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Tough response to Islamist threat must not end with words

In the following days, Western society will engage in a discussion about the appropriate reaction to the Friday’s Paris attacks that IS claimed responsibility for. Ground invasion against IS is not going to be the right answer, but consistent political fight against Islamist ideology in Europe will.

Paris attacks were, among others, also a reaction on French bombing of IS positions in the Middle East. However, both the West and France should not respond with ground invasion against IS as some politicians already suggested. Not because we would be afraid to provoke Islamists any further or because we wouldn’t want to accept their logic of global armed confrontation. But because any ground intervention and subsequent sustainability of peace in the Middle East is too uncertain and our main problem lies at home, not overseas.

Tough action against Islamism in Europe must be put on the top of the list. European countries will have to continue to increase the number of police officers, intelligence workers and other members of the security forces to be able to prevent as many attacks as possible. It is necessary to ensure consistent control over the European territory and its people considering the increasing insecurity and fear in the European society. Should the citizens gain the impression that the government is not capable of ensuring order and security, we will soon witness efforts of citizens to take security matters into their own hands, which can lead to retaliatory attacks on Muslims and mosques. This must be avoided and prevented.

Nevertheless, not even increased capacity and quality of security forces will prevent all jihadist attacks, since it is not addressing the root causes. The existence of individual terrorist organizations is not a strategic problem that could be solved by police actions in the EU or by military actions overseas. The fact that Islamist ideology is spreading through Europe without any restraints is the fundamental problem which enables the terrorist groups to recover easily from defeat or injury by creating another one.

The major mistake of European governments is the inconsistent approach to Islamism as a political ideology. We have known for a long time that foreign fighters (Europol estimates their number on up to 10,000) and hundreds of jihadists have a safe haven inside the Muslim population, large part of which shows illiberal, antidemocratic and anti-Western tendencies (this applies to up to a half of the Muslim population in the EU, according to various surveys). Islamism has the characteristics of an ideological movement, and the pool of its supporters continues to grow thanks to its mobilisation potential. European Islamists are now targeted in the latest IS video, which urges all those who can not go to Syria to fight the infidels in Europe. “Poison the water and food of at least one of the enemies of Allah,” these are the specific instructions.

European leaders must be able to strictly distinguish Islam as a religion to which applies the freedom of religion, and Islamism as a hateful ideology set to introduce practices inconsistent with the principles of democratic rule of law and as such unwelcome in Europe. These practices may include incitement to hatred towards those who are not “true Muslims”, hatred towards Jews and homosexuals, defence and implementation of unequal status of women, or approving attitude concerning brutal punishments enshrined in the radical interpretations of the Islamic Sharia law. It’s not enough to simply reject these manifestations of extremism, it is also necessary to stop their spreading and to punish the promoters. To achieve that, it would be sufficient to consistently apply the existing legislation.

Representatives and members of Muslim communities in the EU must decline Islamism along with European leaders. Their responsibility is to offer European Muslims a form of Islam that would be compatible with our constitutions and values. And it is the responsibility of governments to make sure they really do. This requires adoption of tough measures against radical imams as shown by the example of the UK, and a generally more strict control over the mosques and Muslim organizations and associations.

Moreover, it is necessary to prevent foreign influence on European Muslims coming not only from the territory controlled by the IS, but also from Saudi Arabia and Quatar, countries behind the spread of the Salafi movement and other dangerous forms of Islamism. Ban on funding of European Muslim organizations and activities carried out from abroad is going to be crucial in this respect; Austria has already introduced this ban and adopted a separate Islam law called Islamgesetz. It stipulates inter alia that Austrian imams must take compulsory courses on the State University of Vienna that should ensure their respect for European values and liberal-democratic constitutions.

As for the IS itself, Western nations should adopt the strategy of containment. Local secular regimes must be the key players in the fight against the positions of IS and its sprouts in the entire region of North Africa and the Middle East. European states must help the neighbouring countries, notably Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, by providing military, political, and economical support in the fight against the IS, against the spread of Islamism, and also in the care for refugees from the affected areas. For Europe, the priority remains to be prevention of spill-over of Islamism and Jihadism among European citizens.

This is a translation of an article published  18. 11. 2015 in Lidové noviny.

Radko Hokovský is the Executive Director of the European Values Think-Tank.

Jakub Janda is the Deputy Executive Director of the European Values Think-Tank.