Informal networks and salafi activism 

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Informal networks and salafi activism


In order to understand the role played by Salafism in the process of radicalisation of Muslim communities and how this process operates in Europe, one must first examine its characteristics as a movement in the Arab world. In contrast to other formal organisations, Salafism lacks hierarchical structures. The Salafi network structure is decentralised and segmented. The different groups are led by sheikhs or scholars with varying degrees of knowledge of the science of the hadiths, but not necessarily having ties with each other. There is also some element of competition between the sheikhs, each defending his interpretation of the Salaf, or true path, as the correct one. The most important scholars enjoy considerable support among students, who often recommend them to others on account of their vast knowledge of religious issues. There exists only an informal hierarchy based on the reputation of the different sheikhs recognised by the Salafi community. The proliferation of sheikhs means that there is no elite or clearly-defined leadership. This decentralised and cellular structure, in which anyone with religious knowledge can claim leadership of a group, explains how easy it has been in Europe to create groups or autonomous cells willing to blow themselves up without the need for direct orders from a higher authority.


Salafi activism operates through informal networks, the very same networks that have ensured the transmission of Islamic knowledge down the centuries and have proven extremely effective in creating a common Muslim identity. They mobilise in social networks created out of personal relationships and shared beliefs. Surveys of Jordanian Salafis reveal that friends played a crucial role in their conversion to Salafism. The recruitment process is carried out directly during discussions on Islam. Devout Muslims socialise in circles of friends for whom Islam plays an important role in their lives. Religion is a recurring theme in such circles. Through daily interaction, Salafis explain their theology to their friends until the latter are convinced of the truth of their perspective. In many cases, entire groups of friends convert to Salafism, given that all of them are exposed to the same lessons, speeches, and ideas. The blend of friendship and religious networks creates a high degree of group solidarity, which is still one of the main features of Salafi groups in Europe, enabling the network to survive close scrutiny by intelligence and security services in western countries.


Islamic apologists and Wahhabism


According to the apologists the “evil and fundamentalist little sect of Islam” - Wahhabism is isolated and only found in Saudi Arabia and practiced by al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The truth however is that various versions of Salafism (Jihadi Salafism being the most extreme) is an important factor in every single Muslim country.


Wahhabism is the dominant form of Islam in Saudi Arabia, and is also popular in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Wahhabism is also found in several parts of Somalia, Algeria and Mauritania.


A strict version of Salafism (Ahle Hadith) is found in several Middle Eastern countries and South Asia, in particular, Pakistan and India.


Other forms of Salafism are quite dominant in Palestine, Syria and Jordan. It is also found in most other Muslim-majority countries, including Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo.


How many Muslims worldwide support militant Islam or Jihadi Salafism?


This is in fact a very complicated question with many facets. First of all you have to consider the fact that there is a big difference between active support, sympathising and empathising with this cause. You also have to realise that an armed Jihad (armed struggle) always have specific goals. The Jihadists in Dagestan, Chechnya, Southern Thailand, Southern Philippines, Syria (Palestine) etc. all want to create Islamic states and implement Sharia. In order to reach this objective they must wage war and defeat the infidels (non-Muslims). However, al-Qaeda and Jihadists in the West have other objectives. They acknowledge the fact that Islam is still very weak in Europe, so an armed Jihad in the streets of European capitals is not advised at this point. Islam and the number of Muslims need to grow a few more generations. Al-Qaeda therefore seek to silence the Western media and Western politicians by creating fear in our hearts in order to force them to capitulate to radical Islam. The so called Moderate Muslims are playing “good cop” in this context. They will blame poverty, modern colonialism (Israel, Iraq, and Afghanistan), discrimination, stigmatisation and other root causes as the reasons for the rise of Jihadi Salafism. They will ask for concessions from European politicians and media in order to “prevent” radical Islam.


According to Daniel Pipes[11], approximately 10-15% of Muslims around the world actively support militant Islamists (usually economic support to Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, al-Qaeda or other terrorist organisations). Since there are more than 1,2 billion Muslims worldwide that totals 120-180 million. These Muslims are spread all over the world and are either militants themselves or direct supporters of militant Islamists. The passive support is much higher. Some polls show that around 60-65% of Muslims support “Islamic Jihad” and similar Middle Eastern terrorist organisations. 36% of Pakistanis believe that the Pakistani army should not pursue al-Qaeda in Pakistan[12].


Sympathy or direct support to Jihadi Salafism is not by any means reserved to Salafi Muslims (Wahhabists or other Salafi groups). Muslims from all schools of Islam sympathise and support militant Jihadists.


Nearly all Pakistani Sunni Muslims belong to the Hanafi school of Islam. The Hanafi school is the oldest one and most liberal and tolerant of the four schools. It is also the largest movement within Islam with around 30% followers worldwide. So does that mean that the Hanafi Muslims are peaceful, moderate Muslims? Unfortunately its a lot more complex than this. All Schools of Law are quite intolerant (Hanbali being the most intolerant). As an illustration; All schools of Islam preach death to homosexuals and apostates (converts from Islam) and pledge the ultimate goal of implementing Sharia in society.


Hanafi being the dominant form of Islam in both Pakistan and Europe would indicate that they were more moderate and tolerant than other Muslims, yet, Muslims from Pakistan are well known for their conservativism and intolerance. There are tens of Genocides and hundreds of mass murders (see pogroms) recorded in history committed by hanafi Muslims. There are thousands of examples of Jihadi killings committed by hanafi Muslims throughout history and this trend continues even today. It is the largest one and it is followed by approximately 30 percent of Muslims worldwide. The Hanafi School is predominant in Turkey, northern Egypt, Levant, and amongst the Muslim communities of the Balkans, Central and South Asia, China, Russia and Ukraine. In other words the Genocide of more than 1,5 million Christian Armenians, the Greek and Assyrian Genocides were also acts of so called moderate “Hanafi” Islam.



Europe's Wahhabi Lobby


Extremists get together to worry about intolerance.

by Stephen Schwartz - 10/06/2005, Warsaw

I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN something would be out of kilter. At the end of September, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE), an international body made up of 55 nations--including such dictatorships as nearby Belarus--called for a day-long roundtable in the lovely and spiritual city of Warsaw. The topic was "Intolerance and Discrimination Against Muslims." Aside from OSCE diplomats, staff, and two representatives of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, the participants consisted of some 25 representatives of Muslim NGOs as well as European and North American human rights monitors.


I should have known something was amiss because I have witnessed much OSCE mischief since going to postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo in the late 1990s. And don't forget that OSCE was the international organisation with the nerve to propose that it "observe" the most recent U.S. presidential election for presumptive irregularities. But it has an especially bad record in the Balkans, as has been pointed out in The Weekly Standard.


The OSCE is, to put it bluntly, political correctness personified. Its agenda for combating intolerance and discrimination includes everyone from prostitutes to victims of schoolyard bullying. But it was obvious that the status of Islam in Europe, which has lately involved bloodshed in several countries, is viewed by OSCEcrats as an intractable challenge. The do-gooders had no apparent choice but to relegate the roundtable on Muslims to a place outside the regular agenda of a weeklong "human dimension" assembly in Warsaw, and to hold the Muslim gathering in the basement of a hotel.


Reliable sources reported that the OSCE's Warsaw conference on Islam came as a trade-off for a conference on anti-Semitism held in Córdoba, Spain, earlier this year. It was soon made clear that the event would serve as little more than a platform for ranters and cranks from such countries as Britain and Denmark who were there to defend radical Islam. It turns out that proponents of Islamist extremism over there are even more aggressive, defiant, and confrontational than their American counterparts.


Thus, a religious functionary from Britain, Imam Dr. Abduljalil Sajid of the grandly (and, it appears, falsely) titled Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony, used up much of the morning's discussion with loud denunciations of Tony Blair for his alleged assault on civil rights in the wake of "7/7." Before that this religious leader, when asked which school of Islamic law, or madhdhab, he followed, said, "I shoot all madhdhabs."


Imam Sajid regaled the audience with the many times he had confronted Blair, insisting to the British prime minister that Islam and terrorism are completely unconnected from one another. He also offered up a diatribe against internment at Guantanamo. In the minds of many Muslims at the event, it seemed, the London bombings and the attacks that preceded them, as well as the radical ideology that inspired them, are irrelevant; the only thing that matters is to push back against the legal response of the British, U.S., and other European authorities.


THE PHRASE "the Fight Against Extremism" was included on the agenda of the meeting, but not one word was said about it until the very end, when Turkish diplomat Omur Orhun let his voice sink to a near-whisper. He affirmed, in closing the deliberations, that the problem of extremism would eventually have to be taken up, "because that is what brought us all here." But to listen to many of the other participants one might have thought fear of Muslims among non-Muslims in Europe was a purely gratuitous expression of bias, or, as Nuzhat Jafri of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women put it, a product of "U.S. foreign policy decisions."


When I pointed out to her that Saudi-financed Wahhabi terrorists have struck Turkey, a country that opposed U.S. policy in Iraq, as well as Morocco and Indonesia, which have nothing to do with Washington's policies, Ms. Jafri limited herself to the admission that additional "root causes" exist; these she left undescribed.


Others were less restrained. Scandinavian countries seem to have experienced a particular incapacity to exclude Muslim extremists from their territories. Bashy Quraishy, a man who disclaims being religious, averring that he is not a practicing Muslim, seems to have adopted the defence of radical Islam as a career move, and is a self-proclaimed functionary of the "Federation of Ethnic Minority Organisations in Denmark." Although he admits his irreligion and distance from Islam, Quraishy has no compunctions about presenting himself as an expert on it.


Quraishy did his best to hog the proceedings. While Imam Sajid asserted the lack of any link between Islam and terror, Quraishy demanded that global media be prevented from even suggesting such a thing. His printed handouts, piled up on a side table, were hallucinatory in tone. To him, "America Under Attack"--a CNN caption after September 11, 2001--was offensively prejudiced. In addition, Quraishy's handouts insisted, "there was no proof, no one took responsibility, and not one particular country or group was singled out" for blame in the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. There was nothing more than "finger pointing" at Islam.


Quraishy also recycled the late Jude Wanniski's attacks on Richard Perle as the evil controller of "uncritical and nationalistic journalism and intentional use of anti-Islam terminology as a tool of propaganda." Quraishy reproduced the clichés employed by al Qaeda and its supporters: the "Crusades are back," and Saddam in Iraq was nothing but a "tiny dictator." Quraishy's pamphlets even asserted that "fundamentalist," "ghetto," and "ethnic gangs" are hate terms and should not be used in any media.


The rest of the palaver was less fervid, but equally absurd. Canadian Muslims complained about the effect of the U.S. Patriot Act on their country. As the afternoon wore on, phrases such as "so-called terrorists" were increasingly heard. Brit Mohammed Aziz, of Faithwise, declared that members of his community are "first responsible to God... then to the umma," or global Islam, and only lastly to the country in which they live.


All of this came about three months after the horror in London. The meeting ended with nothing more than an agreement to hold more meetings. The OSCE it seems, like much of Europe, has few answers for the challenge of radical Islam--aside from their pieties about discrimination.


Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.






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