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The German debate on Islamism continues, as demonstrated by the publication yesterday (Sunday 7 February) by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of an interesting interview with Lorenzo Vidino, the author of The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West and other books and articles about Islamism in Europe and the United States. Vidino is also the Director of the Extremism Programme at George Washington University, and an adviser to the Observatory on Political Islam recently established in Vienna. The interview was conducted by Christian Meier and the main focus was the nature and influence of Islamist groups in western societies – and the challenge these represent.
The Swiss German-language newspaper of record, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, carried an interview on 5 February with Alice Schwarzer, one of the the most prominent feminist activists in Europe over the last 50 years, a former student of Michel Foucault and an associate of Sartre and Beauvoir. The interview concerns the proposed ban on the face covering for women (the niqab or burqa), which will be decided in a referendum on 7 March. The Federal Government has recommended rejecting the proposal. Schwarzer argues passionately that it should be accepted. Her arguments are based on claims about human dignity, the equal worth of women, the way in which the veil in general is a reflection of the subordination of women to men in Islamic jurisprudence, and the use by Islamists of this jurisprudence to promote Islamist-inflected norms within Muslim communities in Switzerland and in Europe more widely.
The International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) criticises French government for interfering in Islamic affairs
On 24 January, the London based Al-Quds Al-Arabi published a report about a communiqué issued by the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS). In this communiqué, the IUMS’s Secretary-General Ali Al-Qara Daghi called on the French government to stop interfering in Islamic affairs and to treat Islam like any other religion.
On 14 January 2021, Dominic Grieve published the report of his Independent Commission into Governance and Vetting within Islamic Relief. This body had been set up four months earlier after Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) had been exposed to “reputational damage” because of “the unacceptable comments and views of a small number of trustees and a member of its senior staff”. As described previously on this blog, the controversies surrounding Islamic relief had led a number of governments, including the United States, to reconsider their relations with the group.
The distinguished Algerian novelist, essayist and journalist, Kamel Daoud, has written in Le Monde (29 January 2021) an article under the title, “France has what it takes to shape the future of Islam”. He compares the situation in France favourably with that in Muslim-majority states. The former, he says, has shown a willingness to bring into the open key issues about a Muslim crisis of identity, and the challenges of dealing with domestic terrorism; he sees in Paris a government which is trying to come to terms with its colonial past. By contrast, in many Muslim-majority states he sees only the suppression of freedom of thought and expression. According to Daoud, this opens up the possibility – through a mixture of negotiation and pressure – of creating a specifically French and republican Islam and providing a model for other countries facing the same challenge. He calls on French Muslim leaders to give priority to the human not the divine; to support freedom of conscience; and to show that it is possible to live one’s faith without impinging on the lives, or rights, of others.
On 21 January the French Centrist weekly, L’Express, published a long and trenchant interview with Bernard Rougier, the university professor and Middle East specialist, on the occasion of a new and expanded edition of his 2020 book, Les territoires conquis de l’islamisme (“The Territories Conquered by Islamism”). The interview covers the major themes of the book – notably its claim that Islamists have created in France (and by extension elsewhere) a social space dominated by Islamist ideology which enables them to act as gatekeepers to sometimes widely separated Muslim communities. Rougier argues that they are to some extent facilitated in this endeavour by a State that increasingly seems to model its interaction with such communities on “an Ottoman or Lebanese model” of consociationalism. Rougier believes that this is fundamentally destructive of France’s republican and secular tradition. He also thinks that it enables Islamists to blur the important distinction between Islamism as an ideology and Islam as a faith system, a sociology and a civilisation.
The Danish public broadcaster, TV2 reports an interview given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Integration, Mattias Tesfaye (Social Democrats) to Jyllands-Posten, in which he claimed that “a large part of Islam today is represented by Islamists”. Tesfaye pledged that he would try to curb Islamism in Denmark with a number of laws – perhaps an indication of his desire to emulate recent moves in Austria and France. In the interview, Tesfaye also went on to discuss his Government’s ongoing efforts to reduce immigration levels and the challenges of social cohesion. His remarks were criticised by members of other parties including the Enhedslisten (Unity List) and De Radikale (Radicals).
A November 2020 edition (no. 1101) of the Muslim Brotherhood’s, UK-based weekly Arabic newsletter, Risalat al-Ikhwan, drew attention to a report produced by the Europal Forum, which discusses the controversies surrounding antisemitism in the Labour Party.
Europal Forum describes itself as “an independent and non-party political organisation based in London, working to build networks throughout Europe in support of the promotion and realisation of Palestinian rights.” The Dutch former intelligence analyst, Ronald Sandee, and Steven Merley, an investigative expert on Islamist networks, have both identified Europal as aligned ideologically with the Muslim Brotherhood.
COMMENTARY: William Shawcross must put fight against non-violent extremist ideology at the heart of what Prevent does
The announcement that William Shawcross will lead the independent review of Prevent – the Government’s counter-radicalisation programme – is welcome news to all who care about the issues of extremism and radicalisation. His record of standing robustly against the extremist misuse of the charitable sector, during his stint as Chair of the Charity Commission, suggests he is an excellent choice for the job. By appointing Shawcross (a Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange, as I am), the Government has indicated the seriousness with which it takes this issue.
The Islamist political party Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT) remains active in the UK. In late 2020, HuT Britain reported that it had held “an international online conference on The Return of the Islamic World Order.”
According to the report on this gathering published by HuT, “Speakers showed how the secular capitalist world is incapable of providing coherent solutions for humanity and in fact, lies at the heart of most of the suffering in the world today.”