Editor’s note: The Australian Prayer Network office is closed to allow staff to undertake major prayer assignments in restricted nations. This abridged newsletter was prepared prior to their departure for overseas and may therefore not contain up to date information. Full newsletter service will resume from 29 September.
EUROPEAN ISLAMISM: WHY JIHAD IS NOT AS BIG A THREAT AS CREEPING PARTICIPATION
There are increasing fears that European-born young men who go to Syria will get caught up in the fight of radical Islamic extremists to establish an Islamic Sharia-based state across Syria and Iraq, and then return to their own countries to try to do the same. A British man told the BBC he’d been fighting with the Al Nusra front, and would not return until the ‘black flag of Islam’ flies over Buckingham Palace. In April 2014 Tony Blair urged the West to set aside its differences with Russia and China to focus on the growing threat from radical Islam. Blair said tackling “a radicalized and politicized view of Islam” should be at the top of the global political agenda.
The former British prime minister did that in the context of his reflections on the action of Egypt’s military government against its Muslim Brotherhood opponents. According to Blair, “the Muslim Brotherhood government was systematically taking over the traditions and institutions of the country.” Just before Blair’s speech news about the alleged plot to Islamise British schools in Birmingham caught the headlines in the UK. Here too radical Islamist expressions of Islam seemed to be involved in taking over “traditions and institutions of the country”. Today estimates put the number of Muslims living in Europe at about 44 million – no official data is available, but almost all European countries host a Muslim minority.
The vast majority of Muslims are responsible citizens. But it is important for Western governments to understand that Islam has a radical face called ‘political Islam’- that is not homogeneous but has both violent as well as non-violent expressions, and that in fact it’s the Non-violent faces of political Islam that are the most dangerous for their societies. A crucial factor generating tensions in the West is the presence of ‘political Islam’, in all of its different manifestations, within Muslim communities. Islamism can be defined as “political theory and practice that has as its goal the establishment of an Islamic political order in the sense of a state whose governmental principles, institutions and legal system derive directly from the sharia.”
Analysts often equate such Islamists with ‘jihadists’, and do not distinguish between violent and non-violent strands. In his study of the spread of Islamism (or ‘political Islam’) in Europe, Lorenzo Vidino (an academic and security expert who specialises in Islamism and political violence in Europe and North America, a Policy Adviser at the European Foundation for Democracy) talks about Islamism as an “extremely diverse and ever evolving political movement”. According to Vidino, “There are basically three categories of Islamists: violent rejectionists [in his paper he uses ‘jihadists’], non-violent rejectionists and participationists.”
Each of these components of political Islam has a different structure, and modus operandi. Each presents a different kind of challenge to Europe. Europeans are finally paying attention to the jihadist threat, and have begun to devise new solutions to contain it. This is not least due to the fact that “home grown” Jihadists are fighting in the hundreds in Syria and -provided they survive – come back radicalized. However Europeans still have only a limited understanding of the other two segments of the movement. “Violent rejectionists, often referred to as jihadists, are individuals and networks that, often linked to or inspired by al Qaeda, reject participation in the democratic system and use violence to advance their goals,” says Vidino.
Violent rejectionists are usually the main targets of European counter-radicalization programs. According to Vidino, “Non-violent rejectionists are individuals and groups such as Salafists and Hizb ut-Tahrir which openly reject the legitimacy of any system of government not based on Islamic law, but do not, at least publicly and openly, advocate the use of violence to further their goals.” “Salafism preaches a return to a mythical Islamic golden era that can only be obtained by referring to the only unadulterated sources: the Quran and the hadith. Salafism is “not only scripturalist but also literalist,” arguing that Muslims should behave exactly how the pious forefathers of Islam behaved, according to these sources,” writes Vidino.
“Most refute violence, at least in Europe, but some do not and are better categorized as violent rejectionists—the lines are in some cases blurred. Salafism has been able to attract a growing number of European Muslims through its claims of simplicity, meaning and moral superiority,” Vidino adds. In the Birmingham schools, recruitment of Salafist parents onto committees was shown as one strategy used. Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) “officially aims at disseminating its ideology and challenging the existing status quo without resorting to violence,” according to Vidino. As with Slafism the lines are however blurred. Vidino says, HT’s “rhetoric is sophisticated and skilfully tailored to the ears of Western Muslims.
Members of HT tend to be highly educated young professionals who are second-generation Muslim immigrants in Europe. Vidino sees “at the bottom of the Islamist pyramid the most significant component of political Islam in Europe are the Muslim Brotherhood and other ‘participationist’ Islamic Movements.” “Participationists are individuals and groups which advocates interaction with society at large, both through grassroots activism, and participation in public life and the democratic process,” explains Vidino. “Unlike rejectionists such organizations have made a conscious decision to avoid unnecessary confrontation and have instead opted for a clever and flexible policy of engagement with the European establishment.”
The characteristics of this ‘participationist’ role are, according to Vidino, “precisely outlined in the seminal book Priorities of the Islamic Movement in the Coming Phase, published in 1990 by the top Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Qaradawi devotes a large section of his book to the presence of Muslim minorities in Western countries and the unprecedented opportunity that this phenomenon may represent for the Islamic Movement, which, in Qaradawi’s words, can “play the role of the missing leadership of the Muslim Nation with all its trends and groups” in giding and shaping the minds of Muslim immigrants living in the West.”
Vidino observes, “Qaradawi has a simple recipe for how the Islamic Movement can become the guide of Muslim communities in the West: “Try to have your own small society within the larger society,” says Qaradawi. The Egyptian cleric advocates the creation of a web of Islamic centres, think tanks, magazines, mosques, and conferences so that the Islamic Movement can spread its politicized version of Islam among Western Muslims. At the same time, Qaradawi advocates moderaon and relative openness when dealing with non-Muslims. At least in these early stages, he writes, confrontation can only damage the movement, whereas displaying a moderate façade will allow the Brothers to operate under the radar screen.”
According to Vidino, “A second goal common to all European Brotherhood organizations is the designation as official or de facto representatives of the Muslim community of their country. Becoming the preferred—if not the exclusive—partners of European governments and elites would serve various purposes. One, publicly and proudly declared by the Brothers, is to positively contribute to the future of European society. Highlighting common values, the Brothers, in fact, present themselves as a moderate force encouraging Muslims to simultaneously participate in society and spread their Islamic principles, which, ultimately, benefit everybody.”
Vidino concludes, “by leveraging such a relationship, in fact, the Brothers aim at being entrusted by European governments with administering all aspects of Muslim life in each country. They would, ideally, become those whom governments task with preparing the curricula and selecting the teachers for Islamic education in public schools, appointing imams in public institutions such as the military, the police or the prison service, and receiving subsidies to administer various social services.”
This brings us back to the Birmingham schools. The five-pronged strategy presented in the leaked document describing “Operation Trojan Horse” reflects Qaradawi’s vision for the spread of the Islamic Movement in the West. It is the archetype of the participationist strategy. Educational institutions are gradually infiltrated, and taken over. There is no outbreak of violence; the key is intense pressure. This is the non-violent face of political Islam. Creating a culture of fear and intimidation in schools, marginalizing teachers out of their jobs, leading children at a supposedly non-religious primary school in anti-Christian chanting, cancelling normal Christmas activity. All this could be considered hidden ‘violence’ too.
The document “Operation Trojan Horse” shows the participationists could tap into the pool of Salafi parents. These parents are not likely to commit direct violent actions but they could be prone to strong radicalization of their religious goals. Western governments have to understand that the events in Birmingham are very typical of the way Islam is expanding in the West. Political Islam is gradually expanding its territory by radicalizing moderate Islamic expressions, by the proliferation of mosques and by taking over “traditions and institutions”. Rare incidents of physical violence give participationists the possibility to side with the government against the ‘bad guys’ while proclaiming themselves the ‘good guys’.
The effect is a vicious circle of appeasement policies by the local authorities that facilitates the further spread of political Islam, and leaves the non-Muslim population defenceless or otherwise provokes an unwelcome ‘far right’ sentiment in society. It follows that Western governments have to reflect well on their limits in respect to the manifestations of political Islam. The culture of ‘appeasement’ makes their citizens and societies vulnerable to manipulation by Islamists for the sake of furthering their Islamic supremacy in the West. In the end this could be devastating for Western societies. Serious public debate and strict government policies are indispensable to turn the tide of Islamist expansion.
I AM PRO-LIFE BECAUSE OF THE RADICAL IDEA UNBORN BABIES ARE PEOPLE
The winner of this year’s National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) speech contest is 9th grader Rosalia Palumbo. Read her winning entry below, posted on the NRLC website, and you’ll quickly realize why judges awarded her the prize:
“Why am I pro-life? I have never asked myself that question, I just knew I was. Before I answer it, I should define what being “pro-life” means to me. Being pro-life is protecting life, the lives of innocent, defenceless unborn babies, and the sometimes dependent, and yet invaluable, lives of the elderly. It means standing up for that third of my generation that is missing because of abortion, pressing the fact that equal rights, the right to life, belongs to the unborn, too.
Acknowledging that all our gifts are from God, and therefore are not burdens we use our freedom of speech to stand up against this modern world which frowns upon pregnant women, using our words of comfort, strengthen to reassure them. Being pro-life is more than just saying so. It is standing up for your beliefs and taking a stand against the injustice of this world, setting our eyes on Heaven, and doing the most good for those who need it. I am pro-life because I believe in equality. I believe all life is equal. From conception to natural death, all life is special. God has a plan for everyone and everything. It is not up to us to decide that because of their stage in life, there is no need or purpose or plan for the unborn.
Selfishly choosing to kill them because of this is wrong, and I will not stand by and watch it happen. Depending on their family and friends does not mean the elderly are unable to do anything. Our selfishness is no reason to end their lives. They can give us knowledge and advice on those obstacles in life when we may think there is no one to help. Most likely they have been there before, and we can learn a lot from their triumphs and mistakes. I am pro-life because I believe a life is a gift from God. I believe that pregnant women and unborn children are priceless in God’s eyes, and shouldn’t be any less in ours. I believe all life is in, and from, God’s hand, and that He is in complete control of when someone’s life ends.
I believe that we have no authority, whatsoever, in this matter. It isn’t up to us to pick and choose who lives and who dies. It is not our place to decide that the unborn are “worthless,” and therefore have no place on earth. If they had no place on earth, God would not give them to us. They are not “worthless,” for God has a plan for each and every one of us, and mercilessly killing the unborn is not part of that plan. I am pro-life because, as it has been defined, pro-life is “The radical idea that the elderly and the unborn are people, too.” I believe, and will stand up and fight for, this truth to be realized by all.