Islamic radicalism in Belgian cities

La Libre

09.03.2013

Following the discovery of some 70 Belgian Muslims to have departed to fight alongside the Syrian rebels, an editorial published by the Belgian newspaper La Libre brings the question of Islamic radicalism in Europe to the forefront. Lamfaluss focuses upon the Belgian urban space as a futile soil for the radicalisation of Muslims but emphasis that only a small number are affected by such influences

According to him, those who are prone to become radicals willing to take upon arms and fight elsewhere are members of Salafist networks who infiltrate mosques and prisons and belong to a generation of people who are neither home in Belgium nor their country of descent, or that of their parents.

France’s enemy from within

French Secretary of State, Manuel Valls, has warned of the dangers of Islamic radicalisation in France. In an interview published by Le Parisien, Valls voices his concern about the state of Islamic radicalism in the country and estimates that there are dozens of more new Merahs in the country who need to be fought against.

According to him, France is fighting an “exterior enemy” in Mali whilst simultaneously fighting on a battlefront against the “enemy from within”, Muslim radicals, in France itself. As a result of France’s battle against fundamentalists, the government has dismantled a number of radical groups in the country and threatened with the deportation of radical preachers.

He calls on “French Islam” to ally itself with French imams educated in the country’s universities “who speak French and preach in French”.  He however also speaks of the financial situations of mosques and raises the question of looking into who is behind the funding of mosques, whether its “friendly states or not”.

Middle Tennessee City Divided over Proposed Islamic Center

By Mark Morgenstein

A proposed mosque and Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is dividing the city about 35 miles southeast of Nashville, Tennessee. Residents are battling about whether the center should exist, and if not, why not. Proponents of the mosque allege the opponents are displaying religious intolerance, while people fighting the mosque say zoning concerns and worries about Islamic radicalism are their chief concerns.

Middle Tennessee City Divided over Proposed Islamic Center

By Mark Morgenstein

A proposed mosque and Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is dividing the city about 35 miles southeast of Nashville, Tennessee. Residents are battling about whether the center should exist, and if not, why not. Proponents of the mosque allege the opponents are displaying religious intolerance, while people fighting the mosque say zoning concerns and worries about Islamic radicalism are their chief concerns.

US Moves to Redefine ‘Islam’ in Official Terms

The Obama administration’s recent move to drop references to Islamic radicalism is drawing fire from counterterrorism experts who warn the decision ignores the role religion can play in motivating terrorists. In the report, due to be released this week, counterterrorism experts from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy argue that the threat from radical Islamic extremists has to be defined in order to fight it, and that it can be done “without denigrating the Islamic religion in any way.” Obama administration officials have said that linking Islam to the terror threat feeds the enemy’s propaganda and may alienate moderate Muslims in the United States.

Al-Shabab recruiting in Sweden

According to Swedish secret police (SÄPO) at least twenty Swedish-Somalis are suspected to be “radicalized”, and some of them are to been killed in action in Somalia.

Sydsvenska Dagbladet (independent liberal) reports that Swedish Somalis are worried about al-Shabab activity in country. The 28-year old who made an attack on Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard two weeks ago is reported to have been in Sweden together with another Danish-Somali man who was later killed in a suicide attack in Mogadishu in December 2009. Al-Shabab is suspected to have been recruiting in Sweden’s three main cities – Malmoe, Gothenburg, and Stockholm – where the largest Somali populations are to be found.

According to Göteborgsposten (liberal) the two men visited two mosques in Gothenburg last winter, and Expressen (liberal) reports a mosque in the Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby has been visited by representatives from the organization. Abdi Rahman Sheik Muhjadin, Imam in a “liberal Muslim” congregation on Gothenburg, says he’s not surprised that al-Shabab has been coming to Swedish mosques and as a precaution, he continues, they won’t let their children attend Qur’an school for the time being, in fear of them being misguided.

Farah Absisamad, chairman of the Swedish Somali National Union, is calling for stricter laws against terrorism to prevent al-Shabab’s activity in Sweden.

Imam accused of preaching radicalism in Toulon expulsed to Morocco

Mohammed el Idrissi, an Imam of Moroccan-origin accused of preaching Islamic radicalism, has been expulsed to Morocco. The French Minister of the Interior learned that el Idrissi, 72, had given violent and radical sermons in Arabic from November 2007 to January 2009. He had been Imam in the Pont-du-Las neighborhood in Toulon for seven years.

Radical Dawa Changing: The Rise of Islamic Neo-Radicalism in the Netherlands

Special thanks to the Islam in Europe Blog for providing this translation.

The Dutch intelligence service AIVD recently released a report on the development of Islamic neo-radicalism titled “Radical Dawa Changing, The Rise of Islamic Neo-Radicalism in the Netherlands” (Radicale dawa in verandering: De opkomst van islamitisch neoradicalisme in Nederland.). This report follows two previous reports by AIVD, one on the general situation of radicalism in the Netherlands and one specifically on jihadi groups. This is a partial summary:

The phases of Muslim radicalism

Muslim radicalism in the Netherlands has gone through a couple of stages and seems to be now starting off a new phase, which the AIVD calls neo-radicalism. These phases do not cancel each other out and there are still active members of each.

The first phase started off in 1980s, when both foreign jihadi and radical dawa organizations set up shop. Their goal group was the first generation immigrants, especially the Moroccans and they were generally very much connected to Saudi Arabia. The ties between the jihadis and dawa people were quite strong at this stage.

The second stage started with the 9/11 attacks, when foreign organizations were banned or dismantled due to the War on Terrorism. The Dutch groups became more autonomous, also because their followers broke away from their original inspiration and became convinced that Islam was oppressed and threatened in the Netherlands. Radical groups grew, but were also fragmented and amateurish. Youth got radicalized on their own, through the internet, a tool which grew very fast in this period. There were dozens of radical Islamic sites in Dutch alone. The ’coolness’ of the ’radical lifestyle’ attracted people who were not ’true’ radicals.

In addition, there were other groups that used Islam to excuse nihilism, escapism, vandalism and criminality.

The 9/11 attacks and the Murder of Theo van Gogh and the political discussion that ensued forced the dawa groups to come out against violence and to distance themselves from the Jihadi groups. The Jihadis, on their side, saw the dawa movements as ’giving in’ to the infidels. The dawa groups did not call for going on jihad abroad, but did not condemn it either.

In this second stage, radical preachers appeared who were more involved with the local state of affairs.

Now a third stage is apparently starting, with new Muslim radicals coming up on the scene and questioning the way things had been done in the past. These radicals want to work in a more organized manner and they reject the individualization of the past, where everybody did whatever they wanted. Their main goal is to slowly build up a broad base for radical Islam and with that build up their movement. In order to build a powerful movement they do not turn only to those who feel alienated and frustrated but to other groups as well, and to each they come with an appropriate message.

The internet is now the most widely used tool, as well as charismatic preachers. However, these groups are still very much fragmented and do not come with a unified dawa message.

They reject terroristic violence, as that will hurt their long term goals, but they do not rule out, for example, street violence without loss of life.

Other groups

When turning the general Muslim population they face competition from groups that call for combining strict adherence to Islam with taking part in Western society (eg. Egyptian TV preacher Amr Khaled). Groups elsewhere in Europe also affect Dutch Muslims. These groups include those striving to publicly express Muslim identity (eg. Tariq Ramadan) and for political emancipation (local Muslim parties taking part in elections).

Other competition are Muslim groups who are secularly oriented and the ex-Muslim associations. There are also groups who reject Western society but do not attempt to change it.

The radical dawa groups set themselves up as the representatives of true Islam. Muslim interest groups led by such radicals are then approached to solve problems in the Muslim community, even if they do not really have many followers. Muslims who do not support them fear coming out against them openly as they are then labeled infidels and enemies of the Muslim community.

The dawa groups deal with the competition in two ways. Through “intolerant isolationism” which means building up spaces of Muslim enclaves (both physical and in the media/internet and education) run by the laws of Sharia. A second method is “anti-democratic Muslim activism”, which aims to remove the ’reprehensible’ democratic order from the public sphere.

Though the radical groups reject terrorist violence, they are checking out other public and secret undemocratic and democracy-hindering tactics. These tactics have been used by radical Muslim groups in Muslim countries for quite some time. Some of these tactics have already been practiced in the Netherlands on a small scale, such as intimidating people in the Muslim community not to take part in the democratic society and to show loyalty to Islam. Some tactics have been considered such as taking over political organization, disturbing social harmony by spreading conspiracy theories and false rumors or setting up their own law system in their neighborhoods through intimidation.

Radical dawa in the Netherlands is led by political Salafists, but there are other active movements such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jamaat and Muslim Brothers.

The estimates of the AIVD and other intelligence services is that about 5% of religiously oriented Muslims are susceptible to radicalism, and of those 10% actually radicalize and then they tend to go for the jihadi movements. The dawa groups aim for the original 5%.

The report then goes into a more in-depth analysis of the history of both Salafist and non-Salafist groups in the Netherlands. I might summarize this in the future, depending on if there’s interest in it.

Security risks

What kind of security risks do these groups pose?

The AIVD explains that a democratic order is built in two dimensions. The first is the vertical dimension (citizen-government) meaning a democratic constitutional state that includes things such as the separation of powers and freedom of opinion and religion. The second dimension is the horizontal dimension (citizen-citizen) meaning a public society that includes social cohesion, stability, active citizenship and respect for plurality.

The Dutch government sees security in the broad sense, not only to provide physical security but to also provide social trust, a social atmosphere in which citizens can live together peacefully, regardless of religious, ethic or political differences.

In characterizing the risks there are two issues: the good functioning (even to some citizens) and the continued existence of the democratic order.

Do the radical groups have the power to effect such changes, and what opposition do they face?

The radical dawa groups do not currently threaten to topple the democratic order, but it is legitimate to say that they currently pose a risk to the system’s functioning for some citizens, especially Muslims who do not adhere to the Salafist philosophy.

The risk of adverse affects are as follows:

(a) contributing to undermining support for a democratic order by some Muslims (especially pertaining to the horizontal dimension)

(b) contributing to the polarization of society by preaching against homos, Jews, Shiites, secular Muslims and the ’enemies of Islam’ (ie, most of Dutch society)??

(c) preventing Muslims who think otherwise from exercising civil rights – by calling them apostates either directly or indirectly. A website of the as-Soenah mosque, for example, called Ehasan Jami an incestuous weasel who is furious at Islam for not allowing him sexual contact with his mother and sisters.

(d) preventing non-Muslims from exercising civil rights – by using a very intimidating and threatening tone against those considered “enemies” of Islam.

(e) preventing women from exercising civil rights – by preaching for protecting and even saving women’s honor and for limiting women’s activities, and by practicing that in their own circles.

(f) preventing homosexuals from exercising civil rights

(g) enforcing their own legal system in an informal and secret manner – for example, trying to enforce Sharia personal law. For example, some Salafist mosques have contracted Muslim marriages without registering them. This can also lead to practical legitimizing of polygamy.

(h) checking out ways of secretly opposing and upsetting the democratic order – for example, by saying Muslims in the 2006 elementary elections may exceptionally vote, for specific people, in order to thwart the ’enemies of Islam’.

(i) secretly influencing government policy and entering the social middle field – for example, dawa organizations are active in advising municipalities on how to fight crime and dropouts among immigrant youth, or guiding immigrant women. In some cases organizations (secretly) related to Salafist mosques got government subsidies for guiding criminal youth back to society. The aim of the government was achieved in the sense that these youth left crime and improved their school scores, etc, but they also took on an anti-democratic Salafist way of thinking. Radical dawa organizations pose as the representatives of the Muslim community and try to control contact between the authorities and the community. Another such influencing was seen in the case of a Tilbug female teacher who was fired for not willing to shake hands. The woman was ’sent’ by the Tilburg Salafist mosque, which can be seen here trying to introduce ultra-orthodox Islamic rules

(j) breeding ground for radicalizing to violence – for practical reasons, radical dawa rejects violence in the West, but it is not possible to make a clear distinction between jihad and radical dawa, especially not for the individual:

– Radical dawa has an intolerant, isolationist, anti-democratic and anti-Western message that can lead to violence.

– Dutch Muslim terrorists regularly visited Salafist mosques, though they were radicalized further in other ways.

– Radical dawa repeatedly claims that the West is attacking Islam, which leads to see the West as an enemy.

– They reject violence now, but it’s unclear how that would continue if tensions rise, for example by violence against Muslims or a terror attack, since they do justify violence.

– It’s unclear how much the rejection of violence is not done out of pragmatic reasons. Much like in Muslim countries, radical dawa organizations may have splinter groups who do openly support violence.

The continued growth of dawa groups

The continued growth of radical dawa depend on the following:

(a) the continuation of professionalizing and whether they would manage to prevent breaking up due to ideological, ethnic and personal differences. The important questions are who will lead the movements, what their status will be within the Muslim community and how much charisma they would have.

(b) opposition in the Muslim community – though moderate Muslims have trouble today voicing their opposition, opposition may grow by people who realize the radical dawa message is asking too much sacrifice and does not make life better. Leaders who do not follow their preachings might also bring about opposition.

(c) internalizing the radical dawa doctrine

(d) availability of competing non-radical doctrines

(e) polarization between Muslims and non-Muslims – the more conflict, the more both groups are likely to “toe the line” and support the ’group interest’.

(f) expansion of the radical dawa community – will youth attracted to radicalism continue on with it in adulthood and will there be a second generation that grows up with the radical dogma.

Possible risk-developments

Possible developments for risks on the long term: the radical dawa organizations currently have an adverse effect especially on Muslims who think differently. However, they do pose a danger to the democratic order.

In the vertical dimension, they can bring about a growing number of Muslims who do not follow the authority of the Dutch government. An ’ethnic counter-response’ might also be dangerous to the democratic order. In the horizontal dimension, inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations may worsen due to the activities of groups and the reactions to it. The cohesion and solidarity of society can lead to growing suspicions between parts of society and even to violence between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Counter-strategies

Strategies against Islamic neo-radicalism:

As long as dawa groups do not incite to violence, they are protected by freedom of religion and expression. this causes the democratic paradox – using democratic means to bring about the fall of democracy. However, the democratic order is more than ’majority rule’ and also includes inalienable civil rights. From this point of view, democracy can protect itself. The European Court of Human Rights has already decided that governments may act against group who use democratic means to undermine democracy, if there’s an acute threat.

Judicial action against non-violent intolerant and anti-democratic groups has been done in the Netherlands only in extreme cases and it is generally seen as better to use non-judicial means.

Isolationism in itself does not threaten the democratic order, but intolerant isolationism does pose a threat. This means: exclusivity (discrimination and incitement) and parallelism (having your own laws above state laws). The authorities can work against exclusivity and paralleism, but the dawa organizations spread it sneakily and secretly and the current preaching is protected by civil rights.

The governments policy focuses on prevention and repression. Repression means preventing the growth of dawa organizations by preventing subsidies etc. It is generally agreed that this can be effective if it’s used in a restricted manner, as otherwise it brings about feelings of discrimination and encourages radicalization.

The security threat of Muslim radicalism has gone through both absolutism and relativism. Until recently headlines of Muslim radicalization were seen as a stage in the emancipation of Dutch Muslims. Now such headlines are seen as an immediate threat from all Muslims. This absolutism was caused both by Muslim propaganda, but also by Dutch politicians and leaders who spread doomsday scenarios. Both Muslims and non-Muslims have less trust in the government, with each side feeling that the authorities are not doing enough against the other side (Islamic radical, or anti-Islamists).

Conditions for effective strategies against neo-radicalism:

(a) keep things in proportion – do not subordinate the democratic order to the effectiveness of the approach.

(b) keep in mind the diversity of the Muslim community – see Muslims as individuals and citizens, pay attention to other movements in Islam, realize that about 1/3 to 1/2 of Muslims in the Netherlands do not act from a religious agenda.

(c) prevent polarization by developing government policy – Differentiate between ’hard core’ radicals and ’hangers-on’. Avoid doomsday scenarios (Muslim radicals often overestimate their power). Do not paint the other party as ’the enemy’ as that helps them mobilize forces, direct action only against the ’hard core’. Work away from the limelight. Break away from polarizing slogans.

(d) limit accommodating dawa groups – realize that most Muslims are moderate and are bothered by the dawa groups. Refrain from seeking advice from these groups. Prevent one group or person from taking over contact with the government, seek diversity and keep in mind that some religious representatives might have double agendas. Refrain from (financially) supporting projects which discriminate between sexes etc. Do not support any initiatives or project which exclude other groups.

(e) start dialog with as many Muslim groups as possible – involve not only with liberal but also non-radcial, orthodox Muslims in the debate about social activities and the values of society, democracy and pluralistic society. Be alert that dawa groups often use ’facade-politics’ and do not support any project related to radical dawa mosques or centers.

(f) try to reinforce trust in the democratic order – support initiatives within the Muslim community that serve as a moderate counterweight to radicalism. Try to build up renewed public trust in the buoyancy of the democratic state and open society.

“More radical Dutch Muslims: report”