Anti-Muslim backlash grows with each attack

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Outrage, even plain ol’ rage, is a natural reaction to last weekend’s terrorist attacks in Paris. Just as January’s slayings of French cartoonists caused those in the West to be Charlie, the latest slaughter prompted Je suis Paris.

The rage was evident in France’s immediate decision to step up the bombing of IS/ISIS/ISIL targets in and around Syria. In that regard it was joined by Russia, which admitted one of its passenger planes was brought down – 224 people died – by a bomb planted by Islamic State terrorists in Egypt. That acknowledgement was followed by the launching of bombers and cruise missiles.

France closed its borders, moved against suspected radical Muslims and shut down mosques. Some politicians and citizens there were calling for a more stringent backlash as officials wrestle with anti-Muslim sentiments in a country where there are five million of them. It’s much the same in other Western European countries, where people appear to be reaching the breaking point on immigration and right-wing political parties are gaining significant ground.

We can expect anti-Muslim sentiment to spread with each new atrocity – there were isolated incidents even here following the events of Nov. 13 in Paris. Already divisive, Canada’s plans to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees are even more tainted now. Much of the goodwill sparked by the image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach has passed.

Horrified by the scenes from Paris, we could easily join calls to carpet bomb Islamic State, indeed the entire region, back into the Stone Age. Bomb them all. Round up the Muslims and make them pay. Set fire to their mosques. Deport them all. Close the borders.

Those calling for less severe responses say we, meaning the West, should halt immigration, cut off all aid and let them sort it out among themselves as long as the death and violence are contained.

Then there are those who recognize the history of colonialism and the more recent mucking about by the Europeans and, especially, Americans as the root cause – we’ve essentially created the monster ourselves, with diplomatic and economic actions needed, not violence that will only beget more in return.

Some of those responses might be the right thing to do, but nothing should be done in a reactionary fashion. Think it through, then take a rational approach.

Each new act of violence breeds fear – a terrorist goal – and fear eventually breeds hatred. There’s a sense the barbarians are at the gate, with the potential for a backlash against Muslims in the countries of the West.

We don’t know what the longer-term implications will be for France and Europe, which have avoided some of the kneejerk reaction we saw in the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, in the UK following terrorist attacks there.

Still, there’s a bigger issue here, one already at play in much of Western Europe where shifting demographics and immigration have led to simmering tensions for years. We’re already seeing the growth of right-wing and nationalist political parties in England, France, Germany and even traditional neutral Switzerland and liberal Holland, among others.

European countries have been grappling with the issue, and what happened in Paris last week will only fan the flames. People’s fears are real, and they must be accommodated in future policies such as immigration, for instance.