Council of Europe by Elwood j Blues, source, (CC BY-SA 3.0)
On October 10th, during a plenary session of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, two reports on hot issues were presented. Doris Fiala, a Swiss member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe gave an outline of her report “Regulating foreign funding of Islam in Europe in order to prevent radicalisation and Islamophobia”, while Sahiba Gafarova, an Azeri member of the European Conservatives Group, shared an analysis on radicalisation of migrants and diaspora communities in Europe.
Despite the controversial nature of these subjects, caused by the migration crisis and terrorist attacks Europe experienced in recent years, the debate that followed saw most of its participants agree on principles and accept the conclusions of the two reports.
Transparency and values
“Some states are exploiting religion in order to exert influence on a foreign state”, Doris Fiala warned. She recognised the need to look into political expansion under the cover of islam and the training process of imams, suggesting that foreign funding of islam may lead to development of parallel societies and can prove problematic in general.
However, she reminded the parliamentarians to only act “fully in line with the principles of the Council of Europe” and dubbed an overall ban on foreign funding, which is considered a solution to radicalisation by some, to be “not appropriate” in a democratic society, pointing out that it is disproportionate and not necessary. “If drastic measures were to be taken, then I think all religions would have to be dealt with on an equal footing”, she declared, sharing a belief that “some kind of general suspicion” towards the muslim community could lead to further radicalisation on one hand, and greater islamophobia on the other.
This is why, according to the rapporteur, a good way to combat radicalisation is ensuring more transparency of foreign funding of islam and more regulations in that field.
Profile of a terrorist
Sahiba Gafarova, rapporteur for the Migration Commitee, presenting the second report, initially focused on some factors found to stimulate radicalisation. “The majority of terrorist attacks are carried out by diaspora members”, she recognised, enumerating that terrorists tend to be young, second generation migrants between 16 and 24 years of age, with criminal record and no working experience.
“It is extremely important that politicians do not link the refugee population with the extremist threat”, she therefore warned. On the basis of the report, she confronted some popular misconceptions, like the alleged religious fanatism of the terrorists, stressing that “many of those involved have never read the Quran, nor are they regular visitors to mosques” and later on adding that “radical young people do not have good knowledge of islam” and that “their recruiters present them with a distorted interpretation of islam”.
She insisted instead that one factor that might cause radicalisation is a crisis of identity that the jihadists exploit – “These young people have neither adopted the western secular way of life, nor the muslim identity of their parents (…). Salafi jihadists through extremist ideology give them the impression of finding a new identity”, another factor being lack of economic and social stability since “many migrants live in segregated areas of communities and are surrounded by poverty, social exclusion and dissatisfaction”, as well as discrimination of diaspora members, which makes it harder for them to find employment or obtain housing.
“To prevent the proliferation of radicalisation, European governments should revive their policies towards migrants”, she stated, calling for social inclusion, promotion of mutual understanding and providing proper education. “Children and students should be taught democracy and human rights on an everyday basis, they should learn how to become responsible citizens and how to be actively involved in the social life”, she urged, adding that religious communities also have a role to play, as “providing a thorough knowledge of islam should be a key element of preventing radicalisation” and “the best way to prevent radicalisation is to explore the potential of diaspora communities in working with those who hold radical views and countering these views”. Gafarova highlighted that some countries have had some success with such approach.
Warning of the left-wing
Some more radical voices were present in the debate.
“An awful spectre is haunting Europe again”, Paul Gavan, an Irish member of the United European Left, alerted, “it is not islam, it is fascism”, he claimed, drawing parallels between what happened in Europe 70 years ago and what is, as he sees it, happening now. “The far-right are targeting vulnerable minority groups”, he complained, pointing out the rise of islamophobia. “One of their core hate messages surrounds the foreign funding of muslim groups. Just like before, they are targetting religious minority groups, claiming they are foreign agents and that they don’t belong in this continent” he added, alluding to antisemitism prevalent during the interwar period and pointed out that “islam” in the title of Doris Fiala’s report should have been replaced with “terrorism”.
He also suggested that it might have been actions of the western hemisphere countries that inspired radicalisation of young muslims – “Decades of invasions and attacks by western powers on countries throughout the Middle East, the senseless slaughter of millions of people in wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen that continue to this day were supported by member states in this chamber. Wars of terror, where not just combatants but countless numbers of innocents have lost their lives”, he thundered, signaling that the vast majority of the victims of these wars were muslims and asking sarcastically whether this could “have something to do with the so-called radicalisation of young muslims”.
Most of other speakers, including representatives of conservative groupings, presented stances that predominantly aligned with the rapporteurs’ speeches and the conclusions of the reports with variation in emphasis rather than substance. Lord Richard Balfe of European Conservatives, for instance, focused on the need to separate religion and terrorism, while Duarte Marques, a Portuguese member of the European People’s Party, highlighted the need to preserve balance. There were also calls for the public debate to remain based on facts rather than fear.