By Jai Kumar Verma
New Delhi. 07 March 2021. In recent years, the Muslim population in Europe has significantly increased may be because of influx of asylum seekers from Syria and other Muslim countries. According to Pew Research Center the Muslim population in European Union swelled to 25.8 million in 2016 while in 2010 it was about 19.5 million. It is also visualised that the number of Muslims will continue increasing even if Europe successfully prevents the migration because the Muslim population is young, and they have higher fertility in comparison to other Europeans. In 2016 the Muslim population in Germany was 6% while according to an estimate it will swell to 20% by 2050. Likewise, the Muslim population in Sweden which was 8% in 2016 may grow to 31% by 2050. Same way the percentage of Muslim population will have phenomenal growth in other countries of Europe including United Kingdom, Austria etc.
The Islamic terrorism in Europe was carried out mainly by Al-Qaeda and
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, officially known as the Islamic State, and also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh, is based on Salafi jihadist doctrine. The Europol (The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation) mentions that jihadism as “a violent ideology exploiting traditional Islamic concepts.”
Besides increase of Muslim population there was an exceptional surge in Islamic terrorist incidents in Europe after 2014. In most of the terrorist cases IS was involved directly or indirectly and large number of the terrorist acts were carried out by the Muslim migrants. The terrorist acts were also carried out by ‘lone wolves’ where the individuals killed people using automatic weapons, knives and automobiles. In 2015 there were 17 terrorist attacks in which about 150 persons were killed while in 2016 there were 13 terrorist attacks in which more than 135 persons lost their lives. These attacks include November 2015 Paris attacks in which 130 persons were killed and July 2016 attack in which Mohamed Lahouaiei-Bouhlel a Tunisian living in France deliberately ploughed the truck on the crowd in Nice (France) in which 86 people were killed while about 458 were injured. Besides these assaults there were several other terrorist attacks in Europe.
The security agencies in Europe launched several operations to counter these terrorist incidents. In January 2015 after Île–de–France attacks the French military launched Operation Sentinelle with 10,000 soldiers and 47 policemen to protect the sensitive points from the terrorist attacks. Same way Belgium initiated Operation Vigilant Guardian and United Kingdom began Operation Temperer to counter the terrorist attacks.
As the danger of ‘radical Islam’ is enhancing France, Germany, Austria, and other European countries took several steps to curb the increasing extremism in their countries. France has a 5.7 million Muslim population, which is highest in Europe and there were several terrorist attacks hence French President Emmanuel Macron declared a crackdown on radical Islam. President Macron proposed the law which will regulate the home schooling, the mosques which were spreading extremism will be closed, the issue of virginity certificate will be prohibited, and all the organizations will have to promise allegiance to French “Republican principles” if they want to receive the government subsidies. The law will also prohibit the employees from wearing religious clothes and symbols if they are providing a public service. The foreign imams will not be permitted to train the clerics in France and there will be tight control over the financial assistance to mosques.
The French government also announced the searches of more than 120 places including individual homes after the beheading of a French middle-school teacher in October 2020 by a radical Islamist terrorist. The government disbanded organisations which were spreading extremism and also planned to curb the terrorist funding, put pressure on social media companies to share the contents with the security forces. The people were also pressing to prohibit hijab. French government claimed that Islamic fundamentalism is imported in the country hence it must be curbed at an early date.
The leadership of European Union (EU) is also taking harsh measures to root out Islamic terrorism. Besides France, Austria and Germany are also adopting rigorous measures against rising Islamic terrorism. In 2015 Austria banned the foreign funding to the religious institutions. The EU is planning to control entry/exit system by introducing automatic monitoring. The right of asylum is also misused, and it needs strict monitoring as there is direct link between terrorism and asylum seekers.
The control of internet is also important as it plays a vital role in the radicalisation of the people. Hence the internet companies should be more vigilant and should enforce more control although it is not easy to keep an eye on all the contents. EU is planning to put hefty fines on the tech firms if they fail to remove the terrorist indoctrination from their sites quickly.
The civil right organisations criticised these restrictions and claimed that the government is punishing all the Muslims, while it should act against terrorists which are ridiculously small in number. The restrictions are increasing the climate of Islamophobia. The civil right exponents also claim that President Macron has ‘overreacted’ as he wants to make political capital by acting against these terrorist acts in view of the presidential election in 2022. The human right activists claimed that these stringent measures would alienate the Muslim population and they may turn to terrorism.
There was severe criticism of these restrictions in international arena also. There were protests in several countries including Libya, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Gaza Strip. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is trying to become leader of the Muslim world issued stern statements against French President, supported the boycott of French goods, and also publicly questioned about the metal health of Macron.
The problem of growing terrorism is a serious problem and must be dealt jointly by all the free nations of the world. The United Nations should take initiative in this regard. The organisations and the countries assisting terrorism should be punished and strict sanctions should be enforced. The Financial Action Task Force should place these countries in black list as the ‘grey list’ is not effective.
The handling of ‘lone wolf’ is exceedingly difficult as they are self-radicalised and carry out the terrorist activity alone. However, in several cases the ‘lone wolf’ in past was involved in some criminal or terrorist activity but was released due to lax laws. Security agencies should enforce more strict laws on the suspected terrorists or on small groups of self-radicalised terrorists. Even after their release their activities should be monitored.
The majority of Muslims are not in favour of terrorism, but the silent majority does not criticise and condemn the terrorists and there are instances when they worked as support agents to these terrorists. Hence it is important that the silent majority comes out against the terrorists and condemn the terrorist acts.
The European countries which are facing the rising Islamic terrorism should enhance the strength of security forces, rules should be enacted so that the terrorists can be kept in prisons for long time, foreign terrorists can be deported, and the extremist outfits can be disbanded. The NGOs and human right activists who support the terrorists under the garb of liberty, democracy and human rights should also be dealt strictly. In view of escalating Islamic terrorism, the European Union should take immediate action to curb the menace of terrorism before it becomes late.
(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and member of United Services Institute of India and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)