Comment: UKIP’s reaction to the Brussels attacks was dangerous and unjustified

Mike Hookem's knee-jerk claims about open borders highlight the need for reasoned responses to terrorism


UKIP’s defence spokesman, Mike Hookem, was quick to offer an opportunistic and misconceived statement on the Brussels attacks. It serves as a potent reminder of the dangers of reactionary, and worryingly pervasive, responses to the threat of terrorism.

Within hours of the news breaking, Hookem issued a statement that focused on the supposed perils of border-free travel and appeared to support the UK’s exit from the European Union.

“This horrific act of terrorism shows that Schengen free movement and lax border controls are a threat to our security. The head of Europol said in February that 5,000 jihadists are at large in the EU having slipped in from Syria.

There are 94 returned jihadists currently living in Molenbeek, Brussels. This fact alone should alert people to the fact that open borders are putting the lives of European citizens at risk.”

Hookem’s view, grounded in erroneous and invalid implications and linkages, was not only premature but also nonsensical.

In referring to an interview that Rob Wainwright gave to Germany’s Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, Hookem intentionally or unintentionally assumes a connection that Wainwright himself did not draw.

Certainly, the Europol chief did refer to the threat that returnees, having gained experience at training camps in Syria, posed to Europe.

However, unlike in Hookem, Wainwright did not suggest that these potential terrorists took advantage of open borders to make their way through Europe; the Welshman gave no indication that the individuals did not return directly to their respective European countries of origin.

The UKIP MEP’s comments are essentially nothing but political opportunism: the horrific Brussels acts do not ‘show that Schengen’ or ‘lax borders’ are a threat to our security.

Neither, moreover, should the ‘fact’ that there are 94 returned jihadists currently living in Molenbeek alert people to a second ‘fact’, that open borders are ‘putting the lives of European citizens at risk.’

Hookem’s comments at least serve the purpose of reemphasising the dangers of compounding terrorist horrors with reactionary, simplistic and ill-conceived statements.

In the current atmosphere of fear and anger, a suggestion that border police may rightfully shoot asylum seekers is not a barrier to electoral success, while a leader can emerge virtually unscathed from branding those who make a basic democratic challenge to his stance as ‘terrorist sympathisers’.

Meanwhile, openly considering the possibility of a database and public identifiers specifically for members of a particular religion, along with calling for a ban on entry for all members of that religion, has seemingly done no damage to a US presidential hopeful.

The world is in the midst of a dangerous period, as the rising threat and power of murderous and virtually indiscriminate jihadism demands a vigilant and resolute resistance.

Similar strength, however, is required to counter ill-thought, selective and extreme reactions that are also a great menace to society.

Whether or not Hookem’s statement was a callous and calculated attempt to make political ground from an atrocity, it is a potent reminder of the way in which horror, insecurity and anger can generate desperate, irresponsible and misguided responses.

A wariness of both terrorism and the unreason that it produces must always complement one another.

David Maher is a journalist and member of the Green party

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.