How the US and Europe differ on fighting terror

Europe has broadly failed to come up with ways to integrate most communities

By Josh Kenworthy (Debate)

Published: Tue 29 Mar 2016, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 29 Mar 2016, 2:00 AM

Two bombings in Brussels on Tuesday brought terrorism back into the spotlight following last year's extremist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California But it also highlighted the differences between the United States and Europe, both in demographics and responses to terrorism.
In 2015, the American Muslim population was roughly 3.3 million, or about one per cent of the total population. That share is predicted to double to 2 per cent by 2020. By comparison, Europe's Muslim population was 44.1 million in 2010 and is expected to climb to 58 million by 2030, according to the Pew Research Center.
Furthermore, Muslims make up a far greater share of the population in European cities than in American cities. Some cities in Western Europe have Muslim populations of more than 20 per cent. According to research by The Daily Beast, Washington has the highest percentage of Muslim residents of any major American city with about two per cent.
America and Europe also differ significantly in the nature of their Muslim populations. The Muslim-American population is ethnically diverse, hailing from 77 different countries, with many coming to study and work and entering the middle and professional classes.
By contrast, many of Europe's Muslim communities grew from an influx of immigrants after World War II due to a labour shortage on the Continent. European nations signed labour deals with former colonies. For example, Algerians generally went to France, Moroccans to Spain, and Pakistanis to Britain.
European governments have broadly failed to come up with ways to integrate most communities, despite some having gone to extraordinary lengths in trying.
"You have large populations in major cities that are unemployed, can't get access to education or jobs training, and are left disenfranchised and are largely feeling marginalised and discriminated against," says Julianne Smith, a senior fellow and director of the Strategy and Statecraft Program at the Center for a New American Security.
These conditions are no guarantee of radicalisation, but they do increase susceptibility, she adds.
America's Muslim integration story tends to be different: "In the United States, because we're a country of immigrants ... it is less complicated to come to become part of the ... American culture because there's no one thing that defines it."
However, the poll numbers on European and American attitudes toward Muslims flip the integration story. The British, Germans, and French have an overwhelmingly "favourable" view of Muslims, ranging from 69 to 76 per cent, according to a Pew poll from late last year.
Americans, on the other hand, are more on the fence, with 53 per cent expressing favourable views, according to a 2015 Brookings poll.
The US has been more focused using its military to target terrorist cells at their roots - think the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Following the London and Spain bombings, Europe has focused more on law enforcement and intelligence and also counter-radicalisation, believing philosophically that military campaigns only "fan the flames of extremism," Smith says. Europe's shared land border with the Middle East is a challenge not faced by the US. For those European Muslims who do radicalise, it's much easier for them to reach Daesh strongholds in Iraq and Syria. European security officials are currently trying to keep tabs on an estimated 7,000 fighters who have trained or fought with Daesh, while the US currently has about 200 who have gone or tried to go, according to NBC News.
"We've made a number of really important strides since 9/11. We're much better in terms of sharing passenger data, we have extradition agreements, we have enhanced intel sharing, we've worked on terrorist financing," Smith says.
The greater challenge appears to be sharing among European nations. "It's actually easier for the United States to get flight manifests from their EU nations, than it is for EU nations to get them from their neighbours," The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Countering radicalisation and terrorism also depends on how far intelligence agencies can go in monitoring communications from mobile phones and over the Internet. The US and Europe differ vastly on this point.
"The Germans and others have very strong views on the importance of maintaining data privacy and civil liberties in ways that Americans have let go of in light of the 9/11 attacks," Smith says. "That has hampered some of the counterterrorism efforts over the years."
Excluding the nearly 3,000 people killed on 9/11, the US and Europe have had roughly the same number of deadly terror attacks on home soil as a result of terrorism - eight to nine each. However, the death tolls in Europe have been far higher - 426 versus 48 in the US.
The Christian Science Monitor

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