World History 2 275 - 15.4.2 Radicalism, Refugees, and Resistance

In 2011, the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq was completed, eight long years after the invasion. Hopes that peace in Iraq would last were dashed, however, with the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a fundamentalist and militant Islamic group also referred to as the Islamic State. Formed in 1999, ISIL had fought against the U.S.-led coalition that invaded Iraq in 2003. In 2014, it attacked Iraqi security forces and drove them from a number of cities, including Ramadi, Fallujah, and Mosul, and it killed thousands of members of the Yazidi minority group in Iraq’s Sinjar district.

ISIL leaders proclaimed themselves the heads of a new caliphate, an Islamic state led by a ruler claiming to be a successor to Muhammad, with religious and political authority over all Muslims. This is a claim most of the world’s Muslims reject. In response, a military coalition led by the United States returned to Iraq following a request by the Iraqi government. Meanwhile, ISIL’s counterpart in Syria, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, waged war against both the government of Syria and other nonfundamentalist groups that were also seeking to oust Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad. The U.S.-led coalition that returned to Iraq to fight the Islamic State there intervened in Syria as well.

Instability in Iraq and Syria led to a flood of refugees making their way across the Mediterranean to Europe in 2015 (Figure 15.26). Yet more were fleeing genocidal violence in the Darfur region of Sudan, while many others sought to escape failing states and poverty in numerous parts of the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. These refugees and economic migrants felt they would find a better and safer life in the developed countries of the West, particularly Germany, Sweden, Britain, France, and the United States, and many were willing to risk their lives to achieve this.

A picture is shown of boats in very calm, blue water. At the left is a metal rail above a tall silver ship hull. Three people wearing orange life jackets can be seen climbing a rope ladder from a flat, plain boat next to the ship. Two people wearing black life jackets over white hazmat suits are at the bottom of the rope ladder. Four gray buoys are wedged between the ship and the boat, tied to the large ship. The plain, flat boat is completely filled with people. The people inside are dark-skinned with dark hair, all wear various orange life jackets and sit crowded together. A person in a green helmet and blue/black wet suit stands on the edge of the crowded boat holding on to the buoy rope. To the right of the boat there is a white and gray Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) - a boat with a rigid hull and inflatable sides - with two people in white hazmat suits and black life jackets, one at the front of the boat and one driving in the back. Another RIB boat with the words “Naval Service” at the front can be seen in the distance with two hazmat-clad people toward the back.
Figure 15.26 In 2015, Europeans watched in amazement and sometimes fear as large numbers of refugees in small boats made their way across the Mediterranean from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa to Europe’s shores. (credit: “LE Eithne Operation Triton” by Óglaigh na hÉireann/Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Upon arrival, these groups met various responses. While some argued that the refugees had survived trauma and deserved to be welcomed with open arms, others said they were fleeing circumstances outside the host country’s responsibility and would bring too many cultural and religious changes. For example, many Europeans feared that refugees from Islamic countries would reject the values of the largely secular European nations in which they settled. Many others believe that Muslims embrace political extremism or support acts of terrorism. Responding to the developing migrant crisis, German chancellor Angela Merkel declared, “We can do this!” and promised Germany would welcome 800,000 refugees in 2015.

Link to Learning

To better understand the motivations and experiences of the refugees who arrived in Europe during the 2015 refugee crisis, the trailer for Human Flow can be viewed. Human Flow is a 2017 film about the crisis directed by the renowned Chinese visual artist and activist Ai Weiwei.

While some were heartened by Merkel’s offer, others throughout Europe felt it was short-sighted. They noted that since Germany was in the European Union, bringing refugees there effectively amounted to bringing them into any other country in the EU. Within Germany itself, there was also resistance. Founded in 2014, the German group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA) began conducting weekly marches in cities like Dresden, declaring that opening the doors to the Islamic world would spell the end of Europe (Figure 15.27). While PEGIDA made a point not to categorically oppose refugees, members continue to openly oppose the presence of the Islamic religion and culture within Germany.

A picture of a large group of men and women walking on a wet street is shown. They wear pants, jackets, shoes, and hats. Four have umbrellas. Four people at the front of the group hold a large banner that is black, red, and yellow striped. The words “Burgerbundnis Havelland” are written in white in the top black strip, “Gewaltfrei – Unabhangig – Parteilos” are written in the middle red stripe in white and in black on the bottom yellow stripe are the words “-Wir Sind Ein Volk –“ in the middle with “Burgerbundnis Havelland” in smaller black letters on both sides. A white “F” in a blue box is also seen at the right. Behind the banner four people carry large flags. Two flags are black, red, and yellow striped while one is white with some red and one is yellow with the words “Islam” and “Neinn” seen, with the rest obscured. In front of the banner twelve people are standing and walking about, some with umbrellas, some hugging, some talking. In the background of the picture, there is an opaque gate on the curb with grass behind and six people standing, watching, and walking. Parts of a white building can be seen behind the people.
Figure 15.27 PEGIDA is just one of many European groups that have grown by focusing on European fears about Muslim immigrants and Islamic terrorism. This demonstration by the group took place in Dresden, Germany in 2016. (credit: “PEGIDA Demonstration Dresden 2016-10-03” by “Chrystalcolor”/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

PEGIDA is just one of several ultranationalist movements that support an extreme form of nationalism and often seek to create ethnically homogeneous homelands. Others are Golden Dawn in Greece, the English Defence League in Britain, and the Identitarian Movement of Austria. Such groups advocate the establishment of ethnic-based citizenship, resist non-European immigration, and generally promote more conservative social policies. Europe is not the only continent to see a resurgence of xenophobic political activism in the last few decades. In Japan, Nippon Kaigi (“Japan Conference”) is an ultranationalist organization founded in 1997 that advocates a staunchly nationalist education system, a strong monarchy, and positive interpretation of Japan’s imperial past. The Nationalist Front of Mexico was founded in 2006 and advocates a neofascist ideology and a retreat from globalization. In the United States, the American Freedom Party, American Identity Movement, Patriot Front, National Justice Party, and others promote similar ideas. These groups are especially concerned with preventing immigration to the United States from Latin America (Figure 15.28). They are generally in the neofascist mold and advocate a United States that is overwhelmingly White and European in culture.

A picture shows a man in a green shirt and pants, black shoes, cap, and belt with a pistol and baton on it. He is standing on sandy ground with trees with green leaves in the background. He wears blue gloves and is handing a bottle of water to a dark-skinned boy in a blue plaid shirt, jeans, and dusty black and white gym shoes. The boy has dark hair and his face is blurry. Next to the boy a darker-skinned woman with her black hair in a low bun stands facing the boy in a blue, green, yellow and white striped shirt, blue jeans, gray and pink gym shoes, and small earrings. Behind the man in green two other light-skinned men in green uniforms can be seen, one with no cap and another in a cap and sunglasses. They are standing amidst seven other darker-skinned people, dressed in pants, shirts and blurry faces or looking away. One of them is holding a water bottle and another holds a red cup.
Figure 15.28 Many migrants who have crossed the southern border of the United States since 2020 have traveled far from countries including Ecuador, Brazil, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Haiti, and Cuba. Often, like those in this 2014 photo, they are children and arrive alone. (credit: “Border Patrol Agent Provides Water to Unaccompanied Alien Children” by U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Flickr, Public Domain)

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax