Abigail R. Esman
Special to IPT News
So violent, so bloodthirsty, is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a Syria-based jihadist group, that even al-Qaida will have nothing to do with them.
But young European Muslims will – and do.
this month, German authorities arrested two men, one Turkish and one
German, on suspicion that they were connected to ISIL, also known as
ISIS. A woman with German-Polish dual-nationality was also arrested for
allegedly paying €4,800 to ISIL to facilitate their work. According to Die Welte, police also searched the homes of several other Germans believed to have joined or be planning to join the terrorist group.
Wednesday, Dutch authorities reported that two men with Netherlands
passports had committed suicide attacks in recent weeks – one in Iraq,
the other in Syria. A third Dutch Muslim was caught by the Syrian Secret
Service reportedly carrying Sarin gas.
are not alone. Among Western Muslims who have gone to Syria to fight,
roughly two-thirds have joined ISIL or the al-Qaida-affiliated Al Nusra
Front, according to a report by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation in London. In fact, Al-Monitor estimates
that "European jihadists in Syria are more numerous than official
statistics indicate. Indeed, they point to the existence of entire
French-speaking and German-speaking brigades in the Aleppo region."
Others, like the Dutch suicide bombers, venture elsewhere – mostly to
Somalia and Iraq.
are likely to follow: throughout Europe, officials are again sounding
alarms about radicalization among Muslim youth. As has long been the
case, many of them are radicalizing through the Internet, thanks to
various extremist web sites and YouTube videos, several featuring U.S.
and European preachers. Others are being led by imams at their local
mosques, and, in the UK, by schools.
In the Netherlands, for instance, a February report
from the office of the National Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism and
Security reaffirmed the country's "high-risk" status, largely a result
of Dutch Muslims returning from the Syrian front. Many of these youths –
men and, increasingly, women – have taken on a recruiting role on
jihadist fora online, and have become emboldened in their public
statements and activities, including public statements of support for
the ISIL and al-Nusra. Moreover, noted the report, a Dutch-language
jihadist manifesto appeared online in October, titled "De Banier" ("The
Banner") which "brings the ideas of a global jihad directly into the
spotlights for the Dutch-speaking public. The booklet provides a
strongly anti-Western pamphlet, and can be used as an instrument to
support the jihadist narrative."
In addition, Carmen Becker of Radboud University in the Netherlands has found that many Dutch imams promote Salafism
– a fundamentalist strain of Islam which seeks a return to the
Caliphate and the strictest forms of the religion. In Europe, a PBS
"Frontline" report notes,
Salafism, which rejects Western notions of a separation between church
and state, has also become nearly synonymous with violent jihad, as its
practitioners encourage violence and terrorism in order to achieve their
the problem is the fact that Europe's Salafists and other pro-jihadist
Muslims, especially youth, attempt to "intimidate" those within the
Muslim community who speak against joining the Syrian rebels, the Dutch
National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security report said.
The situation has become so incendiary that debates on Islam and
democracy or the situation in Syria "are practically impossible" without
Dutch counterterrorism office estimates that there are around 3,000
Salafist youth in the Netherlands; but University of Amsterdam
researcher Ineke Roux, takes a more ominous view, describing about 80,000 as "susceptible."
of these are second- and third-generation boys – young men born and
raised in the Netherlands who therefore should, theoretically, hold
Dutch – Western – values. That they do not, and that their numbers are
increasing, has national security officials deeply worried.
Similar numbers can be found across the EU. In 2013, France counted about 13,000 Salafists in its Muslim population, Germany around 4,500. And in the UK, the numbers are growing by the day.
jihadi recruiters and those working to spread the Salafist and other
extremist messages, the war in Syria provides a perfect narrative, the
connection they exploit to reach out to and radicalize Western Muslim
youth even in their homelands – whether they actually go fight or not.
Much of that recruiting is done on the Internet. As Dutch national daily Trouw noted in a discussion of Carmen Becker's research:
tells them what pure Islam [Salafism] looks like? And how you should
incorporate these things into your life? The questions are heavily
discussed in fora and chat-rooms, and the youths listen to young Dutch
imams, some of them converts, who give sermons and lectures online.
'During the sessions they are warm and friendly; they give their mobile
phone numbers and answer question patiently,' [Carmen] Becker says."
According to Trouw,
the discussions center on how to live in a Western society as a "pure"
Muslim, including such questions as "how can we establish Sharia in the
But the Internet is not the only source. New tools also appear to be emerging, such as an alleged plot described by the Guardian
as aiming to "'overthrow' teachers and governors in secular state
schools in the city and run them on strict Islamic principles." The
allegations come as the result of the discovery early in March of the
so-called "Operation Trojan Horse" dossier, which the Guardian says
"offers a five-step plan to take over schools in communities with large
Muslim populations with the help of what it calls 'hardline' parents
who follow the strict Salafi branch of Islam." More than 25 schools are
said to be involved.
Though some have called
the Salafist-led "Operation Trojan Horse" a hoax, most believe the
situation is quite real – and evidence of a deeper problem. As Charles
Moore pointed out in the Telegraph,
"The schools in question are mainstream, secular, taxpayer-funded state
schools, but even asking about them provokes outrage. It is alleged,
for instance, that at Park View, speeches in favour of the now-dead
al-Qaeda ideologue of terrorism, Anwar al-Awlaki, have been made. Yet
there is tremendous institutional resistance to investigating."
It is striking that these events come in the wake of recent efforts to clamp down on homeschooling in the UK, after evidence emerged
that many Muslim children were being radicalized at home. That
discovery last month led London Mayor Boris Johnson to describe
radicalization as "a form of child abuse," and to call for the children
of radical Muslims to be placed in State care.
perhaps not an ideal suggestion, the proposal highlights the challenges
that Europe's lawmakers now face: as the threats and means of
radicalization in the West become clearer, solutions remain elusive. In
the Netherlands, for instance, youth considered likely to travel to
Syria have had their requests for passports (or passport renewals)
the truth is that it's easy enough to enter Turkey (and from there,
cross into Syria) with a standard European ID card, and many of these
youth have Turkish or Moroccan passports, anyway.
Other proposed solutions have obviously been equally unsuccessful. As long ago as 2005, author Gilles Keppel told "Frontline":
are against European democracy. They would rather build citadels of
jihad within Europe out of which to reach out not only to the young,
deprived people of Muslim descent who live in European suburbs, but also
to reach out to what is happening in the Middle East. And this is the
It is, it seems, a battle we will continue fighting for a long time to come.
Abigail R. Esman, the author, most recently, of Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West (Praeger, 2010), is a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands.
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