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Top EU Diplomat Warns of Dangers of ‘Extreme Nationalism’ After Paris Attack

In an interview, David O’Sullivan said nationalist politicians seeking to exploit the attack must be denounced.

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Far-right nationalists and populist leaders across Europe are seizing on the terrorist attack in Paris to criticize their political opponents and rail against the influx of Muslim migrants. But the European Union’s top diplomat to the United States said such rhetoric is dangerous and needs to be countered in order to preserve the continent’s core values.

“We must push back on those in our societies who are tempted to exploit these situations to take us back to those dark days of extreme nationalism and hatred,” David O’Sullivan, the EU ambassador to the United States, told Foreign Policy in an interview.

On Saturday night, crowds of French expatriates and everyday Washingtonians flocked to Lafayette Square near the White House to show their support for France following the bombings and shootings in Paris that killed 129 people and injured more than 350. Among the onlookers was O’Sullivan, an Irish national who represents the 28 nations that make up the EU, the world’s largest trading bloc.

O’Sullivan, like other senior EU officials, has watched as the bloodshed in France, potentially linked to the civil war in Syria, has galvanized opposition to migrants from the Middle East and provided fuel for nationalist political leaders.

On Saturday, Poland’s European affairs minister said his country would not accept refugees under the EU’s quota system given the string of attacks in Paris, which targeted a concert venue, soccer stadium, and restaurants. Meanwhile, Slovakia’s prime minister, who’s also opposed to refugee quotas, speculated that the Islamic State carried out the attack by exploiting Europe’s migrant policy.

Paris prosecutor François Molins said that a Syrian passport was found lying close to the bodies of two jihadis who blew themselves up in the attack on Friday, and some initial reports suggest that one of the assailants may have posed as a refugee. But Greek and other European officials have said that it wasn’t clear if the passport holder was the assailant or if the document was merely purchased or stolen from the original owner. Molins also said at least one of the seven terrorists killed Friday was a French citizen born in the southern suburbs of Paris.

O’Sullivan said critics should refrain from jumping to conclusions or making generalizations about the vast majority of migrants based on this one tragic incident. “We don’t know that yet,” he said, referring to the possibility that one of the terrorists had sneaked in as a migrant. “I think it would be wrong to [conflate] immigration and migration and asylum-seekers with terrorist activities. Most of those people who are running are running precisely from the same terrorists who were active in Paris.”

Some of the most strident anti-Muslim rhetoric has come from within France itself. At a news conference on Saturday, Marine Le Pen, the head of the ultraconservative National Front party, said individuals that belong to Islamist movements and have dual citizenship should have their French citizenship revoked and then be deported from the country.

“Fundamentalist Islam must be wiped out,” she said. “France must ban Islamist organizations, close radical mosques, and kick out foreigners who are preaching hatred on our soil, as well as illegal immigrants who have nothing to do here.”

O’Sullivan warned that hypernationalism could unravel some of the core tenets of the EU and said he is “absolutely determined that we will not let the terrorists either divide Europe or divide our societies.”

While he praised his fellow Europeans for having a healthy pride in their home countries, he noted that the European experience of the 20th century illuminated the dangers of unchecked jingoism. “We‘re all proud to be from our different nations of Europe,” he said. “The Swedish ambassador is here, and he’s very proud to be Swedish. I’m very proud to be Irish, but we know where an excessive nationalism can take you in Europe and we never want to go back there again.”

Photo credit: Getty Images

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