- Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran by Shiite Muslims a third wave of the struggle against Europe has been apparent. As evident in numerous events, in particular the 9/11/2001 attacks by the Wahabi Al-Qaeda Terrorist Network , their new phase has been marked by two distinct characteristics: Terrorism and Immigration.
The catalyst was in Iran.
ďAfter the Iranian revolution and the establishment of the Shia system of Velayat-e-Faqih, the Wahabi/Salafi religious leaders in order not to be left behind introduced a Sunni version of radical Islam," Dr. Assad Homayoun a former Iranian diplomat and President of Azadegan Foundation said. "This competition led to the rise of the Al Qaida which attacked two centers of economic and military power of the United States on September 11, 2001 and created the present incarnation of International terrorism.Ē
Although there is competition between the Salafists and the Shias there has also at times been cooperation among them.
Prevailing wisdom in the western media and intelligence circles had been that international cooperation among terrorist groups was improbable, particularly between those following Shia Muslim ideology and those following salafist Sunni ideology. The Balkan wars of the 1990ís dispelled both beliefs. Officers of Iranian Al-Quds operational wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran are known to be located in Zagreb, the Croatian capital. Particularly interesting is the fact that several officials in the Embassy of Iran in Zagreb, are on the list of the intelligence arms of al-Quds. Several Western intelligence agencies consider that the Iranian Embassy in Zagreb is one of the communication centers of al-Quds with Al-Qaeda and other radical and extremist Islamic organizations across Europe
In order to satisfy the need for labor in the 1950s and 1960s Europe sought workers in Africa and Asia. Thus Muslim Arabs and Turks initially settled in western Europe as guest labor. The first generation was followed by Muslim refugees seeking political asylum and a better way of life.
UN statistics show that the Islamic population of Europe grew twofold between 1989 and 1998. By 2005 the figures again had more than doubled, so that 5 percent of Europeans could be said to be Muslim. That amounts to 23 million Muslims. 5.5 million of those reside in France, where the number has doubled since 1980, in Germany there are 3.6 million, up from 6,800 in 1961, while Britain has 1.6 million Muslims. The other 12.3 million are spread across other nations in Western Europe. In addition 15 to 18 Million Muslims can be found in the Russian Federation, and if we were to include Bosnia, Albania and Turkey, the overall figure would rise to 90 million Muslims in Europe, representing 15 percent of the overall population.
The future development looks set to continue the trend. While the Muslim population in Europe is expected to double by 2015, the non-Muslim population may well fall by 3.5 percent. Indeed by 2050 in all likelihood at least 20 percent of the people living in Europe will be Muslim. In the most extreme prognosis Muslims could well out number non-Muslims by the year 2050. Homayoun also believes that if nothing dramatic happens political Islam will advance and in the mid 21st century Islam could be in control of Europe.
Europe holds huge appeal to many Muslims. They are attracted by the relative wealth of the West. Secondly, they often flee the tyranny that is suppressing much of the Muslim world. Even extremist Islamic groups find that they are better able to exploit the greater freedom offered in Europe to pursue their religious and political interests.
Three quarters of the Muslims living in Germany today are of Turkish origin. Two thirds of them live almost equally divided in North-Rhine Westphalia and Berlin. They are generally younger than the German population and have a higher birth rate. Many came as guest workers in the 1970s but chose to stay. They exploited lax immigration laws to bring their wives and family long after the need for additional labor had been satisfied. Today, however, many remain unassimilated, dwelling in ghettos, unemployed, poorly educated and with little prospect of integration or good jobs. So far few of the immigrants have been able to rise above their poor origins in Eastern Anatolia, where many were illiterate and politically and religiously conservative. In France and Britain similar parallel communities also exist.
Since 2 percent of the continentís Muslims are thought by Europeís counter-terrorism officials to be active in extremist circles. That makes for 500,000 persons. The right-wing fundamentalist forces in Turkey led by Necmatin Erbakan sought support among the social, cultural and religious reactionaries with the Turkish community in Germany. Emissaries and imams were dispatched by his extremist party to Germany. Two organizations were set up: Cemaleddin Kaplanís Khalifat group in Cologne in 1984, which has 800 radical Turkish Muslim members and Milli Goerues established in 1985, which has 26,500 members in Germany and 210,000 members overall, making it the largest radical Turkish organization. Milli Goerues is active in 514 mosques, 323 of which are in Germany. Its ideological teachings are anti-Semitic and anti-Christian.
The Khalifat Group, though relatively small, has been vociferous in its rejection of democracy and criticism of secular Turkey. It is a radical group whose funds come from various sources, including the intelligence services of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Although Kaplan died in 1995 to be replaced by his son Metin Kaplan, the groupís very radicalism has ensured that it is isolated from the general Turkish community in Germany. Apart from these groups, there are several radical Islamic groups in Germany emanating from the Arab community, such as Hizbullah with 900 members, Hizb al Tahrir, which has 300 followers, Hamas with 300 members and the 1300 members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In France, home to the largest Muslim community in Europe , most of the Muslims originate from Algeria and Morocco where France had colonies. The largest Muslim communities can be found in Paris, where about half of the total French Muslim population live, or between Marseille and Nice, where another 33 percent can be found and in the industrial north, in Lille-Roubaix-Tourcoing. For example over the last two decades the ďUnion des Organizations Islamiques de FranceĒ(UOIF), whose orientation is to that of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been the major Muslim organization in France. Its charter states that it works to help answer the religious, cultural, social and humanitarian needs of the Muslims in France. Officially the UOIF has no contact with the Muslim Brotherhood or extremism. In fact UOIF is indeed indirectly connected with the Muslim Brotherhood. In its political activities it maintains close contact to Sheikh Quardawi an important Al Jazeera TV network preacher who runs the European council for Fatwa and Research, a Muslim Brotherhood front organization based in Dublin. The UOIF is somewhat more radical than the Federation Nationale des Musulmans de France (FNMF), a moderate organization supported by the Moroccan government. Britainís Muslim population of about 1.6 Million is to be found in London, Birmingham, the west Midlands, West Yorkshire and Lancashire. Most of the Muslim community stems from Pakistan and Bangladesh and constitutes about half of Britainís post-war immigrant population.
The Bangladeshi form of Islam is largely influenced by moderate sufi elements and Hindi folk religion. This moderate population has to some extent been radicalized by fundamentalist preachers from Saudi Arabia and the Arab world. As a result individuals from these circles have turned to terrorism in Britain and elsewhere. The Muslim council of Britain (MCB), the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) and the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB) are the three most influential political organizations among British Muslims. The MAB, cooperates with the Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas in the struggle against Israel. The MCB is a clear rival of the MAB for influence within the Muslim Community. In contrast to the Arab elements within the leadership of the MAB, the MCB has its roots in the Pakistani Islamist sects
European terrorism of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s as perpetrated by groups such as the IRA, Baader Meinhof and the RAF, have largely been replaced by radical Muslim cells. The threat of Islamist violence in Europe is becoming acute. It is easy for Islamic radical groups to find recruits in Europe, to move around and to organize.
Italy has been significant to other European countries as a terrorist nexus. Fighters have left Italy for Iraq, and Muslims from Albania and Bosnia have travelled through it. It has served as a logistic and financial support center. The government has attempted to counter radical Muslim activity by making dozens of arrests of militant helpers of the Egyptian al-Gamaí a al-Islamiyya, an Algerian Salafist group and the Iraqi Ansar al Islam that has close ties to Al-Quds. Much of the logistic and financial support of Islamic activities has been organized around Milanís two Islamist Mosques Vialle Jenner and Via Quaranta.
The Muslim networks developed in the 1990s. They were made up of veterans of the war in Afghanistan including Afghanis, Algerians, other North Africans and some Arabs. Many of the recruits were young unemployed men who were affiliated with mosques and who were promised tasks full of purpose, excitement and spiritual reward.
Nevertheless, a significant number of terrorists have been recruited from among the European university educated middle classes. So poverty alone is not an adequate explanation for the terrorist phenomenon. The Hamburg network, for example, that prepared the attacks on September 11 was made up of well-situated students. Social and economics are one factor explaining why certain people become terrorists. Another factor may be religion. Political and psychological factors have to be considered. Many of the middle class recruits were disillusioned lovers who joined university clubs based on ethnicity or religion. Some had only recently immigrated from North or East Africa, others were second or third generation inhabitants of their countries.
Perhaps, however, other non-terrorism issues are of primary importance in Europe. Profound demographic, social and cultural changes are taking place. Nevertheless, even some of those organizations that officially dissociate themselves from Al Qaida style activities accept the validity of Jihad and violence. In their belief in mass violence they are similar to the Fascist movements of the 1930s.
This is typical for example of Hizb al Tahrir which was founded in Jordanian Jerusalem in the early 1950s. Hizb al Tahrir, like many such organizations is a splinter group of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization they considered to be too moderate. Hizb al Tahrir is a fundamentalist radical organization even if it has at times operated as a legal party. At other times it is said to have maintained a secret underground organization. What it openly aims to do is to restore the caliphate, which was abolished with the abdication of the last Turkish Sultan in the 1920s. Hizb al Tahrir is different to other groups in that it is elitist and seeks specifically to attract educated members. Having started up in Britain, it has grown to include branches in Germany, Egypt, Australia, Jordan, Kirgisistan, Kuwait, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan and even the United States. Members tend to have a technical or university background.
One last expression of Muslim frustration that should be mentioned here is the spontaneous violence that in November 2005 and November 2007 had affected in Paris, in particular. Most of the participants would seem to have been Muslims because of their conditions in which they are forced to live and at the despair of the younger generation in the ghettos. While they are also responding to agitation by preachers and political activists, there is no sign that any one organization is instigating a systematic campaign of violence. Similar violent protest in other parts of Europe would not be entirely unexpected.
Over the last couple of decades internal competition and rivalry has succeeded in accentuating religious political radicalization. It may be that this new fanaticism cannot last and should therefore not be overrated. A majority of Muslims, no differently from other groupings around the world are seeking to live a peaceful and prosperous life. Some sympathy born out of frustration does exist for the militants. Nevertheless, few Muslims want to die a martyrís death. The key is to unlock the individual Muslimís ability to think freely for themselves by raising their level of education. In that way, the power of the radical imams to suppress their communities will be weakened. In turn moderate Muslims and their Imam will be able to show that Islam is able to coexist peacefully in Europe.
Even if a moderate Islam prevails and the Muslims integrate with the European societies, Europe will not be the same. Over time the political salience of the Muslim factor in Europe will be most evident in the domestic realm. In large measure, the influence of Muslims in European societies will be a function of whether and when Muslims get involved in the electoral process on a significant scale, how political parties will include Muslims in day-to-day life, what economic role they will play, and what degree of social mobility they will achieve.
Unfortunately the West, instead of using the differences between Shiism and Sunnism, has lost its nerve and has totally been unable to devise a sound strategy to face political Islam.
Dr. Fariborz Saremi is a commentator on TV and radio (German ARD/NDR TV,SAT 1,N24, Voice of America and Radio Israel) on Middle East issues.