Monday, July 23The Voice of London

After Paris: Fear Spreads Across Europe

In the wake of the carnage in Paris, European countries are imposing tougher border checks and rethinking their commitments to accept more refugees from Syria. Meanwhile, intelligence agencies are under scrutiny and it is highly likely that governments will use the tragic events in France as an excuse to push new surveillance laws. This can only mean one thing – fear of more terrorist attacks is growing among European nations even though few are going to admit it.

Words: Mariya Savova,  Subeditor: Isabella Ellis 

People who gathered in Trafalgar Square to honour the Paris victims announced that they were not afraid. Photo credit: Mariya Savova
People who gathered in Trafalgar Square to honour the Paris victims announced that they were not afraid. However, events from the past four days show that fear is growing among European nations. Photo credit: Mariya Savova

On 13 November 129 people were brutally killed and many were seriously injured when almost simultaneously, ISIS gunmen and suicide bombers attacked a concert hall, France’s national stadium, bars and restaurants.

As soon as the news broke, millions of people from all over the world took to Facebook and Twitter to express their solidarity with the victims and to send prayers to their families. It was truly magnificent seeing the flow of such kind messages on social media. For a moment, the whole world united and felt the pain of Parisians.

In the days following the attacks, tributes were paid outside French embassies around the globe and on sports fields. Vigils were held in public squares, too. Strangers held hands and announced that they were not afraid, which was both a beautiful and brave thing to witness.

However, now that a few days have passed and we’ve all had enough time to process what’s happened. It is time for us to admit that even though we’re putting on a brave face and saying that we won’t give ISIS the pleasure of seeing us weak and afraid, we are all terrified. And so are our politicians. France, one of the world’s leading powers, was brought to its knees, after a third time attack on the country this year.

It began with the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January when ten journalists and two officers were murdered. Then, in August a heavily armed gunman opened fire on a Paris-bound high-speed train before, luckily, three Americans overpowered him. And now we witnessed the carnage in Paris. Yes, we all witnessed it. Footage of the moment shooting began inside the concert venue, graphic images of wounded people and interviews with survivors describing the “bloodbath” have been circulating on the internet since that tragic Friday night.

And while people were looking at the story unfold, European countries began tightening external border checks. Speaking at the G20 summit, many world leaders vowed to join forces and impose tough security measures, but that wasn’t enough to ease the situation in Europe and calm people down.

Over the past few days European countries have been on edge. While an international manhunt was underway for Paris attacks suspects, various security scares occurred and EU governments began to take precautionary measures. Let’s have a look at what happened in the four days following the horrific events in the French capital:

  • A false alarm caused panic on 15 November as Parisians were paying tribute to those killed outside Le Carillon, the small Cambodian restaurant targetted by gunmen. Hundreds of people fled the scene after mistaking firecrackers for gunfire.
  • A major security alert was sparked at Gatwick Airport on 14 November due to “suspicious package”. The North Terminal was evacuated and a French man was arrested after allegedly entering the airport with an air rifle and a knife.
  • Sweden raised its terror alert to the second-highest level and launched investigation regarding the “preparation of terrorist offenses”. The country’s Security Police (SAPO) said in a statement: “One of the reasons for the increase is that the security service has received concrete information and concluded that we must act within the framework of our counter-terror work.”
  • Denmark stepped up its security measures as well. In a press release, the Danish police said that officers across the country are in “markedly heightened level of preparedness.” On 18 November a bomb scare at Copenhagen’s international airport led to an hour-long evacuation of hundreds of people. Trains and subway lines were also briefly suspended. The threat was found to be a false alarm, sparked by passengers who reportedly overheard conversations about a bomb.
  • Security around the Vatican was heightened ahead of Pope Francis’s big Jubilee Year, which opens on 8 December and is expected to attract millions of pilgrims. 700 additional troops were also deployed in public spaces in Rome.
  • Two Paris-bound Air France flights from the US were were forced to divert on 18 November, following anonymous bomb threats.
  • Belgium’s counter-terrorism measures have intensified. Prime minister Charles Michel called for parliament to double the budget dedicated to state security and fighting terrorism.
  • Slovakia announced plans to tighten anti-terrorist legislation, too. Prime minister Robert Fico said that the country’s security is “the utmost priority” for the government at the moment and that changes to anti-terror laws should be discussed.
  • Sports events were also affected. A friendly football game between Belgium and Spain, scheduled for 17 November in Brussels was called off for security reasons. On the same day Germany was supposed to play a friendly with the Netherlands but about an hour and a half before kick-off, the match was suspended and Hanover’s stadium was evacuated due to “concrete plan” to detonate explosives at the stadium.
  • Meanwhile, England and France’s national teams met in Wembley Stadium in a show of solidarity just a few days after the Paris massacre. However, the game was held under massive security measures as armed police officers were stationed inside the stadium and all over the Wembley area.

It is understandable why European countries are taking enhanced precautionary measures. Politicians and police forces are trying to tell people that they are doing everything they can to keep them safe. And this is great. Nonetheless, when such tight security is imposed, indirectly we also receive another message, which is telling us that we are all potential targets. Otherwise, armed officers wouldn’t be patrolling football matches or public spaces in European capitals. People are already panicking. Just yesterday an article from last year about Westfield in Stratford being evacuated was shared on social media websites and quickly started circulating as many believed that it is something current.

This can only mean one thing – even though we refuse to admit it, fear of more terrorist attacks is growing in Europe. We claim that we are not afraid but our actions are saying the exact opposite. France launched airstrikes on Syria and Iraq but in the eyes of ISIS that’s a move, provoked not just by the desire for revenge, but by fear, too.

The problem is that, unlike us, terrorists do not fear death, so bombing them won’t solve the problem, nor will our increased security measures. After 9/11 we tightened security checks at airports everywhere in the world but that did not stop ISIS from blowing up a Russian plane with 224 people on board over Sinai, Egypt last month. With the carnage in Paris, terrorists showed us that they can hit us when we’re least expecting it.

We have witnessed a lot of atrocities in the past few years and it is okay for us to be scared. But instead of making things worse by panicking and thinking about the worst-case scenarios, we must find a way to move on with our lives. And what our political leaders should do right now, is focus on ending the crisis in the Middle East. Until there is a ceasefire between Syrian opposition groups and a political transition occurs, ISIS cannot be defeated. World leaders are still divided on strategy against the Islamic State and that is the thing that we should be scared of, because if we are not united, we will never beat terrorism and we will keep living in fear.

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