace in these countries, but the inherent prejudice between the mainstream Christian society and Islamic immigrants as well as the divergence between Muslims and Jewish groups are deep-rooted, said Li Weijian, Director of the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies under the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

In Western Europe, France has the largest population of Muslim immigrants at up to 6 million. Muslim immigrants have long struggled to adapt to local customs due to cultural and religious differences. But more importantly, the French Government has taken a hardline approach in managing Muslim immigration. For example, it banned women from wearing veils in public places in April 2011, triggering widespread discontent among Muslims, Li said.

In recent years, an economic recession and high unemployment further marginalized underprivileged groups of Muslims in West European countries. Against this backdrop, extremism easily appeals to some disillusioned young Muslims, Li said.

Terrorists and extremists are adept at making use of ethnic and religious conflicts to incite violence and attacks, said Li Wei, Director of the Center of Anti-Terror Studies under the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Li also suggested that the West should rethink their foreign policies. Western countries have used force to promote Western values in the Middle East and North Africa in past years, but most of the affected countries in the regions did not build democratic regimes as the West expected. Instead, violence and extremist groups have become rampant there. The rise of the Islamic State makes for yet another threat to global security. The military intervention by the West has continually spurred resistance and discontent in the Islamic world, Li noted.

Some have warned of the risks of xenophobia that could mount across Europe after the Paris attacks.

Recently, thousands of far-right political activists attended a large demonstration in Dresden, Germany. Meanwhile, Germany's top politicians and leaders of religious communities joined a Muslim-organized solidarity rally in Berlin on January 13, calling for joint actions against terrorism and a peaceful coexistence between different religions.

EU leaders have also called on member states to speak with one voice in the fight against terrorism and keep alert on extremist political formations in their countries.

In the near future, the French police may take stricter measures to safeguard domestic security, putting pressure on immigrant communities. Rational politicians are fully aware that immigration is never the root of social problems; on the contrary, they are victims of Europe's social problems, Zhang said. He added that if the French Government tightens its immigration policy, the move will fulfill the wishes of far-right forces.

An anti-terror policy of "tit-for-tat" will not resolve the problem. European countries should create better conditions for their ethnic minorities to integrate into the mainstream society, and further promote mutual respect and understanding for different cultures and religions, leaving no space for extremists and terrorists as well as far-right groups, Li said.

Major Terror Attacks in West Europe Since 2001

March 11, 2004: A subway station in Madrid, Spain was hit by a deadly bombing, leaving 191 people dead and 1,800 wounded.

July 7, 2005: A series of suicide bombings struck the subway and bus system in central London, Britain, during the morning rush hour, killing 52 civilians and wounding over 700 people.

July 22, 2011: Anders Behring Breivik, a local far-right militant, killed 77 people with bombs and a mass shooting in Oslo, Norway.

March 19, 2012:  A gunman in connection with al Qaeda shot three students and a teacher to death at a Jewish school in south France's Toulouse.

May 22, 2013: Two extremists influenced by al Qaeda killed a British soldier in London.

May 24, 2014: A Jewish couple and a French woman were killed by a gunman at a Jewish museum in Brussels, Belgium.

(Compiled by Beijing Review)

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