Niklas Nováky Álvaro de la Cruz Defence Islam
Defence Dialogue Episode 13 – The Afghanistan Crisis and the EU’s Security and Defence Policy
Defence Dialogues - Multimedia
15 Sep 2021
Roland Freudenstein Islam Middle East Security
The Week in 7 Questions with Andreas von Brandt
Multimedia - Other videos
10 Sep 2021
In the past year, Turkey’s unauthorised exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean increased regional geopolitical tensions. Ankara’s intervention in conflict zones like Syria, Lybia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system, despite U.S and its NATO allies’ objections, reveal Turkey’s ambition to assert itself as an important global power.
On the other hand, through the 2016 deal on migration, Turkey has been providing support to EU Members States to cope with refugees and manage the Union’s external borders since 2016. Discussions on the deal’s renewal, and the modernisation of the EU-Turkey Customs Union, imply a special partnership with this candidate country.
For nearly two years, Turkey has been one of the main topics of almost all EU Council meetings. In December 2020, European leaders adopted a framework of restrictive measures in response to Turkey’s provocative activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. During the last EU Council, the leaders agreed – following the EU’s High Representative report – on a “phased, proportionate and reversible” restart of the Union’s cooperation with Turkey on key issues. The meeting of the EU Council President Michel and EC President von der Leyen with Erdogan on 6 April confirms this special relationship.
The Martens Centre organises this online event to take a closer look on the characteristics of the EU – Turkey relationship and to bring a deeper understanding of the strong interdependencies between Brussels and Ankara.Olivier Le Saëc Islam Mediterranean Neighbourhood Policy
EU-Turkey: A long, love-hate relationship?
Live-streams - Multimedia
08 Apr 2021
A series of four terrorist attacks hit France and Austria between 25 September and 2 November 2020. All were perpetrated by young jihadists. At least eight people were killed, excluding the terrorists, and more were injured, some seriously.
On 25 September in Paris, Zaheer Hassan Mahmoud, a 25-year-old Pakistani immigrant, stabbed two people outside the former offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine. On 16 October 2020 in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a suburb of Paris, a Russian refugee of Chechen origins, Abdoullakh Abouyezidevich Anzonov, beheaded a schoolteacher. On 29 October, Brahim Aouissaoui, a Tunisian citizen, killed three people with a knife at the Notre-Dame Basilica in Nice. And on 2 November, a dual Austrian-North Macedonian national, Kujtim Fejzula, went on a shooting spree, killing four people at Schwedenplatz in the centre of Vienna and wounding many others.
All these attacks continue to be investigated. So far, there is nothing to suggest that they have been coordinated from one place. The three attacks in France were each perpetrated by knife-wielding young men who took ‘revenge’ on those who they claimed offended Islam or simply, as in Nice, those present in a Christian church.
The Vienna shooting stands out in that it was probably planned by a larger terrorist group and has had cross-border dimensions. Additional attacks have been foiled in Belgium and Greece.
At least one counter-attack occurred in France. On 29 October, the French police shot and killed a knife-wielding far-right extremist who threatened a North African merchant in the city of Avignon.
What lessons can Europe take from this wave of Islamist terror?
Cooperation between intelligence agencies
Communication between national intelligence agencies in Europe, Africa, and Asia needs to improve. The Vienna attack shows that, as on several occasions in the past, national agencies failed to act on one another’s information. Back in 2015, the terror attacks on 13 November in Paris could have been prevented had French intelligence acted on warnings from Turkey and Iraq.
Returning to the Vienna shooting, during the summer, a known Islamist radical, Kujtim Fejzula, tried purchasing ammunition in Slovakia. He was unsuccessful because he did not have a firearms license. Slovakia’s intelligence service shared the information with their Austrian colleagues. However, something went wrong in the subsequent communication. Fejzula was not being followed at the time of the attack.
The EU’s national security services in cooperation with the EU Intelligence and Situation Centre and Europol are currently working to prevent another terrorist attack. This joint effort needs to become permanent and institutionalised.
The knife attack in Nice points to gaps in the EU’s asylum and border policies. The attacker was a Tunisian citizen who recently crossed to Italy by boat, possibly with the assistance of smugglers. Italian authorities conducted a security check on him but classified him as not dangerous. Despite issuing him with a deportation order, they did not detain him, and he was free to travel to France, where he killed three people.
Security checks are of little use in cases where the individual in question has no criminal record. Therefore, automatic detention for irregular arrivals, except for unaccompanied children, should be considered during negotiations on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. The non-frontline EU members would need to support the EU’s southern countries in creating the requisite detention capacity. Without such assistance, the frontline states have few incentives to be vigilant on security when processing irregular arrivals.
As ever, preventing irregular departures towards Europe is the preferred option, rather than detaining people on European soil.
European politicians will have to pay more attention to the ideology of Islamism, some of whose branches form the basis of jihadi terrorism. Verbal condemnations are necessary, but action is what truly counts.
All four attacks were perpetrated by young men aged 18 to 25. This is a group particularly vulnerable to being radicalised. Due to their young age, the Conflans-Sainte-Honorine and Nice attackers must have been radicalised relatively quickly and recently, the former in France and the latter in Tunisia. Addressing radicalisation among this demographic group remains one of the toughest challenges.
Only the terrorist from Vienna had a clear record of jihadist fundamentalism, including an attempted trip to Syria to join ISIS. He was also the only one to possess EU citizenship. The remaining ones had either immigrant or refugee status. Europe needs to find the right balance between respect for the Refugee Convention on the one hand, and preventing terrorism perpetrated by a tiny section of migrants on the other.
Schools should be one focus of attention, as highlighted by a Martens Centre paper, Lifting the Integration Veil: Outcasts from Islam in Western Europe by Tommaso Virgili. Teachers in our elementary and secondary schools need to receive support when faced with intolerance by students and their parents. In reverse, the state authorities need to detect those cases where teachers themselves spread religious radicalism.
The teaching of Islam in Europe needs to be put in the hands of tutors who understand European societies, speak their languages, promote peaceful forms of Islam, and are committed to fundamental principles such as freedom of speech.
Although not the cause of jihadism, it is also important to enforce anti-discrimination rules to assure people of migrant backgrounds that they have a firm place in our societies. This includes measures in the labour market where positions in the public and private sectors need to be accessible to people irrespective of their religion and ethnic background.
Tackling radicalisation on the Internet and in some mosques is becoming a necessity.
As President Macron asserted, the laws of the French Republic cannot be questioned in the name of a hostile ideology. The religious neutrality of the state must be preserved. But as Austrian Chancellor Kurz put it, countering terrorism and upholding the law must be undertaken without dividing our societies between Christians and Muslims, or locals and immigrants. The challenge facing our politicians is massive: prevent terrorism without pitting groups of citizens against one another. Freedom of conscience and religion has to be preserved, be it for Christians, Muslims, or atheists.
I would like to thank Conor McArdle for his background research on the topic, Theo Larue for proofreading the text and Roland Freudenstein for comments.Vít Novotný Integration Islam Migration Security
What are the Lessons From the Terrorist Attacks in France and Austria?
17 Nov 2020
This article examines the question of migration from the perspective of long-term integration. In recent decades, the latter has often yielded to multicultural policies shaped on the recognition of groups and their alleged identities and demands. Through a case study of blasphemy against Islam, this article argues that multiculturalism has three main flaws: first, it shrinks the complexity of identities in order to assign individuals to pre-made boxes, thereby essentialising communities; second, it fosters social conflicts by opposing different groups and their supposed demands; and third, it creates a discriminatory system, contrary to the principles of equality and dignity. To avoid the ruination of the European dream of openness and diversity, it is necessary to return to an individualistic view of integration based on freedom, equality and universal citizenship.
Read the full article of the June 2020 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Tommaso Virgili European Union Islam Migration Values
Whose ‘Identity’? Multiculturalism vs. Integration in Europe
06 Jul 2020
Watch again our first Online Event on Tommaso Virgili’s publication about the integration of Muslim communities in Western Europe. Discussed by Tommaso and Ruud Koopmans, Director of the Department of Migration, Integration, Transnationalization at WZB Berlin Social Science Center. Moderated by Vit Novotný.Vít Novotný Tommaso Virgili European Union Islam Middle East
Online Event ‘Lifting the Integration Veil: Outcasts from Islam in Western Europe’
Live-streams - Multimedia
24 Mar 2020
There are currently about 44 million Muslims living in Europe, out of which some 20 million live in the European Union. Precise numbers are impossible to come by. If the 20 million figure for the EU is correct, it would represent less than 4 per cent of the EU’s population.
The EU’s Muslim population is composed of two main components: autochthonous, or settled, Muslims in Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus and other countries, and Muslim immigrants and their descendants who live predominantly in Western Europe.
The latter group is made up of Muslim citizens originating in former European colonies across the world, guest workers made permanent and their family members, and refugees and economic migrants who may or may not have come to the EU legally.
Islam increasingly plays a role in European politics. The uncontrolled influx of asylum seekers and migrants in the years 2015-16, one that has caused so much political upheaval, was predominantly from Muslim-majority countries.
Many, although not all, terrorist attacks in Europe in recent years have been perpetrated by individuals who claim an allegiance to Islam. And the ideology of Islamism, albeit often non-violent, poses a challenge to our liberal democratic systems. Some features of the complex relationship between the European majority society and Muslims are sometimes forgotten.
Islam does not easily fit the existing state-church relationships in the EU. Built on the hierarchical structure of Christian churches, these relationships assume the existence of a leading authority for each religious body. The European state-church relationships also assume that there is strict separation between state institutions on the one hand and religious institutions on the other.
This separation has been historically instituted to limit church influence on government. Islam is different from today’s Christianity in that the former is a religion, a basis for law and a way of life in one. This difference between Christianity and Islam does not preclude peaceful coexistence of Christians, Muslims, adherents of other religions, atheists and agnostics in Europe.
Nevertheless, incorporating Islam into the European public sphere requires innovative policymaking at the national level, one that guarantees both freedom of religion and the preservation of the European way of life.
Issues within Islam
Islam is by far not the only religion that has ever condoned violence, as the briefest look at any European history book will tell.
Nevertheless, Islam is currently facing problems in adapting to modernity, in a reversal of adaption to Western-type institutions that Muslim-majority countries in Asia and Africa experienced in the twentieth century.
Most European Muslims are normal citizens of our societies, contributing to the economy and public life.
The minority that turn to the ideology of Islamism adopt views that in the words of Thomas Volk, an author in a recent Martens Centre publication, ‘militate against democratic institutions and propagate various forms of religious and political activism, from instituting sharia law to pan-Islamic political unity and the establishment of a caliphate in Europe.’
Some young Muslims in Europe are facing a conflict of identities, being split between belonging to traditional communities of their parents and the modern secularised Western culture. Unable to identify with either of these cultures, they may adopt the radical views of violent jihadism.
The path to Islamism is aided by several unfortunate facts. Like most nominal European Christians in relation to Christianity, some European Muslims have only scant knowledge of Islam.
However, it is often Muslim religious illiterates who turn to violence. Those imams that are active in immigrant Muslim communities are often not acquainted with European culture and fundamental rights anchored in our constitutions and therefore are not in a position to provide guidance.
The Internet serves as a tool for radicalisation, propagating fundamentalist versions of Islam. Finally, a few Muslim-majority countries, for example Saudi Arabia, finance Sunni Islamic radicalism as part of their worldwide contest with the Shi’a branch Islam, and with the modern world as a whole.
The individual and collective rebellion against the ‘decadent’ majority culture becomes an attractive option not only for criminals but also for apparently well-integrated youngsters, longing to serve a life cause. This also explains that about 10 per cent of European jihadists are converts.
Religious schooling for young Muslims (one grounded in the Koran and religious teachings, in the European way of life and Europe’s constitutions), controls of the Internet and checks on foreign financing of mosques are the logical measures to be adopted by European legislators and policymakers.
The majority culture
A 2015 survey by the Pew Research Centre revealed that views of Muslim minorities in Europe depend on the country. In Italy, 63 per cent of those surveyed had an unfavourable opinion of Muslims in their country but the figure was only 33 per cent in Germany and 27 per cent in France.
However, a 2017 opinion poll by Chatham House showed that an average of 55 per cent agreed with the statement that ‘all further immigration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped’. Longitudinal studies of European majority views of Muslims are hard to come by and we should not automatically conclude that these views on Muslims are getting worse.
Continuing secularisation complicates the acceptance by Europeans of the religious devotion and symbols associated with Islam. The belief that a strong Muslim identity undermines national identity is related to these concerns.
What is clear is that the failed management of the migrant and refugee crisis, resulting in an influx of people from Muslim-majority countries, has given voice to protest parties that politically use and even promote the popular apprehensions of Islam and Muslims. Islamists and right-wing populists end up feeding on each other, and radical discourse is making its way into the political mainstream.
Effective immigration controls, better guarding of the EU’s external border in collaboration with third countries (while adhering to universal human right standards in dealing with migrants and refugees), as well as tackling the stubborn issues of immigrant integration are among the necessary policy elements in assuring the majority that coexistence with Islam in Europe is possible.
And if European governments, political parties, civil society and religious associations succeed in forging strong national and European identities and loyalty to our constitutions, this coexistence can even be beneficial to our societies.Vít Novotný Immigration Integration Islam Religion Society
Some remarks on Islam in Europe
18 Dec 2017
Today, the Middle East is again rent by religious/confessional strife, again embroiled in conflicts pertaining to the relationship between the sacred and secular spheres. Religious fundamentalism is pitted against assimilation into the globalised modern order. It seems like nothing has changed since Judas Maccabee led the fight of fundamentalist Jews against assimilation into the cosmopolitan order of Hellenism.
This time, the protagonist is Islam, the third of the Abrahimic religions, but the stage of conflict is the whole world. The Maccabee revolt, in the second century B.C. was a localised affair, with regional ramifications. The thirty years’ war, which ultimately contributed to the disengagement of the secular and the religious for the second Abrahimic religion, namely, Christianity, was a much broader affair. It spanned the whole of Europe; part civil war, part war by proxy, it presents a continental model, partly foreshadowing the current global conflict.
Like the Maccabee revolt, the islamist resistance to integration into the secular order of modernity is both a civil war, raging within Islamic societies between religious radicals (in Greek terminology, zealots), and liberals (in Maccabee terminology, irreligious), as well as an international war against the foreign powers, perceived as their patrons, (the Hellenistic state of Antiochus Epiphanes, western states, especially in Europe). In both cases, the ire of fundamentalists was roused by adoption of secular values, the Greek gymnasium, or western dress and education. Islamic fundamentalist refusal to compromise on the Law, sharia, echoes almost to the letter, the Maccabee position.: “Even if every nation living in the king’s dominions obeys him, each forsaking its ancestral religion to conform to his decrees…we will not follow them: we shall not swerve from our own religion either to right or left.” Maccabee Book I also tells us that Judas went through the towns of Judah eliminating the irreligious from them.
The current conflict is two-fold. There is the hard bloody war against armed extremists, like the IS, al Qaida, Boko Haram, etc. Perhaps more significantly, the whole world is involved in a soft Kulturkampf to determine how much of the letter of the Law, sharia, is compatible with the principles of the modern constitutional state, and with the humanistic values of contemporary society. It concerns issues of women and minority rights, the penal code and freedom of belief and expression. On a shrill note, it also involves a philosophical dispute about the human body, as object of pride or damnation, which has its roots in antiquity. It may seem trivial that the controversy about swimming lessons, the hijab, burqa, and more recently, bourkini, have captured the limelight in the current conflict. But let us remember that the Maccabee resentment was sparked by the introduction of the Greek gymnasium, where nudity was in the order of the day.
The ideological and military aspects of this global conflict are inextricably bound. The leveling effect of modernity (anticipated by Hellenism), which espouses the principles of equality and universalism are anathema to all particularistic groups, and ideologies which claim superiority on religious, doctrinal or racial grounds (chosen people, proletariat, master race, etc.). The three Abrahimic religions share a world-view which claims distinction for their followers through possession of absolute, because revealed, truth. This sense of superiority can imply disdain for, if not abhorrence of the ‘Other’, an antagonistic potential which can easily be manipulated by militants to justify violence, (in the form of the Jewish Ban, Christian holy war, Islamic Jihad).
Depriving militants of doctrinal cover for their violence requires an effort of introspection and doctrinal revision. While Reformation and enlightenment have helped reconcile the Judeo-Christian mainstream with the universal scheme of modernity, Islam has largely failed to undergo a similar renewal. Tentative efforts in that direction, particularly intensified in the first half of the 20th century, have unfortunately been reversed in recent decades. Two factors have contributed to this setback:
- The rising fortunes of the Islamic oil states, especially Saudi Arabia.
- The ambivalent role of the West.
In hindsight, it may appear that the oil age has caused a sea change in the geo-cultural map of the Middle East, perhaps comparable with the diversion of the trade routes to the Cape of Good Hope, in the sixteenth century. While the latter has caused primarily economic demise, the former has produced a cultural eclipse.
The oil bonanza of the second half of the twentieth century has removed the political and cultural centre of gravity in the Middle East from its historical locus, Egypt, with over a century of reform (1820-1950) to the Arabian Peninsula, untouched by modernisation and westernisation till as late as the 1960s and 1970s. Western technology and western economic interests, namely, the thirst for cheap oil, has put undreamt of resources at the disposal of the stringent schools of Wahhabism and Salafism, turning them from a primitive fundamentalist fringe to a powerful ideological stream, transcending the borders of Islamic states, and ironically, inimical to western values.
The part of the West in the rise of militant Islamism is, however, not only a tragic, accidental by-product of blind interest-mongering and technical savoir-faire. Equally responsible are the misguided realpolitik, and opportunism of American foreign policy. For decades, the United States has fostered Saudi Arabia, in total denial of its own liberal values. During the cold war, but especially, starting with the Afghan war in 1979, the West has not shied from using jihadi groups, feeding on Saudi ideology and funds, to thwart Russia and its regional authoritarian proxies. Everyone is paying the price of this cynical support.
As the world strives to contain religious totalitarian ideology and the terror it has unleashed, it is unwise to escalate militarily and slacken intellectually. Opening a window for so-called moderate Islamism, by accommodating some of its seemingly harmless demands, like the dress-code, in the name of tolerance, smacks of appeasement. Measures of unfreedom cannot be justified in the name of freedom. Or in Karl Popper’s words, “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance.”Maridi el Nahas Defence Islam Security
Maridi el Nahas
It takes the whole world to tame the monster of terrorism
22 Sep 2017
Federico Ottavio Reho Islam Neighbourhood Policy
Islamism: A Western Political Ideology?
Europe out Loud - Multimedia
12 Jun 2017
A lot remains unclear regarding the attempted coup that shook Turkey. But it is possible to draw some preliminary conclusions about its background and implications.
The coup was not planned and implemented within the chain of command. The Chief of General Staff and the heads of the crucial First Army and Special Forces remained loyal to the government. This, not people on the street, was the key reason the coup failed. Not least, it allowed President Erdogan to slip out of Marmaris before being caught and to get to Istanbul.
The coup appears to have been hastily put together and poorly implemented. The failure to seize or liquidate the president, cabinet, and vital communication infrastructure made it possible for Erdogan to regain the initiative. This suggests that the plotters’ hands were forced, and that the coup was launched prematurely. There are suggestions that a list was leaked before the coup of officers scheduled for discharge and arrest, which could have precipitated the coup, explaining the lack of proper preparation.
The most vexing question concerns the exact identity of the coup plotters. Who were the architects behind what appears on the surface to be a faceless, even leaderless coup? The Turkish government is pointing fingers at the Fethullah Gülen movement – something that may seem counter-intuitive, because it was precisely Erodgan’s confrontation with them two years ago that led him to let the military back in from the cold and rebuild for himself a ruling coalition much more right-wing nationalist in nature, united by the struggle against the Kurds.
But that said, it has long been assumed that Gülenist cliques were present in the military at mid-career ranks. But no one believes that Gülenist officers had risen to the ranks of three or four star generals. Thus, while it is very likely that Gülenist officers were involved, it is equally obvious that they could not have carried this out on their own. The more senior generals apparently involved do not seem to have any Gülenist affiliations.
Hence, the coup may have been carried out by an unholy alliance between a faction of old-school Kemalist and Gülenist officers. If this is the case, it would mean that while Erdogan allied with the top military brass against the Gülenists, another military fraction allied with the Gülenists against Erdogan.
This is what Turkey has come to: its politics in the past few years can best be understood as a struggle for power between two Islamic sects. In the process, Turkey’s military appears now to have at least three separate fractions and to be much more politicized and divided than has been assumed.
A further important aspect of the coup was President Erdogan’s response: he mobilised his supporters through the use of Islamic rhetoric that would have been unthinkable even five years ago. Mosques were ordered by the State religious directorate, which Erdogan has built up into a behemoth, to broadcast calls for prayer all through the night and to call regime supporters out on the streets. Often, the call appears to have been framed as “Jihad”.
And indeed, those who came out to oppose the coup almost exclusively looked like Islamist activists singing Islamist chants. It is already apparent that President Erdogan has concluded that Islamist mobilisation was what saved him, hence the remaining inhibitions against further Islamisation of Turkey will dissipate. Erdogan’s Turkey is likely to more openly deploy Islamist rhetoric and policies.
The Gülen fraternity’s alleged responsibility for the coup is already being used as pretext for a full-scale purge of state institutions. Unlike previous occasions, the coup gives Erdogan the opportunity to arrest and jail opponents by the thousands. It is already clear that repression will spread beyond Gülenists: entire lists of scholars, journalists and officials to be jailed have already been leaked. Whatever is left of Turkish democracy is about to be neutralised, and if Erdogan completes this repressive purge, it goes without saying that Turkey can no longer be called a democracy.
The failed coup will have important foreign policy implications. Erdogan and his entourage have long believed the Gülen fraternity to be following Washington’s orders, and senior government officials have already suggested that the U.S. was behind the coup. Erdogan appears to be making extradition of Gülen a litmus test of the U.S.-Turkish alliance, a demand that will likely not be granted, given the lack of any kind of concrete evidence. In fact, the involvement of Gülenist officers does not necessary implicate the ailing preacher himself in the coup.
In any case, the U.S.-Turkish relationships has been put at risk, and Secretary John Kerry’s threat of consequences for Turkey’s NATO membership has shown that perhaps Washington is tiring of Erdogan’s antics. The most likely immediate point of contention will be the Incirlik military base, which the U.S. uses to hit ISIS targets in Syria.
Similarly, Turkey-EU relations will be impacted, most immediately because it is hard to imagine how the EU will now go ahead with visa liberalisation. In turn, that likely puts the cynical migration deal between Brussels and Ankara to death. If Turkey reinstates the death penalty, which is quite plausible, Turkish-EU relations are likely to deteriorate even further.
In conclusion, it is important to see the coup attempt as an indication of the deeper decay of the Turkish state under Erdogan’s rule. As Erdogan has sought to concentrate power in his own hands, the exercise of power has become increasingly informal, all checks and balances removed, and all institutions including his own political party increasingly ineffectual. This made the coup possible in the first place, and future coups can be avoided only if Turkey develops strong, accountable democratic institutions.
But instead, under Erdogan’s personal rule, Turkey’s destabilisation is likely to continue. Thus, European leaders now need to see what has been obvious for some time: rather than an ally with which to handle regional problems, Turkey will itself increasingly be the problem.Svante Cornell Democracy Foreign Policy Islam Security
A botched coup and Turkey’s descent into madness
19 Jul 2016
The relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been conditioned by many factors, from the religious divide between Shia and Sunni interpretations of Islam to the regional role played by external forces, such as the US. We are currently witnessing the collapse of the traditional Middle East order, most dramatically in Syria.
This breakdown has been accompanied by a rapprochement between the US and Iran. But far from producing a more stable situation, it is nurturing a reaction by Sunni states, led by Saudi Arabia, that may lead to more regional rivalries and confrontation. There are two camps—the Shia led by Iran and the Sunni led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—that are colliding in several places, from Syria to Yemen.
It is a clash of divergent religious branches but above all of power and strategic interests. Thus far the tensions have, to some extent, been kept under control. But they may well escalate in the near future.
Read the full articlein the June 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Rafael L. Bardají Islam Middle East Security Transatlantic
Rafael L. Bardají
Religion, power and chaos in the Middle East
03 May 2016
Freedom of expression was the assassins’ first target on January 7th in Paris, at Charlie Hebdo’s offices. But, deeper, lies a widespread feeling amongst those radicalized groups that resolve is on their side: nothing can challenge a strength drawn from the belief in God – and a sizable contortion of Islamic texts. We, Westerners, are just getting weak and lonely.
One of the masterminds of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), wrote pages on the subject while imprisoned in Guantanamo: “hundreds of American crusaders join the US Army, wear the latest military gear, eat the best food in Iraq and Afghanistan and play with their play stations while their enemies, the poor Muslim, can’t find their daily bread (…) but at the end, the American soldiers go back home and commit suicide.” (“KSM’s Statement to the Crusaders of the Military Commission in Guantanamo”, p.11).
Fundamentalists live off those narratives of sacrifice that mirror Western weak spots, turned into signs that history is presumably shifting in their direction. Favorites of that propaganda are plenty: hostages certain European nations are willing to give millions for, soldiers protected behind heavy concrete walls, caricatured as devilish drone players, the loss of meaning, the absence of values that fundamentalists believe a democracy cannot sustain in the long run. To paraphrase KSM again, “happiness is not found in music, dancing, or in living a so called free life (…)” where only divorce and AIDS supposedly await all of us.
Charlie Hebdo had found happiness in freedom, like many of us. They were targeted because they pushed freedom to an edge that some refuse to handle and accept. Facing that tiny minority, Charlie cartoonists never lost themselves in excuses, fear or hatred. They continued their work despite recurring threats with visible glee and great courage. “I would rather die standing up than live on my knees” were Charb’s famous words. There is a lot of inspiration to be drawn from this behavior.Michael Benhamou Democracy Extremism Islam Religion Values
Charlie Hebdo massacre: a test for Western character
09 Jan 2015
Jana Hybášková has served as the Ambassador of the European Union in Iraq for almost four years. She speaks fluent Arabic and is highly familiar with the current situation in Iraq. When speaking about the conflict with the Islamic State, she points out the influential role played by Chechnya: “We confirmed that key flows of Islamic State arms, munitions and finance comes through Chechnya.”
What type of conflict do we see in Iraq? Is it really a religious war?
Religions plays a very important role, IS is instrumentalising Sunni Salafi Islam, which has vast potential for radicalisation. They’re worse than Al-Qaeda. But it’s much more than just a religious war, enforcing a sectarian type of religion. Organised crime, including the trafficking of women and children, selling human organs and illicit oil plays a major role in the Iraqi conflict. The antiquities market is similarly important. They use the experiences of Ba’ath military command and tactics and use the Caucasus Emirate as a model for their proto-state.
Who are actually the people behind IS and who is their leader Abu-Bakr al Baghdadi?
No one here knows the proper identity of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He definitely is not the man from the Youtube pictures from one of the Mosul mosques. We only know, from certain privileged information, that from the very beginning he created a centralised leadership nucleus together with two other prominent Ba’ath leaders. That means that the old Ba’athist party is a significant presence in the creation and the structure of the Islamic state. The Chechnyan presence is also significant. This is not widely acknowledged in Europe but we have confirmed that key flows of Islamic State arms, munitions and finance comes through Chechnya. It is well known that there were contacts between the Chechnyan Islamist Dokka Umarov’s representatives and Iraqi insurgency groups during the winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
Unfortunately, the Caucasus Emirate has served as a model for the Islamic State. So if we continue to label Islamic state as simply a terrorist group, we are missing the point and we are making a strategic mistake. We have to admit that they are state structures. It is not just a group of people who performing hit-and-run attacks, they are a group of people who put international advertisements seeking to hire top oil engineers and experts, they are a group of people who run a financial economy, who have ministries, who desperately try to provide nine millions of people with 24/7 electricity and who are able to generate quite substantial means from exporting oil. Unfortunately, Islamic state is much more than a terrorist group.
Is the Islamic State structure now strong enough to survive the elimination of its current leadership?
I think that the future is now being decided in Kobane. The Battle for Kobane is reminiscent of the Somme or Verdun. It is a place of no strategic importance but it has become a war of attrition consuming more and more Islamic State resources. The Battle for Kobane is reducing and degrading the military capacities of the Islamic State, forcing withdrawal from places such as Baiji or Zumar Zhoud, connecting Kurdistan and Sinjan, which are more significant strategically. Holding the Islamic State at Kobane is, therefore, likely more effective than airstrikes. Of course, airstrikes can be effective if used in conjunction with Iraqi security forces on the ground. At the moment Iraqi security forces require major restructuring, training and changes in command structures. All this, however, will take a considerable amount of time.
Does Islamic State, with all its brutality, have the support of the general population?
We do not have very precise information about what is happening inside of the Islamic State. The brutality there is enormous. We have learned of Pol Pot style deportations of populations, families are divided, males and females are segregated, non-Sunni men are humiliated and sent to areas out of the key urban cities while women are enslaved. On the other hand, we have very clear information about some Sunni tribes trying to resist IS. Sadly I recently received information that the Abu-Nimer tribe that resisted IS was recently executed. The same fate is likely awaiting the Barawa family which is trying to protect the strategic Haditha town. There are victims not only among Christians and Yazidis but also among the Sunnis.
There are around 1.8 million internally displaced people and refugees, around half a million people have no access to humanitarian assistance. They are in the deserts, the Kurdish mountains to the North and south of Kirkuk. In the North we have a very dramatic humanitarian crisis where we cannot reach around 200 000 Sunnis. Some Sunnis from the area around Kirkuk have now no other option than to return back to the Islamic State. This should be a serious warning for us. At the same time, as I have already said, IS is developing a state structure – it provides electricity and water to people, it runs ministries, shops and hospitals which wasn’t always the case under Maliki’s administration.
You are talking about Sunni resistance. So the fight isn’t just between the Muslims and ‘the others’?
The key enemies of the IS are the Shia, not the Christians or Yazidis. But the enemies of IS include also non-radical Sunnis. For instance the Kurds are predominantly Sunni but they are still on the other side of the barricade. IS is pushing a very strict type of Salafi Islam called the Raqqa law which bans sports; music; cigarettes; alcohol and forces women to stay at home. Many Sunnis are, on the contrary, quite liberal. But of course the position of their Sunni opposition is much better than that of Christians. The Yazidis are worst off, they are not ‘people of the Book’ and are considered worshippers of devil and therefore are targets for genocide and extermination.
Who is buying all the illicit things like oil or women?
I cannot comment on this, it is currently- being investigated by the United Nations.
How many fighters does the Islamic State control? In a vast territory of 120 000 km2 with 9 million inhabitants, they have to resist many enemies: Kurds, the Syrian army, Western armies and others. How do they manage this?
Estimates differ so much that I’m not going to say an exact number. I understand that for the Europeans the issue of foreign fighters is extremely important and highlighted but there are definitely much more foreign fighters coming from Arab and Islamic countries than from the European Union. I mean fighters from Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, and Algeria and of course Pakistan and Afghanistan but also a vast number of the Chechnyans and people from the Islamic component of the former States of Soviet Republic. The leader of the Islamic State of Chechnya Dokka Umarov offers the IS a great support.
Is IS a threat for the European Union? Do they intend to commit terrorist attacks in Europe as they say in their online magazine Dabiq?
I don’t think that at this very moment they will commit an attack in Europe. They are now concentrating on building the state, on building their internal structure and strengthening internal statehood. How this would in long-term reflect European security is of course a big question. However, European concern should be focused on the 50 million refugees and displaced in the world. More than 2.5 million refugees are in the vicinity of Europe, most of them coming from Iraq and Syria. This refugee crisis in the immediate vicinity of Europe cannot stay unnoticed. It will definitely influence Europe economically but also will have security repercussions.
What should Europe do now?
Some Member States are offering military support, but the issue is much broader. The current coalition has sixty eight states that offer a wide range of supports. However, I think we could be better organized through EU military staff, especially on the information side. I would actually create an EU information fusion centre on the military activities of the Member State but this must be done by the Member States. The European External Action Service cannot play any role in this beyond suggestion. I’m very grateful to Germany that just donated 82 million dollars for humanitarian assistance to Iraq which is an enormous amount. I’m also happy with the support of France, UK, Italy, Ireland, Denmark and Sweden. Unfortunately I must be critical of the United Nations structures which are quite slow.
We also need to push the new Iraqi leadership, the government lead by the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, towards reconciliation, to bring back justice, to approve a law on federal courts and a provincial law on federalisation. The Sunnis felt abused in Iraq during Nuri al-Maliki’s government, this must change. We must also support a dialogue about the oil revenue sharing between the Kurds and the rest of Iraq in order to bring Kurds back to the table and to empower much better cooperation and coordination between the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi security forces.
Was this our mistake during Nuri al-Maliki government, that we didn’t pressure him enough to make the necessary reforms?
Yes, we should have exercised much stronger international pressure so that he would lead an inclusive government and perform the necessary reforms. But we all turned mainly to the United States. Unfortunately, Obama decided in 2011 to evaporate the US presence in Iraq almost overnight. The word ‘evaporate’ describes this decision, because he didn’t negotiate any kind of long-term post-presence strategy. That was the wrong decision and we are paying the price for it now. Maliki was denying all the legitimate needs of the Sunni population, he didn’t issue amnesty for tens of thousands of illegally detained Sunni hostages, he abused counterterrorism laws and he couldn’t ensure basic services to the province of Anbar.
When the Sunni population in Anbar started to demonstrate, the predominantly Shiite security forces massacred them in Hawija. This Hawija massacre was never properly investigated. So Sunnis were asking and asking the Iraqi government for protection, health, education and energy services for more than fourteen months and none came for them, on the contrary they had to face security oppression from the Shia militias. So they turned for protection to the Syrian jihadist group Al-Nusra, the former high level representatives of the Iraqi Ba’ath party and to the Chechnyan leaders.
How long can the conflict last?
It will be a long-term engagement. I don’t see it as a matter of weeks or months.
Can Iraq as a state hold together?
After being here for three and a half years I’m a strong believer in the country. The chance still exists but we need a lot of work, energy and money. The future of the whole region is questionable.
Interviewed by Vladka Vojtiskova, edited by Eoin O’Driscoll.
Jana Hybášková serves as the Ambassador of the European Union in Iraq (since 2011). She is a Czech politician and diplomat; from 2004 to 2009 she was a Member of the European Parliament for the European People’s Party. She graduated in Arabic at Charles University in Prague, she was Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Slovenia, Qatar and Kuwait.Foreign Policy Islam Religion Security
Islamic State in Iraq is inspired by Chechnyan Emirate
25 Nov 2014
Tunisia has often been considered both the avant-garde of Arab democracy (having ousted authoritarian leader Ben-Ali already in January 2011), and a bellwether of where its neighbours are going. But ever since the murder of opposition Popular Front leader Chokri Belaïd on 6 February, this country has not been the same anymore. It is true that tension had already been building up in the months before. The economy has hardly recuperated from its 2011 slump, tourism is still at an all-time low, unemployment at dangerous levels and inflation rampant. But the dissatisfaction of many Tunisians with the coalition government of the Islamist Ennahdha and two smaller parties also stems from two political problems they identify with the government: the attempt to impose a more conservative lifestyle on North Africa’s best educated, most secularised society – and the insufficient distinction made by Ennahdha between itself and the more radical, often violent Salafists and other extremists. This dubious role of Ennahdha found its most dramatic expression in the organised violence of the ‘League for the Protection of the Revolution’ (LPR), originally neighbourhood thugs that focused on remnants of the old regime, but that have turned on opposition parties and trade unions in recent months, breaking up meetings and attacking or threatening activists critical of Islamism.
The murder of Chokri Belaïd by as yet unidentified gunmen has radically compounded this already slowly worsening situation. Belaïd, a left-of-centre secular liberal, was a very outspoken critic of Ennahdha and, only one day before his assassination, warned of political violence to come. This violence has now arrived, not only in the murder of Belaïd, but also in street brutality by police as well as the LPR against mostly peaceful protests by secular activists. But the climate of fear that followed is matched by the determination of many thousands of Tunisians that refuse to bend and that will not let the ‘Jasmine revolution’ be hijacked by an Islamism which they now consider a threat not only to their lifestyle but to their very lives.
Yesterday’s resignation of Prime Minister Jebali is a clear recognition of the current Tunisian drama. Early elections are probably the only way now to re-establish some minimal trust of the people in their government. The European Union and its Member States should take note. There are many ways in which the EU can remind the current government of its obligation to stick to minimum human and civic rights standards, especially because it has been democratically elected.
Tunisia can still pull back from the brink. If early elections bring to power a more centrist government with more competence in economics, and police prevents private militias, Salafists and Jihadists from imposing their idea of democracy on the majority of Tunisians, things can in the end turn for the better. Tunisia still has a huge potential. But putting this potential to use will require a strategy with more competence and much stronger roots in civic rights and individual liberty than what we have seen in recent months.
[picture source:www.guardian.co.uk]Roland Freudenstein Arab Spring Democracy Foreign Policy Islam
Tunisia on the brink: After the resignation of Prime Minister Jebali
20 Feb 2013
Founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is the oldest and most influential modern Islamist movement. As per its motto ‘Islam is the solution’, the MB sees Islam as an all-embracing system governing all aspects of private and public life that, once implemented, constitutes the antidote to all the social, moral, economic and political ills plaguing Muslim societies.
Even though it does not completely eschew the use of violence for political goals, the MB aims to achieve its goal of establishing a purely Islamic system of government as a natural consequence of the peaceful, bottom-up Islamisation of the majority of the population.
The brief analyses the situation of Muslim Brotherhood (MB)-inspired entities throughout the Arab world two years after the beginning of the Arab Spring. In keeping with the flexibility and political opportunism that has characterised the group since its early days, Muslim Brotherhood inspired entities have adopted different positions according to the circumstances. In Tunisia and Egypt, where for the first time in history they have gained power through elections, MB entities are trying to gradually solidify their positions and advance their agendas while avoiding dramatic moves that could undermine their still weak hold on power.
In Arab countries where authoritarian regimes still rule, Muslim Brotherhood entities are adopting positions ranging from participation in government to military confrontation. The brief concludes by analysing potential concerns for Western policymakers and future scenarios.Arab Spring Democracy Elections Foreign Policy Islam
The Muslim Brotherhood after the Arab Spring: Tactics, Challenges and Future Scenarios
29 May 2013
Political Islam is becoming increasingly important to European politicians and policymakers. This research paper gathers together three edited papers from the event ‘The Atlantic Seminar: Understanding Political Islam’, organised by the CES and the Political Academy of the Austrian People’s Party (Polak) and International Republican Institute in Vienna (IRI). The three authors emphasise the need for a tailored approach with regard to each Islamic political organisation, because political Islam includes elements with varying programmes and agendas recognition of internal differentiation and disagreements within individual Muslim political organisations and recognition that Islamic organisations change and evolve over time.Islam Mediterranean Party Structures
Political Islam in Europe and the Mediterranean: Three contributions
01 Sep 2011
The aim of this paper is to contribute to a balanced and consistent EU policy on Muslim immigrants. It pleads for creative and open approaches to the needs of both Muslims and society as a whole; for state cooperation with Islamic organisations; and for establishing schools of Islamic theology at European universities, staffed by Islamic theologians who can develop their thinking in a European context and communicate that to other imams. The paper also emphasises the need for realistic information about Islam and Muslims living in European societies.Immigration Islam Religion
Dialogue with Islam: Facing the Challenge of Muslim Integration in France, Netherlands and Germany
01 Sep 2010
Olivier Guitta, a security and geopolitical consultant based in Europe, looks at the Muslim Brotherhood – its history, its ideology and its vision of the West as well as at three branches of the Muslim Brotherhood in Middle East and North Africa region.Islam Middle East North Africa
Muslim Brotherhood Parties in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region
01 Sep 2010
This report is about promotion of the democratic constitutional state in the Middle East. The perception of the Western world is not very positive in the Middle East. Religion is seen as part of a confrontation strategy, rather than part of the dialogue. But there is a bridge. For both Christian Democrats and Muslims, religion is a source of inspiration for their lives and their political orientation. Our experience is that religion can be a very rich source for democracy. The question is which elements of our tradition and history are most productive for the dialogue.Democracy Foreign Policy Islam Middle East Religion
Crossing bridges – Democratisation in the Middle East and a Christian Democratic Approach
07 Nov 2008