WASHINGTON, January 9, 2014 — How prepared are Europe and the United States to confront Islamist terrorism? Thousands of young people holding French, British, American and other Western passports are now in the Middle East fighting with ISIS and al Qaeda. Before long, many of them will return, and events like those we witnessed in Paris, at the Boston Marathon, and in the Madrid and London subways may proliferate.
The assault on the journalists at Charlie Hebdo came at a time when tension between mainstream French society and the Muslim immigrant community, the largest in Europe, was already growing.
The current best-selling book in France is the novel “Submission” by Michel Houellebecq, who imagines France in 2022 with a Muslim president.
Another best-seller is “The French Suicide”; journalist Eric Zemmour argues that the 1968 student uprisings and immigration, among other things, have set France on a path to ruin.
“I think this anxiety is the idea of seeing France give up on itself, of changing to the point of no longer being recognizable,” said the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, whose 2013 book, “The Unhappy Identity,” discussed the problems immigration poses for French identity and cultural integration. “People are homesick at home,” he says,
Both Zemmour and Houellebecq approach the subject differently, but speak to the same anxiety. Christophe Barbier, the editor of L’Express says, “It’s the same book, in that both talk about the same subject: the irreversible rise of Islam in society and politics.”
France has, it seems, failed to assimilate its immigrant population and transmit to them the Western values of, among other things, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press. In many neighborhoods, city officials have virtually ceded control to Islamists. Soeren Kern, an analyst at the Gatestone Institute and author of annual reports on “The Islamization of France,” declares:
“The situation is out of control, and it is not reversible. Islam is a permanent part of France now. It is not going away. I think the future looks very bleak. The problem is a lot of these younger-generation Muslims are not integrating into French society. Although they are French citizens, they don’t really have a future in French society. They feel very alienated from France. This is why radical Islam is so attractive because it gives them a sense of meaning in their life.”
The Muslim population of France has reached 6.5 million, or 10 per cent of its 66 million people. Some Muslim activists predict that France will be a Muslim-majority country in the not too distant future. Gatestone reports that an intelligence document leaked to Le Figaro said that Muslims are creating a separate public school society “completely cut off from non-Muslim students.”
Over one thousand French supermarkets are selling Islamic books that call for jihad and the killing of non-Muslims. Last year, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said, “We are fighting terrorism outside of France, but we are also fighting an internal enemy since there are those French who fit into the process of radicalization. This enemy must be fought with the greatest determination.”
One of the two brothers involved in the Charlie Hebdo killings traveled to Yemen in 2011 and received terrorist training from al Qaeda’s affiliate there before returning to France. Said Kouachi, 34, spent several months training in small arms combat, marksmanship and other skills.
Both French and American officials were aware that Kouachi had trained in Yemen, inspired by Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric who by 2011 had become a senior operational figure for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Before he was killed in an American drone strike in Sept., 2011, he repeatedly called for the killing of cartoonists who insulted the Prophet Muhammed.
France has struggled for years to keep track of extremists while avoiding measures that would alienate ordinary Muslims and increase the risk of a violent response. Jonathan Laurence, author of “The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims,” reports that intelligence services in European countries estimate so many residents with jihadist sympathies that it is hard to distinguish those who merely offer verbal support for groups claiming to fight for Islam from those who are prepared to take up arms. “Mass surveillance of an entire community is not an option because civil liberties also need to be balanced with the potential benefit it will gain,” said Laurence.
The Islamic State has attracted a large number of European-born Muslims, and some Americans, to Syria and Iraq in recent months. It is seen to be encouraging them to commit blowback terrorist attacks in their home countries and the countries whose passports they carry.
Targeting Charlie Hebdo was “deftly chosen: not a religious symbol, but a symbol of what democratic freedoms are, exactly where the Islamjc State wants to drive a wedge between European Muslims and their fellow citizens,” said Jean-Pierre Filiu, a French scholar who studies Islamic extremism.
In Filiu’s view, the “plan backfired because of the unanimous condemnation of this heinous attack in France and throughout the Muslim world.” He said that the widespread expressions of disdain toward the incident from Islamic leaders across Europe, several of whom publicly called for tolerance, were underscored by the fact that one of the 12 people killed in the attack was a French policeman who was Muslim.
“As a Muslim, killing innocent people in the name of Islam is much, much more offensive to me than any cartoon can ever be,” wrote pro-democracy activist Iyad El-Baghdadi in a statement that was retweeted more than 26,000 times in a single day.
It is important for Europe’s long-term well-being that all Muslims are not demonized, but that radical Islamists are isolated and carefully monitored. Muslims will clearly play an important role in Europe’s future. In Germany, it is projected that there will be 4.8 million Muslims in 2020. The number will account for roughly 6 per cent of the nation’s total population, up from 4.5 per cent in 2000.
Even bigger surges are underway in Britain, Spain and France, according to a Pew Research Center study. Muslims are projected to make up 6.5 per cent of Britain’s population by 2020, up from 2.7 per cent in 2000.
The difference between traditional Islam and the radical religion promoted by Islamic State, al Qaeda and other extremists is something non-Muslims often do not understand. The Koran, for example, does not anywhere forbid creating images of Muhammad, although there are later commentaries and traditions that do — the Hadith — to guard against idol worship. This is hardly unique.
The Old Testament forbids “graven images.” The word “blasphemy” does not appear in the Koran. Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan points out that, “There are more than 200 verses in the Koran, which reveal that the contemporaries of the prophets repeatedly perpetrated the same act, which is now ‘blasphemy or abuse of the prophet’ … but nowhere does the Koran prescribe the punishment of lashes, or death, or any other physical punishment … In Islam, blasphemy is a subject of intellectual discussion rather than a subject of physical punishment.”
Historically, Islam has not been an intolerant religion. In 1492, when the Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled the Jews from Spain, they were welcomed into the Ottoman Empire and other Muslim countries. When the Spanish Inquisition was killing men and women for their religious beliefs, Jews and Christians found much more tolerance and religious freedom under Islam.
Now, unfortunately, many Muslim majority countries look very much like medieval Spain. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia Egypt, Turkey and Sudan have all used blasphemy laws to jail and harass people, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Saudi Arabia forbids the practice of any religion other than its own Wahhabi version of Islam.
Europe has a choice. It can try to assimilate its Muslim immigrants into Western society, transmitting the values of freedom, democracy and tolerance of diverse views. It can use America as a model, in which immigrants from every part of the world, of every race, religion and ethnic background been transformed into Americans, Muslims included. Or it can isolate immigrants, telling them that they can never be “French,” or “German” or “British,” and alienate young people so that they are driven into the hands of al Qaeda and Islamic State.
If European countries did not intend to assimilate immigrants into their societies, they should not have permitted them to enter. Now that they are there, and appear increasingly alienated, it is essential that positive steps be taken to avoid future chaos. And it is important that Muslims themselves isolate the extremists in their community and become determined to become full citizens of the countries in which they live.
As those engaged in jihad in the Middle East return to Europe, a perfect storm will be faced unless positive steps are taken. If those who rail against immigrants, and Islamic fundamentalists come to dominate their respective communities, Europe’s future will be bleak. This may be a lesson to take away from the Paris terror attacks.