In the following days, the Western society will engage in a discussion on how to respond to the series of terrorist attacks which took place on Friday in Paris and were carried out by the Islamic State. The right course of action is not the deployment of ground troops against ISIS, but a consistent political pressure on the Islamic ideology in Europe.
Attacks in Paris were, among other things, a retaliation of ISIS on the French bombings in the Middle East. However, France and Western countries should not counter-react by the involvement of ground troops against ISIS, as some politicians have already suggested. The main reason for non-military action is not underpinned by a worry that Western countries would provoke the Islamists even more or that Western countries do not want to participate in global military confrontation, but it is based on the concept that any ground military intervention and subsequent sustainability of peace in the Middle East would be too fragile and our main problem is in Europe and not overseas.
The main priority must be a strong action against Islamism on the continent. European countries will have to further increase the number of police officers, intelligence officers and other members of security forces in order to stop more attacks from happening. Consistent control over European territory and people is necessary with regard to the growing uncertainty and fear among European society. If governments are not capable of ensuring security, it is not unlikely that the citizens will soon take the law into their own hands which could result in attacks on Muslims and mosques. This must be avoided and prevented.
Although the quality and quantity of security forces is increasing, they fail to address the causes of jihadist attacks. Therefore the forces will never be able to prevent all the attacks. The strategic problem is not the existence of particular terrorist organizations. They can be fought against by the police on the EU territory or by the military overseas. The fundamental problem is the fact that the Islamic ideology is spreading freely across Europe, thus the defeat of one terrorist group will give rise to a new one.
A fundamental problem of European governments is a very inconsistent approach to Islamism as a political ideology. It is a well-known fact that thousands of foreign fighters (Europol estimates up to 10,000) and hundreds of jihadists have a safe haven inside the Muslim population, much of which is anti-democratic and often expresses anti-Western attitudes (various surveys claim that up to half of Muslims in the EU). Islamism displays characteristics of an ideological movement and the number of its supporters continues to grow. A New ISIS video urges European Islamists who are unable to travel to Syria to fight the infidels in Europe: “Poison the water and food of at least one of the enemies of Allah.”
European leaders must be able to precisely and decisively distinguish Islam as a religion containing the freedom of religion from Islamism as a hateful ideology introducing principles that are not in an agreement with democratic rule of law in Europe. Manifestations of extremism, including the hatred against those who are not “true Muslims”, the hatred of Jews or homosexuals, the enforcement of unequal status of women, or the approval of brutal punishments according to radical interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, have to be not only rejected, but also prevented from spreading and the prosecution of its advocates must be conducted. This could be achieved by a consistent approach to the current legislation.
Working hand in hand with European political leaders, the representatives and members of the Muslim communities in the EU must reject Islamism as well. They have to introduce to European Muslims a form of Islam that is compatible with constitutions and values of European countries. The role of government will include constant monitoring of the whole process. A strong action against radical imams, which has already been conducted in the United Kingdom, and generally firmer supervision over mosques or Muslim organizations and associations is required.
Moreover, it is necessary to prevent foreign influence on European Muslims, not only from the territory controlled by the Islamic state, but especially from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are sources of Salafism and other radical forms of Islamism. Key aspect in this course of action is going to be the financing ban of European Muslim organizations and activities from abroad. This approach was adopted by Austria where politicians introduced an Islam Law known as Islamgesetz, according to which an education at the State University of Vienna will be compulsory for imams. It will ensure their respect for European values and liberal-democratic constitutions.
In terms of fighting the ISIS, the Western countries should adopt the policy of containment, meaning that in the entire region of North Africa and the Middle East local secular regimes have to take responsibility for action. European countries have to offer military, economic and political support to other counties in this region, namely Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon in fighting the ISIS, spread of Islamism and care for refugees. However, the priority is to stop the spreading of Islamism and jihadism among Europeans.
This is a translation of an article published 19.11.2015 on respekt.cz.
Radko Hokovský is the Executive Director of the European Values Think-Tank.