Questions of the Week: Is France playing into hands of Islamic State?

The country is resisting more refugees, so was the terrorist attack a success for Isis?

A refugee camp at Calais in France: there has been a shift in European policy in the wake of the recent Islamic State attacks in Paris: Photograph: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

A refugee camp at Calais in France: there has been a shift in European policy in the wake of the recent Islamic State attacks in Paris: Photograph: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

 

Which politician said this during the week: “We cannot receive more refugees in Europe.” Marine Le Pen? Nigel Farage? Actually, it was French prime minister Manuel Valls in a meeting with a group of foreign correspondents, including The Irish Times’s Lara Marlowe.

“Public opinion is aware that [at least two of the jihadists who carried out the Paris attacks] entered Europe by mixing in with the refugees,” Valls said. “That raises the problem of Europe’s capacity to keep the wave of immigration under surveillance, to enforce its decisions about controlling its borders.”

The remarks signify a potentially dramatic shift in European policy in the wake of the Islamic State attacks in Paris. France will abide by its obligations to take in 30,000 refugees, but Valls made it very clear security concerns will take precedence from now on.

Perhaps the most curious thing about Valls’s remarks, other than the barely acknowledged fact that the attackers were predominantly European, is that it has taken this long for the French establishment to express them. After all, lots of other politicians had no such compunction in tying the attacks to the refugee crisis.

Poland, for instance, wasted no time in using the attacks as a reason to refuse more refugees. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau announced a plan to refuse entry to single Syrian men. And it seemed every Republican politician in the US – and a good few Democrats – were competing to see who could appear most extreme in painting every Syrian with the brush of Islamic State.

Rights activist

Seen in this light, the race to exploit the attacks to limit the number of refugees represents a strategic victory for Islamic State. After all, it’s not a great advert for the caliphate if hundreds of thousands of Muslims are desperately trying to leave it.

Thus, provoking an Islamophobic reaction that demonstrates the scale of anti-Muslim sentiment in the west simultaneously fuels Islamic State’s oppression narrative and helps it to recruit impressionable and alienated young Muslims in the West. Furthermore, if Syrian refugees no longer have the option of fleeing to the West, Islamic State-controlled territories will not be quickly depopulated.

Obviously, there are limits to how many migrants any country can absorb, and there are many legitimate reasons for a government to say it has reached its limit.

Citing the risk of Islamic State attacks, however, is probably not one of them.