The challenge of jihadist radicalisation in Europe
By Roni Alasor
Brussels, 22 March 2018 - Middle East Diplomatic (MED - A security conference “The challenge of jihadist radicalisation in Europe and beyond” took place on the occasion of the second anniversary of the Brussels terror attacks. Around 150 experts and key speakers attended the 7 hours long conference where over 50 speakers, moderators, panellists and participants took the floor. Among the key speakers were the former President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, Belgian Deputy PM and FM Didier Reynders, Julian King, the EU Commissioner for Security, Saad Amrani from Belgian Federal Police and Pieter Von Ostaeyen, a Belgian expert in the jihadist field. The event was organised by European Policy Centre (EPC) and European Foundation for Democracy (EFD).
Regarding returning of foreign terrorist to Europe, EU Counter Terrorism Coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove estimated earlier that “there are more than 50,000 radical Islamists in Europe, including more than 2,000 in Belgium”. At least 30 percent of those who went via Turkey to Syria and Iraq have already returned back, again mainly via Turkey.
Most of the speakers and experts in the conference focused on the ways to defeat radicalisation of Islam and jihadists. They underlined that it is crucially important to integrate the youngsters from different background in the European societies, to focus on a positive identity, but the identity has many layers and everyone have to respect each other and all of them. The experts and field workers said also that the youth poverty and social exclusion is affecting badly the integration and radicalising youths. For de-radicalisation, the importance of mutual trust, building guidelines based on the specific needs of each country and immigrant communities are as well important. The experts on the ground call to the EU lawmakers to put all these key elements in their agenda to be discussed in the upcoming EU meetings as economical-social and political priorities. The speakers believe that international efforts and cooperation to prevent jihadist radicalisation are important.
About the role of Imams and Koran teachers, “There is an ideology at play. Most imams are incompetent to fight radicalisation in their mosques and teach how to live as a Muslim in our society” told Manwar Ali, a former Islamic radical.
The panellists said that there are countries like Turkey, which are are paying salary of imams and expenses of mosques in order to widen the influence of Islam in Europe. But they also underlined that it is not European countries, which have control over these imams and Koran teachers, but the countries which pay to control all the Islamic activities.
Demir Murat Seyrek, a Turkish analyst said that it is wrong to make differences between violent and non-violent radical islamic organisations. “They share the same kind of ideology and just motivate radicalisation”, without mention directly what is going on right now in Turkey.
According Cherif El Farri, expert with Moroccan origin and leader of a project for de-radicalisation of Arabic youths: “In the Belgian society today, salafism has become mainstream. Radical groups such as Sharia for Belgium have been underestimated for a long time. We need to promote a different narrative”.
Olivier Vanderhaeghen, Prevention Manager from “capital of Daesh” Molenbeek underlined that: “Polarisation of society and identity problems are key factors in the radicalisation of youths, together with spread of conspiracy theories”.
“The defeat of Daesh may be a window of opportunity. We should continue to focus on the social cohesion, which was one of the results of the Brussels Attacks”, pointed out Jessika Soors, policy coordinator for radicalization and polarization in Vilvoorde (Belgium), the commune in Western Europe, which has the highest relative number of foreign fighters, who left for Syria.
Saad Amrani, Policy Advisor in the Belgian Federal Police, said that she wasn`t surprised by the Brussels attacks two years ago: “When I was working on the ground, I had seen many bad signals and a lack of awareness of the risks. Police alone cannot solve the problem of jihadist radicalisation. It is a societal issue, which requires a multidisciplinary approach to be tackled. Since the Brussels attacks we have built a better resilience to terrorist threats in Belgium. Is Brussels more prepared today than it was two years ago? My answer is yes”.
Belgian Deputy PM and FM Didier Reynders underlined the importance of international cooperation: “The fight against terrorism and radicalisation can best be pursued in cooperation with other actors, in the framework of EU, UN and all the other international organisations involved. We need to promote more international cooperation. Belgium remains a strong advocate for the intensification of exchange of information among security services around the world. Risk of resurgence of Daesh remains serious. We have to monitor its presence in the real and virtual world, as well as that of Al-Qaeda in the region. Rebuilding Iraq is key to fight terrorism”.
“Fighting impunity is indispensable, especially given the seriousness of the crimes committed. Belgium has taken a number of steps to guarantee access to justice for the victims. Coalition against Daesh brought an innovative approach which has proven effective. Its members should continue to play a role in Iraq and the rest of the region. Terrorist threat remains very real two year after Brussels Attacks”, added Minister Reynders.
The former President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy affirmed: “The ideology and root causes of radicalisation are still there, they need efforts in Europe and beyond to fight them”.
Pieter Von Ostaeyen, a Belgian expert in the jihadist field was more pessimistic: “I don’t believe in de-radicalisation of people who joined the Daesh community abroad. They won’t be able anymore to come back and live in our society. I am quite pessimistic: I don`t see the Islamic state defeated any time soon, while Al-Qaeda is on the rise again, with a new anti-Western discourse".
Refuse to comment Kurdish efforts against ISIS terror
Speaking in jihadist-security conference regarding ISIS terror, EU Commissioner for Security, Julian King had no comments about 12.000 Kurdish young ladies and men who lost their lives in the war against terror and elimination of ISIS. Over 20.000 Kurds were wounded and handicapped in the fight against radical jihadists since 2014. Commissioner King could also not give any ethical and human answer to what happens today to Kurds in Afrin attacked by islamic terror gangs supported by turkish army. However he said that “prevention is better than cure. But just as creating safe and effective vaccinations for deadly diseases can take decades, so combatting radicalisation in the EU is not a goal which is easily achievable. It is difficult, time-consuming and complex”.