Winds of vengeance: Europe’s history of intolerance

On Dec. 9, a French representative of the Islamic community walks past graves of French Muslim war veterans which were daubed with swastikas and anti-Islam slogans two days before, on December 7, 2008. (AFP)

Sir Arthur Harris of the British Royal Air Force during World War II said Germany had started the war with the idea that they would bomb other people’s cities, but that nobody would in return bomb theirs. He famously said: “They have sowed the wind, and now they will reap the whirlwind.” Europe, for all its talk of tolerance, has arguably been the most intolerant place over the past 125 years.

It gave birth to colonialism, concentration camps, all forms of authoritarian and totalitarian nation-states, mass conscription for military service, socialism, communism, fascism, Nazism, population resettlement, ethnic cleansing, genocide, World War I and II, the Russian and Spanish civil wars, and a holocaust of starvation in Ukraine. By the time it was done with its convulsions between 1900 and 1945, some 100 million people were dead worldwide.

Although Europe today dreams of a unified continent, it is much easier said than done. Each country has a different identity, history and experience. Europeans have not always gotten on well with other Europeans, even their neighbors. The continent has at times and in certain areas been hostile to Catholics, Jews, Crimean Tartars, Kalmyks and gypsies, among other religious and ethnic groups.


Although most Muslims in Europe harbor no ill will toward their fellow European citizens, the sowing of the wind by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) could generate a whirlwind against the very people it claims to champion. The road to Brussels began in Syria via Paris. In many ways, the Paris attacks were an inflection point in the European psyche.

Terrorism is not tolerated by the peoples of the world, but the Paris attacks meant that ISIS could strike anywhere. Since these atrocities, France has been under a constant state of emergency, with all powers concentrated in the presidency. For all intents and purposes, the constitution has been suspended. Simply put, the government and people have said they will not live with ISIS in their daily lives.

The Brussels attacks extended this mind-set Europe-wide. Europeans see that ISIS can hide in Muslim communities, infiltrate society and strike at fellow citizens in the name of Islam. The whirlwind in this scenario is the emergence of hard-right parties in Europe that are asking if it is possible to be Muslim and European. This could lead to more hostile attitudes toward Muslims and immigrants.

The fact that the Paris attackers felt comfortable enough to return to their neighborhoods after committing these acts only invites more suspicion from Europeans, who wonder whether immigrants or Muslims should have been let in at all.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 13:59 - GMT 10:59