Refugees, Passports and Paris

Mel Plant, BA Arabic and Turkish

It only took three days to formulate an excuse for another Western air force to kill hundreds of Syrian civilians. But with Raqqa being the capital of the self-declared Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham, surely there’s no problem with bombing a bunch of militants.

The French government, which doubtless pumps millions of Euros a year into military intelligence, couldn’t possibly know that the majority of those living in Raqqa are civilians held captive by ISIS.

Before ISIS had even claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, the increasingly fascist media and a European public hungry for clear motives to claim Europe as theirs had assigned blame on refugees – specifically, Syrian refugees.

With Europe’s growing  right-wing parties promoting xenophobic rhetoric over the past few years, especially within the context of this summer’s increase in refugees fleeing to Europe, no one needed a reason to blame refugees for the attacks. The Syrians are Muslims, extremists borne out of a violent, chaotic country.

The fact is that Syria (where most of the media’s rhetoric around refugees is focused on) is a historically and culturally diverse country with Christian, Druze and non-believing citizens – not to mention that most Syrian Muslims would struggle to fit within the bounds of ISIS’ image of Islam.

Every Syrian I know, including those from Raqqa, is passionately opposed to ISIS. Want proof of Raqqa’s citizens fighting against ISIS? Check out ‘Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered’ on Facebook. ISIS is not a Syrian phenomenon, just a global phenomenon fanned by Western cultural supremacist and interventionist flames.

ISIS, just like the refugee crisis, knows no borders. Some of their fighters may indeed be Syrian. Others may be Iraqi. Plenty more are Chechen, Turkish, Belgian, or a variety of other European nationalities. These youths, formulated and assessed as Muslim by the state despite their differing experiences and views on the faith, have been convinced to join ISIS.

Despite the Islamophobic and xenophobic environment cultivated in Europe in the past 15 years, meaning that the greater European public did not need a reason to blame refugees for the Paris attacks, we were given a reason. Apparently one of the Stade de France bombers was a Syrian refugee. His passport, still intact, had been registered entering Europe through Greece. Apparently.

Apparently I underestimated just how stupid the European public can be and how much dominant media rhetoric grasps upon this. My heart sunk the moment I read that a Syrian passport had been found alongside whatever was left of the bomber’s body – not because I believed the bomber was Syrian, but because I knew others would.

There exists within our society – one which talks about the refugee crisis daily – a typical inertia of ignorance around the discrepancies in freedom of movement between different refugees and exactly how one can be smuggled to Europe. Lack of knowledge about these processes, not to mention the fact that a flimsy Syrian passport is not indestructible, meant it was extremely easy for the media to pull the public into a pushback against refugees.

A Syrian passport is actually quite valuable – well, unless you’re Syrian.  If you’re a refugee from a country which matters less than Syria, like Iraq or Afghanistan, whose citizens are still being allowed through the Greek-Macedonian border unlike refugees from so-called ‘non-warzone’ countries like Libya, South Sudan and Palestine, then spending an extra $2,000 or so on a fake Syrian passport on your journey from Istanbul to Europe could ease the journey quite a bit. Many refugees, even without such ‘evidence,’ claim themselves as Syrian when entering European borders in order to ease their journey and eventual settlement.

Fake passports and identification are incredibly easy to acquire, not just in Istanbul and other Turkish cities which are smuggling hubs, but also in mainland Europe – in Athens, for example, where refugees can purchase forged European I.D. cards for around €300. Such cards, if one could convincingly ‘look’ and ‘act’ within that European identity, can allow a refugee to take a safe and cheap flight across the continent instead of battling freezing cold temperatures, nights sleeping out and violent border practises when taking the journey by foot, rail and bus.

Likewise, refugees who have managed to gather enough funds can also buy counterfeit European passports in Istanbul for close to €10,000 and skip the deathly sea journey to Greece altogether. So the passports which we acquire with ease and relatively little wealth have become something of massive value in the environment of closed borders that we have cultivated.

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We found out later that the passport found in Paris had an identical copy in Serbia. The bomber was not Ahmad al-Mohammad from Idlib, Syria. It is also presumed that the man found possessing the copy in Serbia is not Al-Mohammad either. Ahmad al-Mohammad is most likely a false identity, a man built of changing photographs but with the same name, same parents and same birth date.

French police have not confirmed that the fingerprints registered in Greece to the passport of Al-Mohammad match those of the bomber who apparently owned his passport, and in my opinion, this is not a likely eventuality. All of the other attackers were French and Belgian citizens. This was a European attack aimed specifically not at European values but at the European political psyche. Even if this mystery bomber did enter Europe as a refugee, it is unlikely the passport would have survived the bombing. The Syrian Refugee is a decoy, part of ISIS’ wider plan to work with Europe’s suspicions around the idea of the Muslim as the foreigner; the refugee; the Other.

In a video released on 22 November entitled ‘The Failure of the French Bombing,’ an ISIS fighter stated that ‘we showed you Europe, that we are able to execute attacks in your land, and America should not think it can prevent our attacks.’

This was quite the understatement. With the fear, hatred and violence developing in the wake of the Paris attacks, ISIS has proven what they know best – not Islam, but Western society and its specific psychological quirks. This triptych of reactionary politics was not borne out of the attacks, but with them, ISIS is decidedly manipulating European society and feeding extremism of all shades.

ISIS is just as much a child of Jihadi movements such as Al-Qaeda as it is the child of Western cultural supremacism and interventionism in the wider Middle East. Western interventionism, particularly that of imperialist states such as the Unites States, Britain and France, in the Middle East has not just altered the way our society views Muslims, but also the way the children of the wider Middle East view Western states.

We have casually trained the children of the states we have raped and pillaged to fear us and to fight us. I write this, very purposefully, in the rhetoric used by Western media and governments which is a logic I completely disagree with but I have used just to hammer the point home.

There is no ‘us:’ European ‘values’ and ‘ideals’ are a fallacy. Our society is supposedly built on ‘democracy’ and ‘equal rights,’ yet after each attack aimed against it, our governments see fit to divide and conquer our society in a way which is precisely and decidedly undemocratic and unequal. For cases in point in Britain, please look at the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes and the development of counter-terrorism policies such as Prevent.

A new Europe has been created, and it is not for the better. Our Europe is divided. The children of Muslim parents, whether they be from Algeria or Turkey or Pakistan, are demonised for crimes in which they had no hand. Skin colour and dress are simple markers of a simple idea of religiosity.

A society which demonises and oppresses youth who may not even have a fully formed idea of their faith and their relation to it forces them towards extremist movements, such as ISIS, which can empower them into a new future where they are the oppressive majority. It should not be surprising that it is easy for groups like ISIS to take advantage of Europe’s disenfranchised Muslim youth.

It is not an ironic mistake that many of the Paris attackers were not visibly pious Muslims. Salah Abdeslam had spent time in prison for theft and had been fined for possession of marijuana. He was apparently a regular in the Brussels gay nightlife scene, and he and his brother Brahim managed a bar together in Brussels. Likewise Hasna Aitboulahcen is described as having multiple boyfriends and drinking heavily until a few months ago, when she began wearing a headscarf despite her brother claiming she had never read the Qu’ran.

These descriptions of the attackers confuse some. For others, these descriptions are a good counter to those demonising so-called ‘conservative’ Muslims for being ‘radicalising’ forces within society. Indeed, the fact that many of the attackers rarely went to the mosque and deviated from pious Muslim behaviour in many ways could help to counter suspicion towards traditional Islamic viewpoints.

ISIS has used Europe’s fear of refugees as a tactic. By planting one of the attackers in the guise of the refugee, European society’s natural suspicion of and resistance towards refugees, particularly those from Syria, is quickly turning towards a rejection of settling such refugees and the further tightening of borders. Such practises can only aid ISIS, as by forcing refugees back to Turkey, and possibly even to Syria, the group can expand both its recruiting grounds and its realm of domination.

In the same fashion, the fact that the Paris attackers were not ‘conservative’ Muslims only feeds into the suspicion of European society at large. Instead of focusing our suspicion just on the Muslims who do not fit ‘European values,’ we can also face it towards those that do exhibit Western traits. Those of Muslim background who drink, take drugs and have sex will also be surveilled – and with this, ISIS’ network for recruiting grows larger by the day.

I was, too, devastated by the Paris attacks. But not for the same reason expressed in many newspaper headlines and social media statuses. I was devastated, not because this is an attack on ‘European ideals,’ but because the attacks can only lead to a further polarisation of our society as we turn towards a truly global war.

By accurately analysing the European political psyche, ISIS has shown exactly how well they know Europe – and how long-term their strategy is. It is a mistake when the media paints ISIS as ‘stupid’ or ‘crazy’ extremist. They may be extreme, but unfortunately, they are extremely intelligent.

To counter ISIS, we must counter our own society first. We must change, for the better.

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