Understanding IslamismA Policy Exchange Project
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.
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.”
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.