British Muslim responses to Barcelona terrorist attack

After terrorist attacks in the Spanish cities of Barcelona and Cambrils, British Muslims have responded in various ways. Independent British Muslim journalist, Abbas Nasir, noted that Barcelona was attacked despite its previous strong opposition to the Iraq war. For him, this indicates that terrorism is not about the West but about “spiritually defunct” individual Jihadis.

Leading Britain’s Conversation radio host, Maajid Nawaz, compared the Spanish terrorist attacks to the Charlottesville’s white supremacist violence. He said that people “don’t want to challenge neo-Nazi ideology and yet every time there’s a jihadist those on the far-right do want to talk about ideology.”

Farrukh Younus, the article’s author, decries U.S. President Trump’s false story about General Pershing deterring terrorism by shooting perpetrators with pigs blood. Younus writes, “It is a sad day when the President of the United States needs to understand that pigs are not a ‘Muslim-kryptonite.'”

Younus suggests that Muslims should be naturally against terrorism. As terrorism contradicts “Prophet Muhammad’s own design for city living: a place where people of all faith, can live together in peace.”

He also notes that Las Ramblas, the name of the road on which the terrorist attack occurred, has an Arabic origin meaning “river bed that is dry.” Following on this, he writes, “these terrorists who casually took innocent lives, harming others, have an empty, dry soul, devoid of the spirit that gives life beauty, meaning or purpose.”

30 Frenchmen injured in terror attacks

According to recent figures, the number of Frenchmen injured in the August 17 terror attacks has risen to 30. “We visited several hospitals in the city, notably those that are treating French victims. I spoke for several minutes with a father who had just arrived in Barcelona when the attacks occurred,” said journalist Véronique Gaglione.

According to the father, he had gathered with his family: his cousin, his brother and his brother’s wife, and their two daughters, who were uninjured. “But his son was in critical condition. He is hospitalized in a separate building and has not been able to see him since the accident. There are 30 injured Frenchmen, 14 of whom remain hospitalized. Among those injured are 6 children, 5 of whom have life threatening injuries. There are no immediate plans to evacuate them to France,” the journalist concluded.

Grand Mosque of Lyon condemns attacks in Barcelona

The Grand Mosque of Lyon’s rector Kamel Kabtane was one of the first figures to issue a statement on the recent terror attacks in Spain. In a communiqué published to the mosque’s Facebook page, Kabtane writes:

“Hatred and violence have once again touched innocent lives. Barcelona has been struck by a declining terrorist force on its last legs. The Grand Mosque of Paris firmly denounces this barbaric act that targeted innocent people. It expresses its compassion and solidarity with those touched by recent events. It extends its condolences to the families affected by this barbaric act and wishes to express its support in these difficult moments.”

Kamel also published a brief statement to his Twitter account: “After Nice. We must be united in solidarity against those who sow seeds of hate and violence.”

 

 

 

 

Grand Mosque of Paris denounces ‘vile terrorist act’

On Friday, the Grand Mosque of Paris denounced the “vile terrorist act” that caused 14 deaths in Barcelona.

“After London, Paris, and other cities, the barbarity has once again returned, this time hitting Barcelona. The Grand Mosque of Paris firmly condemns the blind violence that attacks that which symbolizes tolerance and the vivre-ensemble,” wrote the mosque’s rector Dalil Boubakeur in a communiqué.

“This vile terrorist act must strengthen all those who fight obscurantism and radicalism in their determination to eradicate that which feeds these deviations,” said Boubakeur, who extended his condolences to the victims and their families.

 

Capture of underage female IS-supporter in Mosul shows extent the group’s appeal

 

As the so-called Islamic State’s last bastions in Mosul fell, Iraqi soldiers and militias captured a host of IS-fighters. Amongst them were a larger number of foreigners who had joined the terrorist group over the preceding years.

Trip to the Levant in 2016

Yet few arrests have called forth more international attention than the case of Linda Wenzel, a 16-year-old girl from a small town in Saxony, Germany. She was discovered by Iraqi forces in a tunnel along with 20 other female IS-supporters, three of whom were also German.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/islamischer-staat-vermisste-jaehrige-aus-sachsen-im-irak-aufgegriffen-1.3599355 ))

The teenager had left her home in 2016 and had been missing since then. Her turn towards jihadism had occurred unbeknownst to her parents and her family. According to investigators, online conversations with IS-sympathisers were key in swaying the girl to travel to the Levantine battlefields via Frankfurt and Istanbul.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/islamischer-staat-die-dschihad-braut-aus-pulsnitz-a-1159114.html ))

“Jihadi bride”

Her precise role within IS remains unclear. Iraqi sources have described her as a sniper; yet given the group’s conservatism in gender matters it seems unlikely that the young woman was allowed to play an active combat role, even if she should have wished to do so.

According to intelligence sources, she was married off to a Chechen IS-fighter; a fact that has led many media outlets to refer to her as a “jihadi bride.”(( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/18/teenage-german-isil-bride-captured-mosuls-old-city/, http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/islamischer-staat-die-dschihad-braut-aus-pulsnitz-a-1159114.html )) This points to the ways in which the IS’s female recruits are seen as even more ‘exotic’ and quintessentially incomprehensible than their male counterparts.

IS’s female members

Yet in contrast to many other jihadist groups, the IS has been extremely adept at attracting female supporters. According to the German domestic intelligence service, the Verfassungsschutz, 20 per cent of Germans who have joined the group are female. And among the minors flocking to the caliphate, 50 per cent are women.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-07/islamischer-staat-linda-w-dresden-is-kaempferin ))

German Islamic studies scholar and counter-terrorism expert Marwan Abou-Taam points to the ways in which the IS has managed to offer an appealing vision to many young women. Many are taken in by the glossy portrayal of jihadi fighters online. Becoming a wife and child-bearer to a fighter provides new sense and meaning, Abou-Taam highlights.((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-07/islamischer-staat-linda-w-dresden-is-kaempferin ))

Extradition to Germany

Not all women are joining the IS for personal or marital reasons, however: many wish to make a contribution to the creation of the caliphate and are highly ideologically motivated.

Whether this was the case for Linda Wenzel remains to be seen. Personnel from the German Embassy are in touch with her and the other German women arrested in Mosul. It is understood that Germany will seek their extradition. If they remain in Iraq, the women may be facing the death penalty, as marriage to and support of IS-fighters are treated as a capital offence in Iraq.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-07/islamischer-staat-linda-w-dresden-is-kaempferin ))

Challenge of reintegration

In her home town of Pulsnitz in Saxony, public opinion is split on Linda Wenzel’s arrest and her potential return. Some of the town’s inhabitants expressed relief that the girl had been found. They hoped for a speedy reunion with her parents.

Others openly voiced their fears. One of the girl’s former neighbours asserted that “we don’t need her here. At the end of it, she might show up with an explosive belt.”(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/islamischer-staat-die-dschihad-braut-aus-pulsnitz-a-1159114.html ))

This highlights once more how the arrest of the so-called “foreign fighters” that had joined extremist groups in Iraq and Syria is not so much an endpoint as a new start to the problem: the meaningful reintegration of these men, women, and children remains an issue that European governments will have to struggle with for the foreseeable future.

“The Missing Muslims” report discusses public benefit of enfranchising British Muslims

British non-profit, Citizens UK, published a report called, “The Missing Muslims: Unlocking British Muslim Potential for the Benefit of All.” The report was based on the work of an interfaith commission, convened by Citizens UK. The study included public hearings, roundtable discussions, and closed discussion with various stakeholders, both Muslim and not. A Muslim Leadership Group and Muslim Youth Leadership Group were consulted. The report is not clear about which groups made which suggestions but tries to summarise the ideas of the Muslim communities and other stakeholders.

Muslim involvement in public life is beneficial to all, says the report. Public life is understood to include civic engagement, public service delivery, the ability to be part of a “cohesive and strong society,” and opportunities to share ideas.

The study finds that Muslims are not active in British civil society which is a “growing problem.” Muslims have been involved in some important initiatives to serve the public good, such as the British Islamic Medical Association and the Ramadan Tent Project which invites homeless and other non-Muslims to engage in dialogue and eat with Muslims; however, in many ways, Muslims are excluded from public life.

Some problems with Muslim/non-Muslim interaction were acknowledged. Diversity within the British Muslim community is too often ignored, which contributes to polarisation and the us/them dichtomy. Terrorist attacks, such as 9/11 and 7/7, have contributed to distrust of Muslim communities. This led to problematic government policy. The Prevent Strategy was often mentioned by Muslims in their studies. The aim to counter extremism was seen as legitimate by Muslim respondents but there was a concern for the effect on the safety of children, especially, who may be targetted by government suspicion. This is because the government often focuses its prevention in schools. There are also concerns about a general police state atmosphere, unclear definitions and roles within Prevent, the conflation of religion and culture with extremism, and the mistrust in public institutions as the strategy moves away from just security professionals.

Another problem is that housing is often segregated along ethnic lines. While Muslims may be integrated into their own ethnic minority communities, there needs to be better engagement across ethnic categories. Employment discrimination, especially in relation to Muslim women, is severe. There is also a need for more transparent and effective leadership training. Another issue is women’s rights. Muslim women often face cultural limitations to their engagement in public life.  Fears of discrimination discourage the participation of young British Muslims in political life.

The recommendations for non-Muslim aspects of society are as follows.

The commission suggests partnerships between local authorities and civil organisations to promote diverse leadership. They promote mentorship programmes for the Muslims community which would allow individuals to support each other in areas such as employment. They suggest that businesses should adopt anti-discrimination policies including name- and address-blind applications and unconcious bias and religious literacy training.

They suggest that the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) focuses more on fair reporting of Muslims by assessing the relevance of stories, the appropriate use of statistics, and the fair inclusion of terminology (especially in regard to Arabic words which are often misused). The government should engage with certain organisations (the specific organisations are not listed in the report) which they seem to boycott in order to hear a broad range of views. The government should also listen to the many stakeholders related to the Prevent Strategy, even though (and especially because) stakeholders have serious criticisms of the strategy. The report also suggests that the government is more explicit in pursuing integration and anti-prejudice strategy.

For Muslim communities, the report suggests umbrella bodied can create a voluntary set of standards such as for mosque governance. These could include training, a stronger stance against discrimination against other religious groups, including diverse voices in mosque governance, fostering partnerships with other communities, and investing in British-born Imams.

A critique of the report by a Muslim PhD student in sociology at the University of Cambridge, Ali Meghji, says the report should be more focused on the needs of the Muslim community and not about the Muslim community being better “for all.” This can lead to blaming Muslims for terrorism and extremism.

Report on foreign funded Islamist Extremism in the UK

The right-leaning, British, foreign-affairs think tank, the Henry Jackson Society, published a report on foreign funding of Islamist Extremism. The report is summarised below.

The UK government’s 2015 Counter-Extremism Strategy acknowledged the role of foreign funding of Islamist extremism. In 2017, the UK formed a commission for countering extremism which did research on funding of extremism but has kept its findings secret, leading to a lack of publically available information.

Foreign funding to promote Islamic extremism in the UK has gone to religious institutions which host extremist preachers and distribute extremist literature. There is also concern about Islamist material in British independent (private) schools from the right-wing, Saudi, Salafi-Wahabi tradition.

Saudi Arabia has actively promoted its Wahabi version of Islam, including through providing funding to Muslims in Western countries. In the UK,  there are two major institutions that help distribute Wahabi ideas, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and the Muslim World League (MWL). Both organisations have hosted speakers affiliated with the controversial political organisation (sometimes labelled ‘terrorist group’), the Muslim Brotherhood. Bookshops linked to Saudi-funded mosques may also be distributing Salafist literature.

Full scholarships to the University of Medina encourage British young Muslims, hoping to become religious leaders, to go to this Wahabi institution instead of to South Asian seminaries.

The report concludes with a critique of British government policy. The UK is said to be doing less than other European countries, as reports of funding risks have not been published nor has there been a clear response to them. It is suggested that the UK could criminalise funding to certain institutions or funding from particular countries.

Saudi support for religious radicalism in Germany: old questions, still unanswered

The Henry Jackson Society, a neo-conservative British think-tank, has issued a new report harshly condemning Saudi Arabia for funding religious extremism in the West.

The report, so far not accessible to the public, has been submitted to the British Prime Minister, Theresa May. The Henry Jackson Society speaks of a “clear and growing link” between jihadist terrorism and Saudi money and support.(( http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-40496778 ))

Saudi religious activism in Germany

The Society’s findings have been eagerly taken up abroad as well, including in Germany. Germany, too, has witnessed repeated public debates on the role of Gulf money in supporting Islamist extremism. In late 2016, a German intelligence report claimed that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait were supporting radical Islamists in the country.

Speaking to Deutsche Welle, Susanne Schröter, anthropologist and professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Frankfurt, said that she was not at all surprised by the findings ofthe Henry Jackson Society. She asserted that Saudi Wahhabism was largely similar to the ideology of the so-called “Islamic State” and that the post-1979 Saudi attempts at exporting a rigid and violent understanding of religion had been a great success.(( http://www.dw.com/en/saudi-arabia-exports-extremism-to-many-countries-including-germany-study-says/a-39618920 ))

Long-standing accusations

In and of itself, none of these allegations are new. In journalistic as well as in academic discourse, it is commonplace to assert that the oil boom (al-tafra) allowed the Saudi Wahhabi establishment to go on such a spending spree that it managed to obtain what had eluded religious reformers for more than a thousand years – namely global hegemony over the Islamic nation (umma).

To be sure, this perspective has some valuable insights to offer: it is indeed true that the Saudi clerical and political establishments have sought to rely on the exportation of religious doctrine as a way of buttressing their own agendas. Nor can it be denied that individuals socialised in Saudi or Saudi-funded institutions have been amongst the proponents and perpetrators of jihadi violence.

Saudi money, Saudi control?

 

Yet what those pointing to the “Saudi connection” often fail to make explicit are the ways in which Saudi largesse does its work. More specifically, one might wonder about the extent to which Saudi monetary transfers to various religious causes and institutions actually lead to Saudi control. And here the Saudi track record does not look particularly good.

At almost every historical juncture – starting from the 1990/91 Gulf War, through the internal Saudi unrest of the 1990s and the wave of terrorist attacks of the early to mid-2000s, to the engagement of the Saudi state in Syria – the Islamist and jihadist scene, supposedly marked by the adhesion to Saudi dogma, in fact abandoned the Kingdom and worked on the side of the Kingdom’s enemies.

Local adaptations

In some ways, this should not come as a surprise: to many outside observers (Islamists and even jihadists included), the Saudi regime appears simply too corrupt and sclerotic to be worthy of sustained loyalty. And even where such questions of political allegiance take the back seat, Salafi preachers – even those educated in a Saudi setting – have always been forced to adjust their teachings to local circumstances.

To give but one rather colourful example in this regard, in order to make to with the gender norms prevalent in the country, Germany’s most well-known Salafi Pierre Vogel – touched upon in the abovementioned interview with professor Schröter – has stated that in the German context it is licit for women to have a prominent role as public speakers at gender-mixed Salafi events.

According to Vogel, haja (‘necessity’) in this case nullifies the prohibition on gender-mixing imposed by the doctrine of sadd al-dhara’i’ (‘blocking of the means’). Needless to say, this striking doctrinal innovation would certainly be regarded with a high degree of suspicion by Saudi scholars.((See Wiedl, Nina (2014). “Geschichte des Salafismus in Deutschland”. In Hazim Fouad and Behnam T. Said (eds.), Salafismus: Auf der Suche nach dem wahren Islam. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder. ))

The attractiveness of the ‘Salafi’ creed

In her interview, Schröter discusses the proximity of various figures of the German Islamic associational scene to Saudi money and religious orthodoxy. Yet the precise workings of the stipulated causality are left unclear: how is it that generous financial backing from the Gulf leads to the radicalisation of Muslims in the West? And on which terms?

The most glaring lacuna in this respect is the failure to provide an account of the sources of the attractiveness of a Salafised religiosity: why is it that this particular religious form should be seen as appealing by a small but considerable number of European Muslims? Indeed, the Islamic tradition would offer a host of other spiritual paths, some of whom may also be deemed “radical” (though not necessarily violent).

More complex questions

This is not to deny the overwhelmingly illiberal nature of Saudi-sponsored religiosity. Nor is it to exclude that Saudi support may play a role in spreading a particularly rigid, Wahhabi-tinged religious thought and practice.  What appears necessary to scrutinise, however, are the ways in which a Wahhabi-Salafi creed resonates with the particular conditions of Muslim life in Germany and Europe.

This means going beyond pointing to Saudi funding of mosques and preachers. It means starting to ask a host of questions that may be far more difficult to answer, and the answers to which might be far more unsettling.

Hassen Chalghoumi: controversial imam and Muslim march organizer

Hassen Choulghami is the self-proclaimed former imam of Drancy, a banlieue north of Paris. Born in Tunis, he lived in Lahore for several years where he attended a madrasa. There have been conflicting reports as to how he spent his time in Pakistan; while several sources state that he attended a fundamentalist madrasa and was a member of the Tabligh movement, he has subsequently denied all accusations of religious zealotry.

Chalghoumi arrived in France in 1996 and was naturalized in 2000. In the mid-2000s he reportedly rejoined the Tabligh movement and was monitored by French security services. He once again vehemently denied any association with the movement and worked to transform his public image.

Today, Chalghoumi is known for encouraging inter-religious dialogue, notably between Muslims and Jews, and describes himself as a representative of a “moderate and republican Islam.” He gained attention in 2009 when he organized the “Conference for the Imams of France” with the objective of creating fatwas, notably to encourage peace between Muslims and Jews. Although the conference was largely a failure, the initiative made him a well known public figure and he gained favor with the Sarkozy and Hollande administrations.

He has also become close with France’s Jewish community and has made numerous trips to Israel. His relationship with the Jewish community is viewed as promising to certain Muslims, who see the Jewish community as an example of a successful minority religion. However, many argue that he has yet to be seen as a truly representative figure for French Muslims.

Why were there only 40 imams at the march against terrorism in Brussels?

The Muslim march against terrorism stopped in Brussels on Monday. While a dozen Belgian imams attended the gathering, but the overall number of Muslims who participated was slim.

“After the sacred month, imams are exhausted and must rest. They only have the months of July and August to do so. This march was planned at a bad time,” said Fathallah Abdessalam, the Islamic councillor at the Forest prison. “If I have attended, it’s because I don’t want to be part of the silent majority that lets a minority act in the name of Islam.”

“I find that when someone commits a deadly, punishable act, we shouldn’t describe him in the name of his religion. We should only describe him as Mr. or Mrs. X,” he added.

Salah Echallaoui, who is president of the country’s main representative body, the Muslim Executive of Belgium (EMB), did not attend.The EMB supported the march, contrary to France’s principal Muslim organization, the French Council of the Muslim Faith. He sent a Belgian imam in his place.