The horrific attacks in Paris last Friday shocked all of us. All of us stand together in grief and solidarity with those who lost loved ones and acquaintances, and those who were injured and hurt.
Now is a time to stand together for our values, and as we mourn those who were lost, we must also hold firm to the beliefs in tolerance, openness, diversity, rights and freedoms which came under attack. To compromise on these would be to hand a victory to the criminals who committed these attacks.
As Europe and the world grieves for its lost sons and daughters no matter which deadly conflict or act of terrorism they were caught up in, I, like many of you feel weighed down with a sense of increasing fear in the wake these attacks. This is not so much the fear of being a victim of terrorism but more a fear of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, 'anti-other' backlash which has been growing exponentially since 9/11 and all that has come after it.
Society, it seems, always needs a scapegoat to blame for the everyday misfortunes that befall us so it is easy to blame immigrants for unemployment, dwindling pensions and overstretched public services, rather than address the root causes of today's straightened times which lie rather with a global financial and political elite who forgot to take care of the people whose money they were entrusted to serve. As we witness the movement of whole families and communities fleeing from ravaged towns, villages and cities made uninhabitable by warring factions, the conflation of the words 'refugees' and 'migrants' serves to further undermine our propensity for compassion.
As we face the inhumane horror of Da’esh, we must amplify our own humanity and be fortified in it. Hundreds of thousands of refugees who are fleeing these very same criminals are knocking at our doors, and we must give them the same shelter we would ask for ourselves in the same circumstances. Of course we must look out for citizens’ security, but as we have seen in the events leading to and from the Paris attacks, European police and security forces must improve their own coordination and prevention of known threats, and the refugees by comparison have not posed a threat. Systems of security must be put into place to meet the challenges that are there without compromising basic human dignity. The risk of closing ourselves off, giving in to fear, anger, xenophobia and intolerance is much greater, and will do much greater harm to the fabric of our society.
We must remember that simplistic views about others who are not like us manifested itself in the extreme anti-Semitism of 1930s Germany with all the consequent horror that led to mass execution of not only Jews but also Roma, homosexuals, and others. We are paying the price now of post-war political expediency, messy geo-politics that has made the Middle East, and poor parts of Africa and Asia places that have ceased to be civilised in our mind's eye. This is despite the evidence of history that shows that Homo Sapiens first emerged in Africa 200,000 years ago. Mesopotamia in the 'Fertile Crescent', the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, is widely considered to be the 'Cradle of Civilisation'. So we in Europe cannot claim any moral ground with regards to cultural heritage. We stole it, appropriated it, changed it to suit our narrative before ever there was an inkling of the tourist industry.
European history is stained and chequered with centuries of brutal conflicts, imperialism, colonialism on the one hand, and peace-making, solidarity, and justice, on the other. We must look to that history to understand that when we turn away from tolerance and compassion, to dehumanising and demonising a misunderstood “other”, the consequences are bloody and tragic for us all. Whenever we have boldly stood by the values of the humanist Enlightenment, of openness and tolerance and human rights, the famous “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” - prosperity and progress followed. We must understand that the way to increasing our security inevitably goes hand in hand with standing by our values.
Labour MEPs, with our Social Democratic colleagues are strongly committed to leading the fight against extremism, violence and hatred, and to work together to build a diverse and open Europe, that is strong enough to stand by its values.