Geopolitics

Europe And ISIS, An Islamic State Within The Old Continent

A policy of war abroad, mixed with tighter border controls at home, won't meet the challenge.

From an ISIS video, a man who appears to be French citizen Maxime Hauchard.
Alfred Raouf

-Essay-

CAIRO — "One day, not long from now, Europe will wake up to a nightmare."

I made this comment to friends during a 2012 visit to Europe. They swiftly dismissed it. Yet just two years later, with supporters of the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS) demonstrating in European streets and European citizens joining the ISIS to fight in Syria and Iraq, it seems that the nightmare has arrived.

What is most dangerous to Europe is not the Islamic State itself, but rather, "the ISIS within." Europe’s governments are at a loss as to how to stop this from happening. Their responses are ineffective, even futile. There are no easy solutions, but Europe must tackle the main roots of the problem: finances, fanatical doctrines controlling the preaching of Islam in Europe, European policies toward the Middle East and immigration.

These issues are complex, and the history, doctrines, and aims of the ISIS — along with some of the main differences in the mindsets of its European supporters — must be grasped if the magnitude of the problem is to be understood.

A resurgent doctrine

The Islamic State’s beliefs are rooted in Wahhabism, a branch of Islam founded in the 19th century that has spawned several branches since then. Its founder, Mohamed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, made an alliance with Mohamed bin Saud to revolt against the Ottoman Empire and establish the first Saudi state, which was to be based on the “true” Islam: the Wahhabi doctrine.

Wahhabism advocates a return to the earliest Islamic fundamentals and regards anything that came after the first three generations of Muslims as unnecessary innovation. That is why Saudi Arabia’s attempts to foster certain modern practices and its administration’s alliance with the U.S. have been considered a betrayal of Wahhabi principles. This perceived betrayal produced al-Qaeda, and later the ISIS.

Islamic modernism developed parallel to Wahhabism, primarily in Egypt’s Al-Azhar, and was pioneered by scholars such as Rifaa al-Tahtawy, Jamal ad-Din al-Afghany and Mohamed Abduh. They tried to integrate Islamic principles with European social theories and advocated a critical reexamination of the classical concepts of Islam, rereading the revival of Islam through a 19th century lens.

Through Al-Azhar, Islamic modernism was dominant in the Muslim world until the 1960s. This changed with the 1973 oil crisis, which quadrupled the price of oil and provided Wahhabism with all the resources it needed to reign and even take over Al-Azhar University. Since then, the Wahhabi movement has spent billions of dollars on printing books and dispatching missionaries, financing scholars all over the Islamic world and beyond. Petrodollars still finance the ISIS today.

Many of the Wahhabi scholars’ texts and explanations went beyond resisting modernity and critical thinking. The views of early scholars such Ibn Taymiyyah and modern ones such as Abul Ala Maududy go beyond the early Islamic teaching of tolerance and introduce a fanaticism based on their own social and political circumstances. For example, Ibn Taymiyyah’s comments that the Druze are infidels and thus "their women can be taken into captivity, and men should be killed wherever they be and cursed as they were described," are still referenced today in the most prestigious Saudi fatwa institution, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s General Presidency of Scholarly Research and Ifta.

In his book, Jihad in Islam, Maududy wrote: "Islam wishes to destroy all states and governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and program of Islam, regardless of the country or the nation which rules it … the objective of the Islamic jihad is to eliminate the rule of an un-Islamic system and establish in its stead an Islamic system of state rule."

One of the main concepts on which the Islamic State’s version of jihad relies is Al-Hakimiyyah, or the "sovereignty of God." In his book Milestones, Sayyid Qutb — one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s most respected scholars, and one that inspired the founders of al-Qaeda — advocates Al-Hakimiyyah, and outlines the milestones and steps for Islamic jihad as a means by which to enforce Sharia.

"To proclaim the authority and sovereignty of God means to eliminate all human kingship," he writes. "The bringing about of the enforcement of the divine law Sharia and the abolition of man-made laws cannot be achieved only through preaching." Qutb goes on to advocate for an offensive Jihad: "This cannot be attained unless both "preaching" and "action" are used."

Not bound by borders

Regarded by Europe as a democratic, moderate political Islamic group, the Muslim Brotherhood operates freely there and has a pivotal role in spreading Islamic preaching, together with these radical concepts, through a well-planned, well-organized, tightly connected network.

In dealing with "the ISIS within," Europe needs to understand that preaching the tolerant teachings of Islam through Wahhabi scholars’ texts and by Wahhabi sheikhs paves the way for the future acceptance of violent, fanatic interpretations.

Western colonialism, Europe’s carving up of the Middle East in the aftermath of both world wars, and the fall of the one united "Islamic State" (the Ottoman caliphate) have left many Muslims feeling powerless, bitter and resentful. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided Ottoman lands between Britain and France in the aftermath of World War I, as well as the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 are two manifestations of this onslaught.

It is very important that Europe understands the role of this history in the popularity of the ISIS. Fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam provides some Muslims with both a sense of power, and a rhetorical and physical means by which to confront the object of their resentment: the West.

Wahhabism considers Islam "a religion and a state": There is no separation, the state must adopt and implement what Islam — more precisely, the Wahhabi version — dictates. Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, preached that the Islamic State incorporates "an Islamic nationalism that is far superior to any local nationalism." This is why today, ISIS does not recognize borders and aims at removing them.

While laws are drafted by the will of the people in Europe, according to Wahhabism, Islamic Sharia is the only law: "Those who rule by secular laws believing that they are more appropriate and propitious than the revealed laws of God are kafirs disbelievers according to the unanimous view of Muslim scholars."

Western post-Enlightenment liberal thought acknowledges that society and its values are in constant development. But according to Wahhabism, society and its values must return and remain confined to the teachings of the 7th century Arabic peninsula.

These differences create conflicts for many European Muslims adopting the Wahhabi doctrine, and are some of the reasons why they endorse the IS and join efforts in establishing the state that Wahhabism preaches. The Islamic State is the perceived answer to the conflicts that they face and struggle with living in Europe. While aspiring to a united large Islamic state can be a legitimate goal, destroying all other states, killings, beheadings and terror are not legitimate means. The problem is that teachings of Wahhabism incorporate both.

A real and present danger

Mopping the floor while leaving the tap running is futile. That is why seizing the European passports of ISIS fighters or trying to rehabilitate them will not solve the problem. Military intervention in Syria and Iraq will not address "the ISIS within," either. If anything, it could provoke the fury of IS supporters in Europe without stopping them from embracing these ideas.

The problem is, at its heart, an idea — a doctrine that is heavily financed with petrodollars and preached in Europe, without much effort to criticize it or control its financing.

Putting all the blame on immigrants is totally missing the point, as well. A considerable number of ethnic Europeans who converted to Islam have also become radicalized and joined the IS. Early Muslim immigrants came to Europe with various versions of Islam — Sufism, Deobandy, Barelwy, to name a few. It was, again, after the 1973 oil crises that their children, second and third generation immigrants, were subjected to the intense Wahhabi missionaries and attracted by their finances.

Most ISIS supporters, thus, are of the younger generation of immigrants. Some are even converts who were extremely radicalized by the Wahhabi doctrine and were recruited for jihad.

Allowing Europe to persist as a breeding ground for the IS endangers the very fabric of European society. Allowing a jihadist to lead an educational institution promoting a radical interpretation of Islam, like in the case of Jermaine W in the Netherlands, or hosting jihadists as political asylum seekers, can only produce future generations of European IS supporters, and will end up backfiring on the European community.

While promoting a tolerance of Islam can help integrate immigrants into the social fabric of their adopted homes, preaching radicalized versions of Islam can have the opposite effect and should not be tolerated. After a mosque managed by radical sheikhs opened in a Norwegian village, the social interaction between ethnic Norwegians and Somalis decreased, and the Somalis became less involved in organized sport and leisure activities. This was because the sheikhs told Somalis who showed signs of integrating into Norwegian society that they were not abiding by Islam, and they were excluded from the Somali community when they did not obey the sheikhs' demands.

While freedom of speech and religious freedoms are values Europe must not give up on, Europe also must not allow these freedoms to be abused and to preach teachings that defy those very liberties. One must never support the freedom to take away the liberties of others.

Finances, freedom to preach radical and fanatical versions of Islam, European policies toward the Middle East, cultural differences among young radicalized European Muslims and the failure to contain and integrate second and third generation immigrants are some of the main roots of this problem. And it is only by addressing these roots, with the help of the moderate Muslim community and Islamic Modernism, that Europe can deal with "the ISIS within."

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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