Go beyond regular security to curb extremism
Spain’s counter-terrorism laws are among the toughest in Europe. Its immigration policies are restrictive and the razor-wire fences at its borders are menacing.
Yet this didn’t deter a group of young, male, Muslim immigrants – some born in Morocco, some in Spain to Moroccan immigrant families – from turning violently on their neighbours on August 17, killing 15 people in a series of attacks in and around Barcelona.
We don’t yet know much about how and why they became radicalised, but it’s likely they felt unwanted in Spain. Merely limiting immigration further and ramping up traditional security measures – wider surveillance, quicker deportations, soldiers on the streets – are unlikely to rule out similar violence in the future. European countries reflexively take such steps after every fresh attack, but then extremists strike again anyway.
Integration, however, is a field where more can be done, arguably with greater impact. Immigration is a permanent aspect of today’s Europe and it requires acceptance of new arrivals to foster healthy societies.
Europe must expand its efforts to guide immigrants and refugees from the economically and socially isolated neighbourhoods where they land, as many Moroccans in Spain have, into the mainstreams of society. Some innovative programmes from Northern Europe, where integration is already part of security policy, can show us how.
The perpetrators of the Spanish attacks, like those in Nice and London and other European cities, weren’t Islamic State operatives sent from abroad, but rather young militants in their 20s, the majority of them European citizens from disenfranchised immigrant communities.
These young people, mostly men, can be easy pickings for IS and other radicals who prey on their circumstances and conflicted identities.
Europe has made progress in integrating immigrants and their children since the postwar decades, when foreign workers were treated, at best, like guests who wouldn’t stay long and, even if they did, could never really belong to the host nation.