By Rauf Baker
SOON after the Brussels airport terrorist attack a year ago, the world witnessed how the Belgian police used water cannons to disperse scores of angry demonstrators who clashed with rival protesters opposing them, most of them Muslim migrants. That was the first time European police had to play the role of “mediator” during an incident of internal fighting. Until that moment, migrants’ troubles had mostly been confined to brawls with police, never with other components of society.
Months later, the same scene surfaced elsewhere in Europe. In August, violent clashes erupted in Sisco on the French island of Corsica between “native” people and migrants from North Africa after a beach quarrel when a passerby took a photo of a Muslim woman.
Around a thousand French policemen were deployed as the streets turned into a war zone with both sides attacking each other’s neighbourhoods. In another incident, police had to break up skirmishes inside a Paris metro station between African migrants and French citizens who declared themselves as “guards” to the station asking the migrants to leave.
Similarly, unprecedented events occurred in Finland. In a small town called Forssa, more than a hundred young men from the town’s population and residing migrants, armed with bats and iron pipes, fought after rumours of an assault on a Finnish boy by two migrants.
Again, police found themselves in the position of the “saviour”. To the south, inhabitants of a Dutch town resorted to attacking the municipality building in protest at the settling of four young Syrian refugees, forcing authorities to backtrack on the decision as police interfered to control the situation.
The picture cannot be more splenetic with a string of incidents involving burning thousands of cars and sexual harassment cases in Sweden and Denmark. Moreover, the abundant rise in figures revealing how more and more Europeans are turning to firearms, especially in Germany, Czech and Austria is another monster waiting to be unleashed. The issue is not just about the rising popularity of the populist far-right or every now-and-then clashes between its supporters and opponents, or even the troubles between newcomers and their respective authorities; it is rather about the surging phenomenon of communal fighting between “native” citizens and those of foreign background, most of whom have already obtained citizenship or at least residency.
European societies appear to be steadily heading towards the equation of “real citizens” versus “foreign intruders”, while the mistrust prevails, the gap deepens, and the rift rapidly widens between both sides.
Perhaps the fact that “natives” have started taking the matter into their own hands, bypassing law enforcement agencies through the formation of self-defence groups not necessarily associated with the populist right-wing, is a worrying indicator on the prospective future of the European continent.
And the growing conviction that migrants are the reason for the turmoil in the system and financial breakdowns is also a disturbing sign of the new pattern of relations within society. Residents and citizens of foreign background hunkered down in their neglected ghettos and suburbs have, in turn, virtually begun to consider the formation of civil-protection militias in preparation for the upcoming “war” against their fellow partners in the homeland, with surfacing rhetoric emphasising on refusal to be “scapegoats” or to “stand idly by”.
The events that have so far occurred might only be the tip of the iceberg. And the “streets war” scenario may expand eventually, with Europe’s leftists established young anarchist groups forming a “third party”.
In the years, ahead, Europe could witness a new reality of armed groups rising to dominance as the role of the state decays, given that state of emergency laws have not helped in preventing terrorist attacks, amid an official European security failure in anticipating or combating the street militia phenomenon on both sides.
This comes amid mounting distrust towards government agencies among all sides who blame them for the worsening political, social, economic and security situation. Such an accusation is not without foundation due to the blunders and randomness of authorities in making decisions and the lack of planning and strategy in policy-making. The ball is in the court of European institutions and national governments alike to flip the equation before descending into scenes identical to those seen in the movie “Gangs of New York”.
Rauf Baker is a Cyprus-based journalist and researcher with expertise in Europe and the Middle East