This article is part of our special report Navigating through the EU’s uncertain waters: GLOBSEC 2019.
“Fuelling the Fire: Weaponizing Islam in Europe” was the title of a panel at this year’s excellent GLOBSEC conference.
Olivier Guitta is the Managing Director of GlobalStrat, a security and geopolitical risk consulting firm for corporations and governments. A Government Intelligence Officer contributed to this article. Olivier tweets @OlivierGuitta
After an unprecedented wave of jihadist terrorism, since 2015, in France, the UK, Germany, Spain among others, now is the time to reflect on how Western counter-terrorism strategies might miss the point. Indeed, while going after the operatives is a must, the West needs also to have an arsenal to target the ideological terror masters.
France, for example, reacted swiftly militarily against the Islamic State striking targets inside Raqqa less than 48 hours after the 13 November 2015 Paris attacks took place. But for all the military response, a real counter-attack against extremists is a must.
Indeed, it has emerged that one of the suicide bombers in the Paris attacks had been radicalised in a Salafist mosque in Chartres. Also, the terrorist that tried to attack the Thalys train between Amsterdam and Paris in August 2015 has been radicalized in a mosque in Spain, as the Barcelona jihadists were.
Fighting against jihadi terrorism cannot be just focusing on the “soldiers” but also on the “generals“. In fact, inciting terrorism has a multiplying effect: a smart preacher can “hire”/ brainwash tens or hundreds or more recruits. In short, to make an analogy with drugs, should we go after just the user or the dealer or both?
Unfortunately, for the time being, authorities have mostly gone after the user, while there are only a handful of known leading jihadist father figures in each country.
As an example, the main global Islamist organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna is a source of inspiration for many extremists. Coincidentally, most of the leadership of al-Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri started as Muslim Brothers but also Abu Bakr al Baghadi, the “Caliph” of the Islamic State.
The MB’s motto sums up its worldview, “Islam is the solution, the Koran is our Constitution, Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our Leader. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”
Al-Banna viewed Islam as a superior religion, ”It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations, and to extend its power to the entire planet.” As described by investigative journalist Sylvain Besson, in November 2001, Swiss authorities stumbled on a document simply known as “The Project” at the house of Yusuf Nada, a top MB figure.
The Project is a roadmap to follow in order to install Islamic regimes in the West by propaganda, preaching and if necessary by war. One of the main points of the Project is to support all the movements engaged in the Jihad in the Muslim world.
Unsurprisingly, Mohamed Akif, the MB’s General Guide until January 2010 called on young jihadis to focus,” against the real enemy of the ummah, the enemy which occupies, kills, desecrates and plunders…in al-Quds, in Baghdad and in Kabul.” Hence, some of this MB propaganda led young European Muslims to go fight coalition troops in Iraq.
Djamel Beghal, an al-Qaeda operative who was sentenced to 10 years in jail for having plotted in 2001 an attack on the U.S. embassy in Paris, is allegedly the father figure that radicalised even more Amedy Coulibaly, one of the perpetrators of the January 2015 Paris attacks.
How many other vulnerable souls did Beghal brainwash while in jail or now for that matter? What is interesting is that al Banna’s grandson, Tariq Ramadan, allegedly greatly influenced Beghal. The court papers from Beghal’s indictment actually show that Beghal “was in charge of preparing Tariq Ramadan’s speeches.”
The radicalisation is not only taking place in jails or Salafi mosques. It is also occurring in the education field. Indeed as early as 2004 a landmark report put together by Jean-Pierre Obin, the inspector general of French national education, was describing an alarming situation in French schools in terms of radicalization.
Even though the large majority of Muslim kids are French, a good number of them described themselves as Muslim citizens and hailed Bin Laden as their hero. In their eyes, he was the one who represented a conquering Islam winning over the West.
After his tour of French schools, Obin explains these disturbing findings mostly because of a clear indoctrination orchestrated by international religious organizations. The students are since their young age taught what to think, what to believe and their regular teachers are presented as ”liars”.
Also, Obin notes that “the project of these blatant segregationist groups denouncing integration as an oppression” is to take these Muslims out of the French Nation and bring them instead in the “Muslim nation”.
But this does not stop with education. It also touches on culture. Another form of incitement commonplace in France goes largely unnoticed—namely, anti-French rap music. Several Muslim rap bands have been gaining fame and preaching for the jihadist cause.
For instance, D.J. Had (pronounced Jihad) sings: “The time of the revenge is now/Osama is going to strike again/He is going to tilt the scales/by blowing up France”, or the band Kamikaze that sings: “Osama fights the war in the name of Allah/ All with Osama/ On the Catholics, there is the fatwa”. These violent calls to terror have no place in our societies.
The West has for too long closed its eyes on extremist ideology. But it now seems that the trend might be reverting a little. After the January 2015 attacks, then French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced that radical mosques will be closed down and that the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology will be fought.
Coincidentally, three European countries, the UK, Austria and Sweden have been reviewing closely the Muslim Brotherhood’s dangerous ideology.
This is a good start.