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


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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