Has the British approach towards Islamists failed?

Europeans were fooled into thinking that Muslim Brotherhood affiliated groups represent a tamer version of Islamism.

Preventing terror. People hold hands on Westminster Bridge during an event to mark one week since the terrorist attack in London, on March 29th. (Reuters)

2017/04/02 Issue: 100 Page: 18

The Arab Weekly
Claude Salhani

The effects of the deadly attack in Westminster extend beyond the immediate loss of life. When 52-year-old Khalid Masood killed four and injured many others in an attack outside Britain’s House of Parliament, he shattered the United Kingdom’s hopes of avoiding the level of violent Islamist extremism that has been inflicted on the Euro­pean community in the past decade.

The bombings on the London transit system in July 2005 had been fading in the public memory and, as Britain’s Muslim popula­tion grew, the country hoped to avoid the fate of other European countries by granting its growing Muslim population a degree of autonomy. As a result, entire neighbourhoods were ceded to Islamists. This was the case in Birmingham’s Small Heath, where more than 95% of the population is Muslim.

Britain even allowed Islamists to govern themselves to a certain extent, granting the establish­ment of partial sharia courts in some areas. This strategy stands in stark contrast to that of the French and Germans, who attempted to integrate their Muslim populations without allowing religious governance.

So, if neither the French/ German model of dealing with radical Islamists nor the British method of appeasing them was successful, which model should the Europeans turn to for protec­tion? What measures should they adopt? How can they maintain the democratic principles that make up the very fabric of Europe? Stricter border control is not a definite solution. After all, Masood turned out to be a recent British convert to Islam.

The real threat to Europe, and ultimately the United States, does not stem from terrorists attempting to cross the border at irregular crossing points. The danger lies in the countries’ prisons and jails, where recruit­ers have a captive audience that is more than willing to listen and pledge allegiance once its members are released.

“It is in prison cells across the globe, future recruits were exposed to the ideology that later drew them to jihad,” said a report from the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics, a London-based think-tank.

In fact, institutions housing Islamic prisoners have shown to be prime areas for the radicalisa­tion and recruitment of jihadists.

“Most jihadi careers include time in prison,” the centre’s report stated, adding that 65% of its sample of jihadis spent time in prison during their careers but only 25% of those were known to have committed crimes or served sentences before becoming jihadis.

Over the years, Europeans have been fooled into thinking that Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups represent a tamer version of Islamism. This has led to a dangerous road of appeasement. In Britain, which allowed the limited functioning of sharia courts to appease radicals, this was a major failure.

Gilles Kepel, a professor of political studies at the Paris Institute of Political Studies who specialises in the Islamic and con­temporary Arab world, explained to Le Figaro that such a mentality was reflected in the election of London’s first Muslim mayor.

Some in Britain’s political class hoped that the election of Sadiq Khan, who was reportedly close to the Muslim Brotherhood earlier in his life, would prevent terrorists from striking the city, rendering it immune to the threat posed by Islamists. The truth, however, is that Khan is despised by Islamists, who regard him as a traitor.

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.

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