Understanding IslamismA Policy Exchange Project
On 5 January, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the Swiss German-language paper of record, offered a valuable review of the long running argument between two distinguished, French academic observers of Islam and Islamisms, Gilles Kepel and Olivier Roy. The title of the article reads, “Where does jihadi terror originate? What is the place of Islam in Europe? A French debate that concerns the whole of Europe.” As NZZ describes, the dispute between Kepel and Roy might be described in the following (simplified) way: Kepel believes the problem is the radicalisation of Islam; Roy that it is the Islamisation of violent radicalism. Kepel emphasises the enabling ideology of an evolving Islamism, Roy the discontents arising from exclusion, economic inequity, conflict and so forth. Kepel speaks Arabic, studied in Damascus and Cairo and is an area specialist and political scientist by training, Roy came to the subject through his sociological research in Afghanistan. This explains some of the differences in their approach. As the NZZ suggests, there may be something in the approach of both men. But (the article goes on to say) a more accurate understanding of the issues should matter to all of us. And the piece offers another example of the way this topic is now a matter for public debate in Europe.
The UK’s Charity Commission has issued a press release on Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) concerning its investigation into that organisation, following allegations of anti-Semitism involving several members of IRW’s leadership. Officially registered to an address in Birmingham, but operating throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, IRW has faced a number of recent allegations of having links to the Muslim Brotherhood, and of members of its leadership promoting anti-Semitism, and of having “glorified terrorist attacks on Israel”. In its press release, the Charity Commission stated that individuals from IRW’s leadership had made social media posts, “which ran contrary to the charity’s code of conduct and fell far below the standard the public expect of charity trustees and staff.” However, the Charity Commission further stated:
On 23 January, the Palestinian Forum in Britain is hosting an online event to mark “Arab Communities Day” 2021. Among the invited speakers is the Jordanian academic and Muslim Brotherhood figure, Dr. Ahmad Nawful (also spelt Nawfal, Noufal, Nofal).
Nawful, a professor of Islamic law at Jordan University, was banned by the Home Secretary (Theresa May) from entering the UK in 2011. He has a long record of extremist comments.
In 2008, Nawful endorsed a fatwa issued by Sheikh Faysal Mawlawi, then vice president of the European Council for Fatwa and Research (established and headed by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi), which explained why it would be legitimate to kill Israeli civilians.
According to the Islamist website, 5 pillars, a number of UK-based organisations were amongst those who submitted a complaint to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, over the French Government’s recent steps to try and combat what it calls Islamist “separatism”.
Yahya Cholil Staquf, the General Secretary of the Nahdlatul Ulama in Indonesia, has published an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, calling on Muslims to challenge extremism within their midst. “How to Make the Islamic World Less Radical” argues that: “Nearly a generation after 9/11, the world has made little progress in freeing itself from the threat of radical Islam.”
The new Dokumentationsstelle politische Islam (Centre for the Study of Political Islam), established in Vienna in late 2020 by the Austrian government, has produced its first paper: Political Islam as a Subject of Academic Analysis and the Example of the Muslim Brotherhood by Dr Mouhanad Khorchide and Dr Lorenzo Vidino. It is designed to establish the scope of the Centre’s engagement with the subject, resolve some key definitional issues and set the scene for further studies. It complements Policy Exchange’s own papers which launched the Understanding Islamism project in December, as well as our more recent paper on Political Islamism in Austria.
Political Islam as a Subject of Academic Analysis is divided into two parts, the first of which deals with definitional issues in regard to Political Islam (the authors’ preferred term) in general; the second with the specific case of the Muslim Brotherhood. It offers important insight into the evolution of the Brotherhood’s networks in Europe, and particularly in Austria.
The US State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, has issued a statement in which it “condemns the well-documented record of anti-Semitic attitudes and remarks made by the senior leadership of Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW).” The Statement, which reviewed last year’s controversies surrounding the social media posts of two former trustees of IRW, added that the “consistent pattern of spreading the most vile anti-Semitic vitriol by IRW’s leadership causes us to question the core values of the organization”. The IRW had itself previously stated that it was shocked by “the anti western and anti Israel” content of the posts in question; it has also denied any links to Islamism.
Islamism continues to be a subject of much public discussion in Germany. On Monday, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published an interesting article under the title “The European Mission of Political Islam”. “Legalistic Islam” said this piece “is on the march in Germany. Its entry point is education. Its goal the establishment of a theocracy by peaceful means.”
In November, the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars, the Kingdom’s highest religious body, published a significant communiqué condemning the Muslim Brotherhood. The Council described the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group that does not represent the true values of Islam; it further labelled it a deviant group which undermines coexistence within nations, and stirs up sedition [fitnah], violence and terrorism. The Saudi Council also claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood had a history of promoting extremism and terrorism — adding that the Society had inspired the formation of many extremist and terrorist groups that had been responsible for atrocities worldwide.
In September 2020, it was announced that the UK-based Ibrahim Mounir had been appointed as the acting General Guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (EMB) – the most senior figure in the organisation. In the month following the announcement, the Qatari Arabi21 Arabic language portal reported that Mounir had addressed a letter to President Emmanuel Macron, in which he denounced the latter’s suggestion that Islam is in crisis. Mounir further claimed that Macron had been wrong to identify the Brotherhood with isolationism, radicalism and puritanism. And he objected to Macron’s assertion that the Muslim Brotherhood used religion for political ends, was attempting to establish a parallel order, or rejected the French republic.