Terrorists kill Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris; how is that Africa's problem? Here it is

The first generation of Muslim immigrants to the west, many of them from Africa, had a better context for coping. The young ones don't.

FIRST, the timeline:

•WEDNESDAY January 7: Gunmen shoot dead 12 people at and near the Paris office of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in a militant Islamist attack.

Four of the magazine’s well-known cartoonists, including its editor, are among those killed, as well as two police officers outside.

•THURDAY January 8: French authorities release photos of the two main suspects, identified as Cherif Kouachi, 32, and his 34-year-old brother, Said.

The brothers were born in Paris to parents of Algerian origin.

A third man, Mourad Hamyd, 18, surrendered at a police station in eastern France after learning his name was linked to the attacks in the news and on social media.

Turns out that in March 2008, Cherif Kouachi appeared in a Paris court during a trial into a domestic jihadist network.

•IN THE PAST WEEKS: Supporters and opponents of a group campaigning against what it sees as the “Islamisation” of Europe have held rival rallies across Germany.

There have been weekly protests by the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida) since October, the BBC reported.  A record 18,000 people turned out on Monday at one rally in Dresden.

But counter demonstrations have sprung up and the group has been condemned by senior German politicians.

•ELSEWHERE in Europe: Anti-immigration parties, riding the wave of discontent over the poor state of the European economy and the rising ranks of young European Muslims joining radical Islamic groups like Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are growing their electoral support, and the mainstream parties are running scared.

Why should this be of interest to Africa, apart from the fact that the parents of the Charlie Hebdo attackers were of Algerian descent? A lot. 

Many young Muslims who are giving the west sleepless nights are second or third generation children of parents who came from developing nations like Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, Morocco, Tunisia, India, Pakistan, and the Middle East. Reading western media, one of the most commonly asked question when a young radical Muslim blows something or someone up is; “How can a middle class kid born and raised in the west, become so radicalised, and go out and commit mass murder in the name of religion?”

The early immigrants

The answer is actually staring them in the face. The first generation of people, excluding the slaves, that is, who arrived in the west fell in three broad groups:    

1). Refugees and asylum seeks from the first post-independence crises and later conflicts.                                                                                                                                

(2). Ambitious folks seeking a western education and better opportunities for themselves and their families.

(3). Economic refugees, especially from the 1970s.

For these early arrivals in the west, many of them from Africa, things were clear: They were still rooted in the communities and cultures they had left behind. The host western communities were also clear about them; they were outsiders, refugees, in need, with little other claim and expectation than to be decently treated as human beings. They were not a threat.

These first generation immigrants had a better context in which not to be bitter when they were marginalised. They were aware of being outsiders, and able to subjugate their frustrations to the bigger goal that had taken them to the west, and were grateful that they had escaped certain death back in Africa, for example, and had got a chance to start again. And they received more satisfactory compensation from the fact that the little money they were sending home was make a big difference, and keeping whole families alive.

Children in limbo

Their children, and particularly grandchildren, however, were not Africans or Arabs or Asians in the same way.

They are French, British, or German citizens. They didn’t know refugee camps, they didn’t know hunger, or persecution and therefore don’t possess a context for comparing their present condition. 

They don’t have to work to earn money to send back to Algeria or Nigeria to keep their poor relatives alive, and their parents probably have more money than them.

They are citizens of these western countries, not outsiders, and expect (and are fully entitled) to enjoy the full benefits and opportunities of citizens. Unlike their parents and grandfathers, they are in very direct competition with the rest of young Europeans or Americans.

And unlike their parents they are not rooted in the cultures of their original countries, and yet they are not part of white culture either, so some find themselves in a cultural limbo.

It would seem that the extremist variety of Islam, and more lately things like the grand project to establish a global caliphate by a group like ISIS, or to create a greater Somalia, is finally offering a powerful sense of purpose.

Irrespective of where one stands on those issues, the reality is that the anti-immigration sentiment and the rise of anti-Islam groups like Pegida seem to point to the beginnings of a big rightwing pushback that, in the case of Africa, will not only make it more difficult just for Muslims from the continent to travel to the west, but for all Africans in general to do so.

On the face of it, it might not seem a big deal, but the stability of Africa of recent decades is tied to emigration in complex ways. Because the money the African Diaspora (just like the Asian and Latin American diasporas) send back home kept millions of people fed and clothed, societies didn’t implode the way they would have done if they were receiving absolutely nothing. Ironically, in that way, many refugees and exiles ended up assisting the bad regimes they had fled, but that stability was always better than civil war.

Because of this in the years to come, these acts of terrorists and extremists of Algerian, Somali or Middle East descent killing journalists in Paris or holding a restaurant hostage in Sydney, that are feeding the rise of anti-immigration constituencies in the west, will return to our doorsteps to bite us in very bad ways. Someone, especially those furthest away from the “front lines”, always pays.


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