Europe ponders roots of radicalisation




By Mark Huband

Financial Times, 17 November 2004

Counter-terrorism chiefs in European countries are examining the past two weeks of violence in the Netherlands for clues about the structure of a Muslim extremist organisation in the country and the process of radicalisation that spawned it.

The Dutch domestic intelligence and security service, the AIVD, has revealed links between alleged members of a Dutch-based extremist group called the “Hofstadnetwerk” – or “Capital Network”- and extremists in Switzerland, Morocco and Spain.

But security officials and terrorism experts in several European countries say that although intelligence about the Islamist threat is still being gathered globally, the recruitment of extremists, as well as their organisation and planning in Europe is increasingly done within each country’s borders.

This led a senior French security official to conclude that Europe is in a situation that is different from the immediate post 9/11 threat centred on al-Qaeda. It has become clear that extremists are able to draw their strength from within Europe’s Muslim community and are less dependent on radicals coming from outside.

As well as leading to the unravelling of the Hofstadnetwerk in the Netherlands – after one of its associates was charged with the November murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh – the Dutch case is seen as key to providing new insights into the process of Muslim radicalisation in Europe. Three factors are seen by terrorism experts as explaining Muslim radicalisation.

First is an extremist strategy to unite the moderate majority of Muslims behind extremist causes by provoking a wider anti-Muslim backlash.

“Because these small [extremist] groups are ready to resort to violence, it gives them tremendous exposure. Holland’s response to the provocation means that people are setting fire to mosques. And this will lead to radicals being able to secure the solidarity of the Muslim masses,” said Gilles Kepel, author of The War for Muslim Minds.

Second, is a feeling of marginalisation from European society. Evidence from the arrest of Muslim extremists in Europe has revealed that economic hardship is not a primary reason behind the radicalism, as many of those arrested are educated or professionals.

But economic success has not brought social integration and may have contributed to the resentment felt towards Muslims by Europeans opposed to integration.

The older generation of Moroccan Muslims, for example, have retained their ties with Morocco and “are strangers in this country,” says a senior Dutch official. This has led to their children feeling rootless and has encouraged them to search for a new identity based on faith rather than nationality.

Despite the ambitions of the extremists, however, government policies are widely seen as capable of influencing the outcome of the security threat in Europe.

“Ideology on its own does not make a radical. Ideology provides justification, but the social situation creates the radicalisation,” said Azzam Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London.

The social conditions within countries, as well as the response of governments to the global political issues facing Muslims, are a third factor determining the radicalisation process.

France, the Netherlands and the UK have followed different paths aimed at creating harmony between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. France has demanded that Muslims integrate within society whereas the UK and the Netherlands have followed a more multi-cultural path where differences are celebrated.

All three have experienced the emergence of radicalism. But their ability to confront it as a security issue, without fostering widespread disharmony, has been the major test which some see the Dutch as failing by not being sensitive enough to Muslim concerns.

Mr Tamimi says that the UK counter-terrorism strategy has succeeded in retaining the confidence of the Muslim community in part because there are strong lines of communication between British police and Muslim leaders.

“The fundamental thing that ties all this together is a theological position, linked to a belief that violence is the way forward. That is the contribution that Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda has made to the wider radical movement,” said a senior UK security official.



© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.