The Magazine

Jihad Made In Europe

From the July 25, 2005 issue: There may be more to fear from a mosque in Leeds than a madrassa in the Middle East.

Jul 25, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 42 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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THE JULY SUICIDE BOMBINGS IN London--some or all of whose perpetrators were Muslims born and reared in Britain--are likely to produce in the United Kingdom the same intellectual reflection on Muslim identity in Europe that is already underway in nearby countries. The French began this reflection in earnest ten years ago, after bomb-happy, lycée-educated, French-born Islamic holy warriors terrorized France. The Spanish began it after their own train bombings in March 2004, and the Dutch after the brutal slaying of the film director Theo van Gogh by a Muslim militant in November 2004. Quite likely the British will reach the same conclusion the French already have, to wit: Islamic terrorism on European soil has its roots in the Middle East. "British Islam"--the behavior and spiritual practice of Muslims in the United Kingdom--it will be said, is by and large a progressive force standing against pernicious and retrograde ideas emanating from the Middle East. There are big problems of acculturation at home in mother England, all will confess, but the holy-warrior mentality is imported.

This view, however, may turn out to be dead wrong. What was once unquestionably an import has gone native, mutated, and grown. Some of what the Europeans are now confronting--and for the United States this is very bad news--is probably a locally generated Islamic militancy that is as retrograde and virulent as anything encountered in the Middle East. "European Islam" appears to be an increasingly radicalizing force intellectually and in practice. The much-anticipated Muslim moderates of Europe--the folks French scholar Gilles Kepel believes will produce "extraordinary progress in civilization," a new "Andalusia" (the classical Arabic word for Moorish Spain) that will save us from Osama bin Laden's jihad--have so far not developed with the same gusto as the Muslim activists who have dominated too many mosques in "Londonistan" and elsewhere in Europe. Moderates surely represent the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Europe, but like their post-Christian European counterparts, they usually express their moderation in detachment from religious affairs.

Though Europeans often fail to see it, the secularization of the Muslims living in their midst has been, by and large, a great success. It explains why Muslim activists gain so much attention, be they arch-conservatives, like the devotees of the Tabligh movement in Britain and on the continent who espouse segregation in Europe, or "progressives," like the Switzerland-based intellectual Tariq Ramadan, who refuses forthrightly to declare the Muslim Holy Law null and void as a political testament for Muslims in a European democracy. The moderates have abandoned the field. They have become European. The militants, who perhaps should be seen as deviants from a largely successful process of secularization, are the only ones left ardently praying.

For organizations like al Qaeda, this may mean that the future will be decisively European. From its earliest days, al Qaeda viewed Europe as an important launching platform for attacks against the United States and its interests. Now, Western counterterrorist forces, which have traditionally tried to track Middle Eastern missionaries in Europe, would be well advised to start searching for radical European Muslim missionaries in the Middle East and elsewhere. Some Europeans--and they are mostly French--have seen the future. Always ahead of his time, the French scholar Olivier Roy has written:

When we consider the [Islamic] movements that embrace violence, we can see that they are not expressions of an outburst in the West of the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict in the Middle East. Most of the young Muslims radicalize in the West: They are "born-again Muslims." It's here that they are Islamicized. Almost all separate from their families and many have marriages with non-Muslims. Their dispute with the world isn't imported from the Middle East: It is truly modern, aimed against American imperialism, capitalism, etc. In other words, they occupy the same space that the proletarian left had thirty years ago, that Action Directe had twenty years ago. . . . They exist in a militant reality abandoned by the extreme left, where the young live only to destroy the system. . . . [This radicalization] isn't at all the consequence of a "clash of civilizations," that is to say, the importation of intellectual frameworks coming from the Middle East. This militant evolution is happening, in situ, on our territory. It partakes henceforth of the internal history of the West.