The Western European world has, since the 1960s, been periodically rocked by terrorism of either a nationalist or ideological hue, from the campaigns of the IRA in England and Northern Ireland (Scotland and Wales were spared for being Celtic co-nationalists) and ETA’s desperate attempt to carve a Basque state out of Spain, to the Red Army Faction/Baader-Meinhof Gang’s attacks in West Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy kidnapping and later murdering Prime Minister Aldo Moro.

With the exception of the Bologna train station massacre of 85 people in 1980 for which no group has claimed responsibility, the intentions of these groups has been to provoke a backlash from the authorities against their perceived community, thereby, through a warped logic, bolstering the legitimacy of their grievance.  So it was with the Provisional IRA that sought to antagonise London into harsh measures against the Roman Catholic community in Ulster, ETA trying to provoke Francoist and then democratic Spain into harsh persecutions of the Basques, the Red Army Faction trying to ‘break the spell’ of consumerism in Germany and show the authorities had not moved on from the Nazi past and the Red Brigades killing those like Moro, who wanted compromise with the political left in the country.

The governments in question eventually developed strategies that either crippled these terrorist organisations or brought them to the negotiating table.  The intelligence services have also stepped up their operations in the wake of the Madrid and London transport bombings.  Denmark, however, is the latest to reel from a ‘lone wolf’ attack, from individuals who just happen to be Muslim (with the exception of the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik) and seek to foment a hostile public reaction to the overwhelmingly moderate Islamic minorities in Western European countries, giving an ex post facto validity to their criminality.

Glasgow airport was attacked in 2007 with very limited success.  In 2010, Stockholm was targeted, despite Sweden’s vaunted neutrality, in which the incompetent suicide bomber was the only casualty.  In 2013, Drummer Lee Rigby was brutally murdered on the streets of London before his killers tried to martyr themselves by attacking the arriving armed police.  The assault on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket in Paris in January was a very deliberate attempt to try and poison societal relations with the Islamic community, the killers so monomaniacal as to execute one of their victims even as he begged for his life, being a Muslim.  And now there is in Denmark the shooting during a cultural event debating free speech and blasphemy, followed by an assault on a synagogue, leaving a man dead at each, before the Copenhagen police killed the gangland criminal, Omar El-Hussein, who had become radicalised while serving time in prison.

On Monday the 16th of February, there was a mass vigil across this small but proud Scandinavian nation, protesting the nihilistic carnage wrought on their famously safe streets, seeking to uphold the right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  John Lennon’s Imagine was sung by many in the crowd, which was a little inappropriate by those gathering at the synagogue given that the authorities of the latter would disapprove of much from the first two verses before the third verse comes on to a ‘brotherhood of man’.

There was an unwelcome distraction from the divisive Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who echoed his comments after the Paris attacks in proclaiming Europe as unsafe for Jews and urging them to relocate to the Holy Land.  In the midst of a general election at home and mired in an expenses scandal involving his family, it was a cynical tactic to exploit the tragedy to cultivate a ‘father of his nation’ narrative, not least to be unabashed in repeating it after the criticism he received for his outburst following the terrorism in the French capital.  The chief rabbi in Denmark was not slow in denouncing the appeal from Tel-Aviv.

As in Paris, this terrorism was primarily aimed at shaking the secular values of the West, with Jewish targets also considered suitable but of a secondary order in the motivations of the attackers.  Amedy Coulibaly, who co-ordinated with the Charlie Hebdo gunmen, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi , murdered a French policewoman before going on the killing spree at the kosher supermarket.   Like El-Hussein, they were disaffected young men who came from marginalised communities and found an outlet for their passions in an extremist, perverted version of Islam while serving prison time (which raises questions of the prison staff in both France and Denmark letting such influences gain traction).  Yet even though they were ‘home-grown’ and not sponsored by anyone, the events in the Middle East inspired them – there are a number of political vacuums in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, northeastern Nigeria, northern Mali, Afghanistan and in the tribal region of Pakistan.  Coulibaly pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State (IS).

Strong, stable, secular states are often very successful at clamping down on terrorism that claims religion as its justification – this is not a paean to dictatorship as democracy can provide the institutions to combat this threat.  Too often though Western states intervene destructively and then lose interest – Libya is a key case in question.  To build up security in the states of the region, with democracy where possible, would be the surest way to defuse much of the warped ideology that cascades across the Internet, because the hate preachers in such states would most likely be imprisoned for incitement to violence.

Protests Correspondent, Europe

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