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The power of a passport

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It’s only been a few days since the terrorist attack on Paris, the largest in Europe for over ten years, shocked most of the world. (I say most because sadly, for many countries in the Middle East, this has become routine.) In the time between Friday night and now many details have emerged. We know the names of some of the attackers, the man behind them, a Belgian Islamist, appears to have been identified.
But perhaps the most interesting thing to emerge from the investigation thus far has been the passport found next to one of the suicide bombers near the Stade de France. (How a passport survived a bomb unscathed is unclear.) The passport, a Syrian one, was registered in the Greek Islands in October and again a few days later, this time in Serbia. What this appears to tell us, and many people are claiming, is that the bomber was either a refugee, or a Jihadist exploiting the chaos of the mass migration to Europe to gain easy access to the Old Continent. On the face of it, the latter option appears to make perfect sense. What better way to get a Syrian terrorist into Europe, then to pose as one of the thousands of Syrian refugees making the same trip? But when examined more thoroughly, this reasoning actually makes less sense than it appears to do at first.
As detailed in this fantastic article which appeared in the Guardian, some important questions arise, most importantly, why would a terrorist of the Islamic State, a caliphate which doesn’t even recognize Syria as a country, take his passport with him when committing an act of terror? He was after all a suicide bomber, it’s not like he was going to do any travelling once he’d exploded himself. One answer could be that he took it with him because he intended it to be found. Why would he want that, you ask, after all it might lead to Europe closing its borders and turning away the asylum seekers, thus closing the route he himself had exploited so masterfully. The answer again is that that is exactly what he and his so-called caliphate would want. There are a number of arguments which would support this thesis.
As said in the article, the Islamic State doesn’t actually want Europe to take in any refugees. It doesn’t want them to leave Syria either, because every Muslim who undertakes to dangerous and costly trip out of Syria to Europe undermines the Islamic State´s very existence. When you’re trying to bring all the world’s Muslims together in a single caliphate, it’s not very good PR when millions of your newly gained citizens decide they don’t want to be part of it. Many seek refuge in other Islamic nations like Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey, but when at least one million of them go to Christian, or even worse, atheist Europe, it undermines the Islamic State’s image to the people they still have under their control. It makes them appear weak, could cause them to lose the little support they actually enjoy in the region they control.
So how do they stop all these Muslims from fleeing the self-declared successor of the original caliphate? As they have realised by now, they can’t. Despite IS’s brutal and autocratic rule, the flood of refugees shows no sign of stopping. But small countries like Jordan and Lebanon, with their limited resources can’t take in any more refugees. Turkey also has reached breaking point. Europe increasingly seems the only place to go for the millions of people fleeing the war torn country that is Syria. The decision to accept the refugees and divide them across the EU would have come as a blow to the Islamic State. But following the attack on Paris and the discovery of the Syrian passport next to one of the bombers has caused some countries and people to change their mind on the refugee crisis. Poland is using the bombings as an excuse to back out of the EU’s relocation programme, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban is calling for his country’s defenses to be increased and there have already been calls to strengthen the policing of Europe’s southern sea borders.
It’s not just the politicians who are protesting though. The citizens of Europe, united in the outpouring of grief for the Parisian victims, their families and their friends are now divided even more on the issue of refugees than they were before. In the Czech Republic for instance, a country whose media, politicians and citizens are largely against accepting any asylum seekers, the response was indicative of what is to come. One news portal, idnes.cz, immediately published an opinion piece stating that we are at war, and the refugees are on our side. Upon sharing that article, a friend of mine immediately commented that it was only because of the refugees that the attacks had taken place and that IS had sent 100 000 Jihadists to Europe pretending to be refugees. A day later a petition was started, calling for the religion of Islam to be banned. As of Monday, November 16th 2015, five p.m. the petition has 6300 people agreeing with it, and another 14.000 who are “interested”. Elsewhere on Facebook, people have called for German chancellor Angela Merkel to be hanged for accepting the refugees in the first place.
This response from politicians and parts of the European public must be giving the leaders of the Islamic State immense pleasure. Not only have they successfully pulled off a massive terrorist attack in the heart of the western world showing their strength to their supporters and intimidating their opponents, they are also winning the propaganda war. Based on the reactions so far, refugees are no longer only a strain on Europe’s finances, a threat to its cultural integrity and another problem for Europe’s already so troubled and poor citizens, they are now also terrorists. To think that all this can be traced back to a passport.
(jh)
Sources: http://www.politico.eu/article/countries-rethink-commitments-to-accept-refugees-paris-attacks/
http://www.theguardian.com/p/4e872/fb

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