Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood : a challenge for Europe (by Caroline Fourest)
PARIS -The Western world, but Europe in particular, is the main battleground for the Islamists. European secret services regularly thwart terror attacks whose targets are on European soil. Last week, France, Germany and Italy separately uncovered alleged terrorist cells, including recruiters for the insurgency in Iraq.
But Europe is also the frontline for Islamists who have chosen a more «political» approach. Nearly five years ago, Sheik Yusuf Qaradhawi, star imam on the al-Jazeera news channel and president of the European Fatwa Council, was very clear: «With Allah’s will, Islam shall return to Europe, and Europeans shall convert to Islam. They will then be able to propagate Islam to the world.» This theologian-widely listened to in the Arab world and in Europe-doesn’t think that the reconquest need be violent. For him, Islam as religion will pave the way. «I affirm that this time, the conquest will not be done by the sword but by proselytism and by ideology.»
The Islamists who were trained or influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian group founded by Hassan al-Banna in 1928, share this vision. Since their failed attempt to seize power in Egypt, and even more since they lost the civil war in Algeria, Europe has become the top priority: The Islamists’ third round. Whether they choose the jihadist option like Aymen al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s No. 2 man and mastermind, or opt for a «reformist» approach, Islamists trained by the Muslim Brotherhood all pursue the same dream, fed by Hassan al-Banna, to make «the flag of Islam float everywhere a Muslim lives.»
Islamist strategies diverge. Terrorists target symbols of the West through violence. Reformers, on the other hand, have made the struggle against Westernization their priority-one they lead from Europe, through mosques and radio shows and publications. In North Africa or the Middle East, where they pose a direct threat to the regimes in place, they are closely watched, even chased. But in Europe, they take advantage of free speech and democracy as well as the failure of Arab immigrants to integrate. Here, they recruit at their leisure-offering renewed pride and a political family united by a belief in radical Islam to thousands of alienated Muslims.
The West is used as a formidable base camp to recruit new troops. With them, the Islamists hope to take their revenge in the East. That’s why the leaders of radical political Islam are found more often in London or Geneva than in Kabul or Baghdad.
Yusuf Qaradhawi, the telegenic imam, was once expected to become the Official Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt. But he refused, saying that his mission in Europe was the priority. In fact, he retains great power of influence by presiding over the European Council of the Fatwa, based in London, which pronounces “fatwas” (religious rulings) for European Muslims. One of these fatwas justifies the use of suicide bombings against civilians. No other Islamic authority, in Egypt or in Iran, has ever dared to pass a similar ruling. Hamas, the armed branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine, has in fact used this European ruling to justify its operations. The man who guides the Muslims of Europe also says that any contacts with Jews must be with «the sword and the gun.» Yet it is Mr. Qaradhawi whom the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, took in his arms July 17 during a rally in favor of the “chador” organized in the British capital.
This city, having become a haven for radical Islam, now has a new nickname, «Londonistan.» The media-savvy figures are well-known: Abu Hamza, Abu Qatada or Omar Bakri, a Syrian refugee who has never made a secret of his admiration for Osama bin Laden. Less talked about is the Leicester Foundation, created by Pakistani Islamists to propagate the ideas of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian thinker who inspired bin Laden’s call for Jihad against the «apostate tyrants,» and Sayyid Abu’l-A’la Mawdudi, the Pakistani theologian who advocates a return to Sharia law. Though a radical propaganda institute, the foundation received a prize from Prince Charles-more proof that the Islamists are quite right to bet on the naïveté of Western democracies. Perhaps, these states also hope, in return, for relative protection on their soil. Great Britain has, however, seemed to question this policy since police uncovered plans for terrorist attacks. But isn’t it already too late?
The Geneva Connection
Another Islamist safe haven hasn’t yet decided to act: Switzerland. With its long tradition of neutrality and its role as an international banking center, the country is hesitant to harass Islamists who still have the moral-and often financial-backing of Saudi investors. At the beginning of the 1960s, with the patronage and protection of the Saudi royal family, Hassan al-Banna’s favorite disciple, Saïd Ramadan, was able to establish an Islamic Center in Geneva, which served as a refuge for the Muslim Brotherhood and as a base camp for fundamentalists trying to Islamize the Continent. Since his death in 1995, his sons, all on the administrative board of the Geneva Islamic Center, have kept up the fight.
The center’s official director, Hani Ramadan, has just been fired by the Swiss Ministry of Education for condoning stoning as an act of purification and calling AIDS God’s punishment in an article in the French daily Le Monde. He is also famous for calling on young men to refuse to serve in the French army during the war in Afghanistan, and for organizing several protests «against the impious» in front of the United Nations with former militants from the Algerian GIA terrorist organization. One of them actually spoke at the Geneva Islamic Center last Oct. 2. A report from the Swiss secret services also includes testimony from a former Geneva Islamic Center insider who says that he took part in 1991 in a meeting between Aymen al-Zawahiri, Omar Abdel-Rhaman, the man behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and two of Saïd Ramadan’s sons: Hani and Tariq Ramadan.
Tariq Ramadan has provoked ample discussion in Europe and the United States. Hired last year by Notre Dame to teach «Peace between civilizations,» the U.S. denied him a visa on security grounds, bringing criticism from many quarters. But despite his apparently angelic and irreproachable message, Tariq Ramadan is indeed unqualified to teach on «peace between civilizations.» On television sets and in the many interviews he gives to the press, he presents himself as a man of dialogue, with no links to the Muslim Brotherhood: A thinker who merely puts in context the thinking of his grandfather, father and even brother. But in his cassettes and books, distributed in radical Islamist libraries and shops, he expresses a completely different discourse that explains and praises the teachings and methods of Hassan al-Banna, without any form of critical analysis. This makes him not only his grandfather’s grandson (for which no one would reproach him) but his political heir. Tariq Ramadan openly supports Hamas as a «resistance» movement. He recently spoke out on the murder of an 8-year-old Israeli girl at the hands of Palestinian terrorists. «That act in itself is morally condemnable but contextually explicable,» since «the international community has put the Palestinians in the arms of the oppressors.»
True to the Muslim Brotherhood’s new orientation, Tariq Ramadan has pronounced the West to be «dar el shaada,» which is to say the land where he is to undertake his religious mission. He takes advantage of his aura to tell young women that a good Muslim should be prudish, hence veiled, to describe homosexuality as a «mental imbalance,» justify polygamy, and to discourage mixed marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims. Furthermore, for all matters relating to theology, he advises his listeners to turn to his mentor: Yusuf Qaradhawi. Just like Mr. Qaradhawi, Tariq Ramadan says that he is waiting for the proof that al Qaeda is indeed responsible for September 11.
Tariq Ramadan wants to make America his next mission, hoping to seduce the African-American community, and even the American left-wing. Though intellectuals-often Arab and/or Muslim ones-have warned against his influence for the past 15 years, there have always been other intellectuals, more often than not progressive ones from the West, who get tricked by his double message, to the point of taking his defense. Even, and especially, when he claims to be a victim of an Islamophobic or Zionist conspiracy.
Herein lies the greatness and weakness of democracy: Even those who despise it know how to use it to their advantage. Whether terrorist or «simply» political ones, the Islamists post a grave threat to Western democracies. Can this underground guerrilla movement against individual and public liberties be endlessly tolerated in the name of these same liberties? And on the other hand, can these liberties be weakened without abandoning the ideals that make us different from the anti-democratic forces? The solution probably lies in the middle. And it certainly requires that extreme vigilance be maintained.
Ms. Fourest is the author of «Frère Tariq» (Grasset, 2004). Alfred de Montesquiou translated this article from French.
mercredi 2 février 2005