Europe's Counter-Jihad Extremists

A valuable new report (pdf) from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London lays bare a new form of extremism—something it identifies as the “European Counter-Jihad Movement” (ECJM).

Based on fieldwork and interviews with participants, the report sets out four distinguishing characteristics of the ECJM, each of which sets it apart from traditional far-right and fascist organizations and makes it difficult to categorize.

First, the ECJM is focused on a single issue—what it sees as the existential threat to European culture posed by Islam and Muslim immigration. It raises the alarm about a conspiracy to “Islamize” Europe by terror and by stealth, a plot by Muslims centuries in the making, at once radically new yet also reassuringly old. The Islamic wave defeated at the Gates of Vienna in 1683 must now be defeated again, and the ECJM calls us to the ramparts.

Second, the movement claims to reject racial or ethnic nationalism in favour of a cultural nationalism. It defends European culture, not “the white race.” Look at this speech from the leader of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, in which he says he is proud to stand about shoulder to shoulder with “black patriots.”

Third, the focus on European enlightenment values lends the ECJM a veneer of acceptability. It claims to support free speech and equality before the law, railing against radical Islamism as a politics as well as the political left that it says apologizes for, even teams up with, Islamist radicals. The English Defence League (EDL) for example, the most significant group in the ECJM, routinely carries the Israeli flag at demonstrations and claims to defend women’s rights, and even gay rights, from attack by Muslims.

Fourth, the ECJM is slowly creating an international network. Emanating from the UK English Defence League and spreading in Scandinavia, the recently created group “Stop the Islamisation of Nations” (SION), which includes all of the new defence leagues and their allies in America, is a potentially important development.

But is the ECJM really a threat? Should we not just laugh at it?

No, says the ICSR report, and for three reasons.

First, by portraying all Muslims as a threat, the ECJM prepares the ground for social exclusion, dehumanization, and, in time, physical violence. Away from the TV cameras, the rank and file of the ECJM sing songs about burning Mosques. A Sikh leader of the EDL, Guramit Singh, says all Muslims will burn in hell. The paranoid and conspiricist ideology of the ECJM can inspire terrorism like the kind perpetrated by Anders Breivik in Norway two years ago.

Second, groups like the EDL are mainstreaming racism and hatred, by framing it as the honest man’s defense of liberty and human rights. They are also rendering respectable the classic populist attack on another reliable “enemy within,” the liberals and intellectuals who, they say, grease the wheels of the Muslim advance and betray their own country, reviving the “stab in the back” slur. 

Third, the ECJM jeopardizes the social fabric of European societies. We are acutely vulnerable right now to extremism as we thrash around in austerity. The ECJM frames popular concerns about immigration, religion, terrorism, and economic crisis in the polarizing discourse of “the Muslim threat.” It seeks to prepare a civil war of sorts.

Now, as readers of this blog will know, I have written of Islamism (the extremist political ideology) as a serious threat to liberal democratic societies. I have also indicted a tyranny of guilt that has too often led our multiculturalism to a lazy, “anything goes” philosophy. This has often stopped us—to the frustration of many Muslims, note—from exercising judgment and from saying “that’s not the way we do things here.” In short, it created an environment in which, for a time, radical Islamism flourished.

But as we develop a better approach, I have also warned against a certain kind of panic-turned-racism that distracts us from the fight going on within the Muslim community for its future—a fight we should have a great interest in.

We need to understand that there are certain ways of talking about Islam that segue into racism. Too many respectable commentators in the UK and elsewhere treat Islam as timeless, a monolithic system without internal development, diversity, or dialogue, and seem to believe it essentially separate and “other,” lacking any aims or values in common with us democrats, inherently violent and supportive of terrorism. This refusal to see Islam as a faith or a civilization capable of development, but only as an alien political ideology, ironically, mirrors the Islamist narrative, merely substituting a minus sign where Qutb puts a plus sign.

By treating Islam as an exotic, unassimilable and alien threat, something fixed, alien, and threatening to “us,” these writers blur the line between criticism of religious belief and racism. And that will only allow the counter-jihad movement to flourish. 

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