A Closer Look at Brussels Offers a More Nuanced View of Radicalization

BRUSSELS — Around the world, this city of great, if often ramshackle, charm has become Exhibit A in the case against immigration, particularly when it involves large numbers of Muslims.

Donald J. Trump called the Belgian capital “a hellhole,” while Lubomir Zaoralek, the foreign minister of the Czech Republic, recently cited the city to explain why his and other Eastern European countries had steadfastly resisted a plan by the European Union to spread Syrian and other Muslim refugees around the Continent under a quota system.

“All the people in the Czech Republic and in other countries see what happened in Molenbeek,” he told a security conference in Slovakia over the weekend, referring to the Brussels borough where many of those involved in the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 and in Brussels on March 22 grew up.

A closer look at what has happened in Molenbeek and other heavily immigrant parts of Brussels, however, provides a far more nuanced picture than just a generation of badly integrated young Muslim immigrants running amok. In some ways, it debunks the view that Islam is a one-size-fits-all faith that fuels terrorism.

It is true that all those so far identified in connection with the Paris and Brussels carnage were young Muslims from immigrant families. But a more significant marker than their faith was their shared origin in North Africa, especially Morocco. None was from Brussels’ large community of Turks, who share the same religion and the same discrimination, as well as other hardships that are often cited as a root cause of jihadist rage against the West.

Brussels first became a magnet for Muslim immigrants in the 1960s, when the Belgian government eagerly invited workers from Morocco and Turkey to move to Belgium to take jobs in factories and mines. The two countries were regarded as generally pro-Western and full of poor and hard-working people eager for jobs in Europe, unlike many developing nations that at the time were frothing with rage at European colonialism and racked by conflict.

“You wish to come and work in Belgium? We Belgians are happy that you are coming to bring to our country the support of your strength and your intelligence,” read a message from the minister of labor posted at Belgium’s embassy and consulates in Morocco in 1964. Similar notices went up a year later in Turkey.

Together, Belgians of Moroccan and Turkish origin today account for the vast majority of the capital city’s Muslim population, and both groups are heir to a fairly relaxed form of Islam that has none of the reactionary dogmatism of Saudi Arabia and some other Arab states.

So how was it that some Moroccans became so angry, alienated and, in some cases, radicalized? “There is a malaise within the community of Moroccan origin,” the mayor of Molenbeek, Françoise Schepmans, said, dismissing arguments that terrorism is a byproduct of religious faith.

Left-wing politicians and community leaders, she said, had missed and amplified the trouble brewing in Molenbeek by treating young Belgian-Moroccans as victims who had no chance of succeeding. “There is a strong sentiment of victimhood,” she said, noting that “Turks have also endured discrimination but there is a force in their community.”

Much of this force comes from the Turkish state, which controls many of the mosques attended by Belgian-Turks and keeps a close eye on potentially wayward elements in the community through a well-established network of local leaders and imams who are trained in Turkey and then sent to Belgium at the government’s expense.

At a Turkish mosque in Molenbeek run by Diyanet, Turkey’s state-controlled religious affairs agency, the imam, who speaks only Turkish, expressed revulsion at the March attacks in Brussels and said that he and his worshipers never tolerate extremist views. He stressed that his congregants respect and follow the law.

Worshipers at a nearby Moroccan mosque angrily shooed away reporters, accusing them of fanning “Islamophobia” and stigmatizing their neighborhood as a haven of jihadists.

In contrast to Belgium’s Turks, the Moroccan community is far more divided and resistant to authority, in part because many of the early immigrants came from the Rif, a rebellious Berber-speaking region often at odds with the ruling monarchy in Morocco. “When emigration to Europe started, the king was happy to get rid of these people,” said Bachir M’Rabet, a youth worker of Moroccan descent in Molenbeek.

Another source of anger in his community, he added, is that many Turks often speak poor French and no Dutch, Belgium’s two main languages, and cling to their Turkish identity, while most Moroccans speak fluent French and aspire to be accepted fully as Belgians. This, he said, means that many Moroccans feel discrimination more acutely and, at least in the case of young men on the margins, tend to view even minor slights as proof that the entire system is against them.

Philippe Moureaux, who served for two decades as Molenbeek’s mayor, described this as “the paradox of integration.” A less-integrated Turkish community has resisted the promise of redemption through jihad offered by radical zealots. Yet, a Moroccan community that is more at home in French-speaking Brussels has seen some of its young fall prey to recruiters like Khalid Zerkani, a Moroccan-born petty criminal who became the Islamic State’s point man in Molenbeek.

“The Turks suffer much less from an identity crisis,” Mr. Moureaux said. “They are proud to be Turks and are much less tempted by extremism.”

Suspicion of and hostility toward authority, particularly the police force, run so deep among some North African immigrants in Molenbeek that when the police mobilized in the area this month to prevent a group of anti-immigrant right-wing hooligans from staging a rally, local youths, mostly young men of Moroccan descent, began hurling abuse and objects at the police.

Molenbeek immigrants of Turkish or other backgrounds generally have a less hostile view of the police. A Turkish shopkeeper who runs a general store near the police station said he feared not the police but aggressive North African youths who accuse him of being a bad Muslim because he sells alcohol. He noted that the youths steal, which is also forbidden.

Emir Kir, the Belgian-Turkish mayor of Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, a heavily immigrant Brussels borough that is worse off economically than Molenbeek, said the only Turk he knew about who had tried to go to Syria was a young man who had fallen in love with a girl of Moroccan descent. He got as far as Istanbul before being sent back. “This was a love affair, not an act of extremism,” he said.

Dutch minister want to revive imam-education in the Netherlands

The Dutch Minister of Education Jet Bussemaker wants to revive the professional education for imams and mental caregivers in the Netherlands. The few educational programs that were present in the Netherlands closed down three years ago. At the behest of Bussemaker the vocational schools Inholland and Windesheim and VU University Amsterdam (VU) have initiated serious conversations about a possible restart of the educational programs.

The goal is once again to create an educational program that forms Islamic clerics in line with Dutch culture, just as the program at Inholland did three years ago. This program was terminated because it was too expensive and was hardly effective. Of the 105 candidate-clerics that started the program only a few graduated. Just one of them found work as an imam.

From the community the demand for a good educational program still exists, Bussemaker says. A ‘Dutch imam new style’ does not always have to be a theologian according to her. “Outside of the mosque people with knowledge of Islamic theology are also necessary. One could think of I minor or a major, of several trajectories. Then one could study pedagogy and follow an imam-trajectory within that program. Or the other way around: Islamic theology and within that program a minor in another field.”

Minnesota’s Somali-Americans Urge New Treatment for Would-Be Terrorists

MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge ordered three young men accused of plotting to travel to Syriato fight for the Islamic State kept in detention while awaiting trial, at least for now. That decision came after the defense argued that entrusting the men immediately to their families and Somali-American leaders was the best way to insulate them from radical Islam.

But United States District Judge Michael J. Davis, in a shift from what other federal judges have done in similar cases involving young people accused of being Islamic State recruits, signaled a willingness to revisit his decision in the coming months.  “This is way too important for us to treat it as a regular criminal case,” Judge Davis said at the end of the third hearing. “It has a dynamic to it that we have to address, and hopefully we can.”

But some Muslim leaders here are trying to make a different case: that the best way to push young people away from militant Islamic groups is to keep them engaged with their community, with responsible clerics and their relatives.  Such an approach, they say, would be a humane counterpoint to the terrorist narrative that the American justice system is anti-Muslim and strictly punitive.

Osman Ahmed, a Somali-American businessman. His nephew died after joining Al Shabaad. (Angela Jimenez for the NY Times)
Osman Ahmed, a Somali-American businessman. His nephew died after joining Al Shabaad. (Angela Jimenez for the NY Times)

For this Muslim scholar, the Chattanooga shooting brought a familiar sinking feeling

That was the first thought Omid Safi says went through his head when he saw news about the deadly shooting attack in Chattanooga on Thursday.

Mourners places flags at a growing memorial in front of the Armed Forces Career Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee on July 16, 2015. Four Marines were killed on Thursday by a gunman who opened fire at two military offices in Chattanooga, Tennessee, before being fatally shot himself in an attack officials called a brazen, brutal act of domestic terrorism.  Credit: Tami Chappell/Reuters
Mourners places flags at a growing memorial in front of the Armed Forces Career Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee on July 16, 2015. Four Marines were killed on Thursday by a gunman who opened fire at two military offices in Chattanooga, Tennessee, before being fatally shot himself in an attack officials called a brazen, brutal act of domestic terrorism. Credit: Tami Chappell/Reuters

Then came a familiar sinking feeling. “Not because the suspect is Muslim,” says Safi, who directs the Islamic Studies Center at Duke University. “When there is an act like this, it tends to undo all of the good work that has taken place in the community over the last years and months, and in particular in the month of Ramadan.”

Boston Shooting Raises Questions About Anti-Extremism Plans

BOSTON — The man who was killed by Boston officers after he threatened them with a knife appears to represent the kind of homegrown extremist a federal pilot program seeks to counter. But his case also raises some doubts about whether the preventive measures can even work.
Under Countering Violent Extremism, launched to fanfare by President Barack Obama’s administration in February after months of development, law enforcement and Islamic and community leaders are supposed to work together to tackle terrorism by preventing radicalization from taking root among youths and others vulnerable to extremist propaganda like that spread online by the Islamic State group.

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, claims jihadists are ‘sexually frustrated losers’

Mayor of London Boris Johnson says that jihadis are "sexually frustrated losers."
Mayor of London Boris Johnson says that jihadists are “sexually frustrated losers.”

London’s mayor had some choice words Friday for Muslims who turn to radicalism, calling them sexually frustrated losers who turn to terrorism out of a deep-seated lack of self-confidence. Johnson further contended that turning to radical Islam was a form of compensation for men with deflated egos and a lack of purpose: “They are just young men in desperate need of self-esteem who do not have a particular mission in life, who feel that they are losers and this thing makes them feel strong — like winners.”

The 50-year-old politician, who reportedly has his eyes on the premiership, went on to criticize elements of the Islamic community for not doing enough to convince young men to turn away from extremism: “I often hear voices from the Muslim intelligentsia who are very quick to accuse people of Islamophobia… But they are not explaining how it can be that this one religion seems to be leading people astray in so many cases.”

“Somebody in a position of responsibility should be making responsible comments,” Mohammed Khaliel, director of the community cohesion organisation Islamix, told the Guardian on Friday. “For somebody allegedly aspiring to be prime minister of the country, is this really the style and level of comments that he should be making?

Charlie Winter from the Quilliam Foundation, an organization set up by ex-Islamists to challenge and counter extremism, called the mayor’s analysis “ludicrous,” stating that many defy the caricature painted by Johnson.

Islamic community to fight against radicalisation of Irish Muslims

luck-of-the-irish-run-dry-islam-sharia
(Image: Craig Considine)

 

Ireland’s Islamic community is to spearhead the fightback against radical fundamentalism after a top Imam admitted there has been a surge in Islamophobia nationwide in the wake of recent terror attacks.

Shaykh Dr Muhammad Umar Al-Qadri launched a website for Irish Muslims aimed at helping youngsters to avoid radicalisation and to allow those concerned about so-called ‘Jihad messages’ from radical preachers at Irish mosques to raise the alarm.

The website – www.jihad.info – was launched at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) where Dr Al-Qadri warned that Irish people needed to realise that Islam was a religion of peace and tolerance and not violence. He admitted it was a particularly difficult time for Irish Muslims who were fast becoming a target of hate attacks.

“People feel very isolated and very worried,” he told the Irish Independent.

Muslims of Créteil: whoever harms a Jew will face the Prophet

After a Jewish couple was attacked by three young Muslims in Créteil, the Muslim community condemned “a shameful act that is contrary to Islam,” and hoped both communities could live together in harmony.

While the local mosque’s imam did not bring up the recent attack at Friday prayer, it was on the minds of many attendees. “It’s disgusting. It’s a shameful act that is contrary to Islam,” declared 30 year-old Abdel. “Whoever harms a Jew will face the Prophet. It says in the Quran,” added 27 year-old Icham, who said that many of his neighbors are Jewish and are “far from being rich.”

“Our remarks are not always the same as our young ones who are 20 years-old. They talk differently. They don’t think about what they say,” said an older man who attended Friday prayer.

23 year-old Aïcha added, “as a woman and as a Muslim, I’m ashamed of what happened to that young woman. We all must carry peace in our hearts, not hatred.”

In Spain, “The radical ideas are being transmitted in the virtual world.”

Riay Tatary, president of the Union of Islamic Communities (UCIDE) of Spain defended yesterday that Islam “is peace and therefore can not be used as a synonym for violence or terrorism.”

He also insisted that the Muslim Spanish community is well integrated and that “ radical ideas are being transmitted over the Internet, in the virtual world. It occurs in homes, in closed rooms. “ He also pointed out that the youth receives a weak islamic educaction through the web and this creates a need among the community to strenghten universal values such as such as coexistence, tolerance, justice, equality, freedom.

Islam Law in Austria

Since the last few months the amendment of the Austrian Islam law is critically discussed by constitutional lawyers, academics as well as members of the Islamic community. However, according to the daily newspaper standard the minister of foreign affairs Sebastian Kurz and other party members of the ÖVP are willing to discuss key points of the Islam law.

Additionally, the Austrian government wants to involve the Islamic community, their leader Fuat Sanac, much stronger in their ambitious project.