2016 was a fine year for Islamist terrorism and an even finer year for Western political distraction. While Islamic terrorists repeatedly succeeded in carrying out mass-casualty terrorist attacks, as well as a constant run of smaller-scale strikes, the political leadership of the free world continued to try to divert their public.
The most striking example of the year came in the summer with the
French debate over whether or not to ban the "burkini" from the beaches
of France. The row erupted in the days after another 86 people were
murdered in a jihadist terrorist assault -- this time in Nice, France.
With no one sure how to prevent access to vehicles or any idea how many
French Muslims might want to follow suit, the French media and
authorities chose to debate an item of beachwear. The carefully staged
decision by an Australian Muslim woman to have herself filmed while
wearing a burkini on a French beach ignited the row, which was eagerly
seized upon by politicians.
At the local and national level, the decision to discuss the burkini
allowed all the larger political issues behind Europe's growing security
problem to be ignored. In the wake of Nice, there should have been a
fulsome public discussion over what if anything can be done to ensure
that people who have been in France for many years -- in some cases
their entire lives -- are not indoctrinated to hate the country so much
that they drive a truck through a crowded sea-front on Bastille Day. Or
there could have been a wide public debate over whether, with so many
radicalised Muslims already in France, it was a wise or foolish idea to
continue to import large numbers of Muslims into this already simmering
As it was, neither of these debates did occur, and no meaningful
political action was taken. Instead, the issue of the burkini sucked all
the oxygen out of the debate, leaving no room to discuss anything more
serious or longer term than beachwear.
Across the continent in 2016, it appeared that other politicians
realised the enormous advantage of such distraction debates. For
instance, in the Netherlands in November, the country's MPs voted for a
ban on wearing a burka in public places. Prime Minister Mark Rutte
apparently found this an enormously convenient debate. Not only did it
temporarily reduce some of the pressure that his government is feeling
at the rise of Geert Wilders's Freedom Party to the top of opinion
polls, but it also distracted attention from the years of mass
immigration and lax integration demands which have been a hallmark of
the Dutch experience.
After importing hundreds of thousands of people whose beliefs the
Dutch authorities rarely bothered to question, the public would be
satisfied -- the Rutte government hoped -- if only the small number of
Dutch Muslim women who wear the burka were prevented from doing so. The
Netherlands will have to see whether its implementation of such a law
works any better than it does in neighbouring France where "white
knights" routinely show up to pay the fines of women fined for breaking
the burka ban there.
The Rutte government was not the only one to adopt this cynical
strategy. Its most cynical deployment of all came in December with the
announcement by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, that she would ban the burka in Germany.
As with the Dutch government, Merkel clearly hoped that in throwing
this tidbit to the German public she might head off the threat that the
AfD, among others, now poses to her party in the coming year's election.
But the move also raises the question of just how stupid does Angela
Merkel believe the German people to be? It would seem that Merkel hopes
that with this burka ban the German public will forgive or forget that
here is a political leader so devoid of foresight that she unilaterally
chose to allow an extra 1-2% of the population to be added to her
country in a single year, mainly Muslim, mainly male and mainly young.
This is a Chancellor who even having previously admitted that Germany's
multicultural model had 'failed', revved immigration up to unprecedented
and unsustainable levels. Now, like her counterparts across the
continent, she must hope that the German public are satisfied by this
burka morsel and that, as a result, they will return Merkel and her
party to power so that they can repeat whichever of their mistakes they
choose in the years ahead.
It is possible of course that the European publics are wiser than
their leaders and that they will see through these cynical and
distracting tactics. There are extremely good reasons to ban any garment
which covers a person's face and allows them to wander as an anonymous
stranger in our societies. There are some – though fewer – reasons to
ban wearing a burkini on a beach. Certainly the governments of France,
the Netherlands and Germany are within their rights to instigate and
enforce any and all such bans. Such moves, however, are but the smallest
register imaginable of a problem which seems far beyond this generation
of politicians. The burka and burkini, like the headscarf, are only
issues because millions of people have been allowed, unchecked, into
Europe for years. The garment is merely the simplest issue at which to
take aim. Far harder are the issues of immigration and integration. It
is possible that Europe's politicians cannot answer these questions
because any and all answers would point the finger at their own
failings. Or it is possible that they have no answers to the problems
with which they have presented the continent. Whichever it is, they
would do well to reflect that in 2017, the European publics might get
fed up with the distraction tactics of talking about clothing and
instead seek answers to the challenge we now face, as well as
retribution at the polls for the politicians who brought us here.