A Lesson From Europe

A Lesson From Europe

By EVAN CRAFTS | NOVEMBER 13, 2017

In France, Muslims represent only 7.5 percent of the country’s total population, yet they make up anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of the country’s prison population. This is a startling statistic - one that is emblematic of Western Europe’s frustrating approach to Islam. Despite having some of the highest quality of living standards in the world, Western Europe has been unable to meaningfully integrate its sizable Muslim populations. The region’s failure to do this has spawned complex terror networks that represent a far different threat than the independently radicalized Islamic inspired terrorists in the United States.

While the region has become increasingly frustrated over recent terrorist attacks and an out-of-control migration crisis, cracking down on innocent Muslims will only serve to worsen these problems and alienate the vast majority of Muslim immigrants who left their country for a more prosperous life. From the banning of burkinis to the forbidding of students from wearing traditional and religious garments at school, anti-Muslim bias continues to run rampant across Western Europe. One prominent example of such embedded discrimination occurred in the German State of Bavaria. After successfully completing her state law exams, Aqilah Sandhu began a traineeship with the Bavarian judicial system. It was not long after when she was sent an official letter that told her she was forbidden from interrogating witnesses or appearing in courtrooms while wearing her hijab.

Sandhu eventually won a lawsuit she brought against the State, but the impact such a ban had on her is made clear when she told the court “I felt strongly discriminated against. I felt neglected in my training. … I believe in the principle of merit here in Germany, and I think it is a shame that I am being reduced to my outward appearance.”  

Due to cases like these, the United States of America has begun to monitor the actions of Western European countries for signs of any religious discrimination. In an annual report from The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal government commission, went so far as to conclude that these “blatant assaults have become so frightening … that less egregious abuses go unnoticed or at least unappreciated. Many observers have become numb to violations of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.” According to that same report, discriminatory pieces of legislation are passed to outlaw the glorification or defense of terrorism in an attempt to thwart radicalization. More often than not, unfortunately, said legislation has primarily resulted in cases being brought up against “artists, young children, people with developmental disabilities, and drunk people.”

When the government prohibits wearing Islamic traditional dress, mosque building, and reunification of families through immigration law, it is no wonder that the targeted population is left feeling angry. Such policies result in the real paradox, one where “people for whom religion is otherwise not all that important become more attached to their faith’s clothing, symbols, and traditions when they feel they are being singled out and denied basic rights.” Take, for example, the hypocrisy of a secularist state recognizing Easter or Christmas as official holidays but then failing to recognize the equally significant Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha as official holidays. This is the reality of a young Muslim immigrant going to school in France. “It is Islam’s absence in the institutions young European Muslims encounter, starting with the school’s calendar, classroom and canteen, that contributes to [their] anger and alienation.”

The lack of economic opportunity and discrimination that Muslims in Western Europe have experienced have made them easier targets for radicalization, which has led to interconnected Islamic inspired terror networks that plan sophisticated attacks. For example, the Manchester bomber, Salmani Abedi, had several collaborators, serious connections with ISIS, and was part of a larger plot. In May, police arrested eight people in connection with the attack.  Similarly, the Nice truck bomber, who killed 84 people in France, had five accomplices and direct links to ISIL.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the state of Muslim communities in America is very different, and so is the nature of Islamic inspired terror. Islamic immigrants to the United States have tended to be professionals such as doctors and lawyers. With the notable exception of the Somali community in Minnesota, Muslims in the US have assimilated into society and succeeded economically. The success of Islamic immigrants has long been a pivotal defense that the United States has had against terror. While the United States has seen thirteen Islamic inspired terror attacks since 9/11, the nature of these attacks has been very different because Muslims in the United States have opportunity. For example, Omar Mateen, the Orlando nightclub shooter who committed the largest US terror attack since 9/11, lacked many of the resources and connections that are characteristic of the recent European attacks. Mateen was self-radicalized, did not have deep connections with known terrorists or terror groups, and independently pledged his allegiance to Islam.

Mateen was far from alone. The San Bernardino terrorists, who committed the second largest act of terror in the United States since 9/11, were independently radicalized online before the couple even met each other. Even the Boston bombers, who spent time overseas, began their process of radicalization here in America. In fact, as New America reports, of the other eight U.S. based lethal jihadi terrorists since 9/11, three were African-Americans, and one was a white convert from Texas. As a result, there was a degree of self-radicalization or online-radicalization in all of these attacks, as the terrorists lacked deep connections with other terrorists in the United States. Most of the people behind these independent attacks have tended to be people marginalized by society, people with little opportunity for social or economic advancement. As Frontline journalist Katie Worth notes, they are “rarely motivated by politics alone”. They often turn to Islam shortly before their terror attacks as justification for their actions, a way for them to express their anger and frustration over their place in society in a way that allows them to feel internally justified.  

The differences in terror networks in the United States and Western Europe has important policy implications. While it is very difficult to prevent lone wolf attacks, America should work on issues like mental health and gun control which will prevent unstable individuals from having easy access to weapons of destruction. Western Europe, meanwhile, need not be afraid to recognize and accommodate Islamic religious practice, while simultaneously recognizing that doing exactly does not equate to surrendering to fundamentalism. In fact, only by enhancing the democratic rights of Muslim immigrants can European communities meaningfully integrate immigrants and start to remove the root causes of their terror networks.  

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