September 17, 2018
Rising Strength, Little Notice
The short answer to this question is yes,
because Islamism promotes an authoritarian ideology and seeks power based on
religion, not democratic values. It is actually similar to totalitarian
dictatorships in its key traits – Nazism, fascism, and communism on one side
and despotic theocratic rule on the other.
In my opinion, Islamism has the following
It believes in
one single interpretation of the truth and dismisses other views as undoubtedly
wrong and essentially not able to coexist with the truth.
It uses the
religious ideals of Islam to promote its interpretations as the only correct
way to attain credibility.
It backs the
extreme doctrine of combining politics and religious affairs in one state
It defines its
enemies before defining its friends, discouraging people from making their own
The project is to set up barriers between
believers and non-believers, entangling Muslim societies in certain
non-negotiable moral views. Mentally controlled, Muslims themselves should only
see Islam through the Islamist way of thinking – the “true Islam”.
In short, Islamism is a problem because a
closer look into its roots, messages and principles show that it is a
totalitarian ideology and this conclusion has been reached and argued by many,
such as Dr. Mehdi Muzaffari in his 2013 book “Islamism, an Oriental
This matters because the Islamist agenda is
one of the main sources of unrest in the political landscape across Europe.
The problem is both historic and highly
contemporary, with origins dating back to the Middle Ages and current
geopolitical drivers. The historic backdrop is one of conquest and struggle
over borders and domains in the Mediterranean region. The contemporary factor
is the North-South divide between often overpopulated, traditional and poor
southern countries knocking on the doors of the relatively under-populated and
postmodern north. History and our times may seem quite separate, but they are
logically bound together. The challenge thus becomes more than migration.
Actually, the key challenges are values and
adaptation. They are especially difficult when the dynamics of political Islam
turn the wheels of integration of liberal society against themselves, using
their own mechanisms to recruit and move citizens into a camp that opposes that
A lack of precise focus has been another
problem. The issues were largely overseen for a long time. And when attention
was brought to bear, it was drawn in by extreme terrorist acts by Islamic
jihadists on Western soil, not the wider and deeper issues. Nowadays, even
after the shift from general indifference to vigilance, I still think much of
the analysis and reasoning is flimsy. While some groups received much of the
attention, others continued to work unnoticed.
For example, I remember a conversation with
a senior researcher at a Danish university. He asked me for my opinion on his
plan to carry out research on Islamic State (IS) at a time when it was still
strong. I told him to focus on the so-called moderate Islamist groups because
they posed the greatest challenge. While IS would vanish, the other groups
would become stronger within the European structure. In time, just this proved
to be the case. This showed that even researchers of the Middle East and Islam
have blind spots in their views.
When I published “My Farewell to Islamism”
in 2013, I was motivated by the notion that European politicians, civil society
and experts seemed broadly unaware of the growing sympathy Islamist ideas
enjoyed among Muslims in the West. I have estimated that roughly one fourth of
Muslims are influenced by Islamist thoughts and manners. Around half are likely
to silently accept or support their views or representation, leaving the
remaining one fourth to be weaker voices backing a modernist approach, aligning
secular thoughts with Islam’s values and practices. This is not immediately
apparent, because In raw numbers the Islamist groups are not numerous. But in
terms of domains and control. I believe they are the major voice for Muslims in
Europe. That is because the democratic Muslims have no widely supported opposing
Put simply, during the cartoon-crisis in
Denmark and later during the hijab protests in France and the Turkish
intervention among Turks in Europe, the Islamists set the tone and direction.
Why is Islamism Hard to Clearly
What makes Islamism hard to spot is that it
has many traits in common with ordinary religious and traditional Muslims.
Perhaps only the secular Muslims can be said to be free of the key traits.
Islamist ideology builds upon and shares
many of the practices held in high regard by common Muslims, such as Ramadan,
the Hajj, the avoidance of certain types of food or drink, and all the moral
Migrants with Muslim backgrounds can be
roughly divided into three types: the workers, the immigrants and the refugees.
When massive numbers of Muslims came into Europe and Northern America, they had
a goal of finding ways to be productive or safe. Along with the steam of
migrants came people with Islamist views. They began to spread their thinking
among mostly ignorant Muslims, bringing their attention to suppression,
political causes or the importance of following the way and living in piety.
This message does not seem overly
problematic if it stopped at that. But soon enough the Islamist preachers had a
long and growing list of concepts that should be followed, all presented as
“the natural way of thinking”. The message claimed to offer the truthful and
correct answers to every aspect of life – emotions, human nature, sex and
society, limits and freedoms, culture and morals. Islam is a complete way of
life, nothing less than the natural order of God on Earth, in fact, and this
way of life must be learned in order to reform the individual and the group
To capture hearts and minds, Islamists
shift the attention of ordinary Muslims towards their political goals in three
One- to present the example of the perfect
way of life by trying to interpret the life of Islam’s prophet Mohamed to fit
with their ideas.
Second – to draw attention to the cruelty
and suppression of the non-Islamic societies and the view that every failure to
achieve improvements is caused by the evil forces working against them.
Third – the happiness of man can only be
achieved by submitting to the rule of the caliph, whose power will break the enemy
and lead the way to implementing God’s righteous law on earth.
In my opinion, this is the great challenge
of Muslim migrants. It is not that their ethnic or religious backgrounds that
make them problematic, because many examples show us that Muslims can integrate
in workplaces, be productive and contribute to the wealth of their new nations.
The core of the challenge rests instead in what I cover in my latest book –
loyalty. It has become clear to many that the loyalty of Muslims in Europe
seems either shifting or hypocritical. At best, one can argue, it can be said
to be mute and unclear.
Meanwhile Islamist voices are persistent
and violence is raging through European societies, so many Muslims feel they
are victims of stigmatization and finger pointing. Not without reason, some
turn to segregation.
The main impetus to turn against radical
Islam should have been stronger and immutable. Instead it has been generally
silent. Muslims give the impression of feeling oppressed when they are asked to
take a stand against Islamist voices, even though they are ready to mobilize in
protests for Gaza, the hijab in schools, Erdogan, and lately the Burqa.
Islamist Ideology and the Democratic Way
Whether you live in the West or the East,
the interaction between democratic and authoritarian values is shaping
political life. In the Arab world, the short blossoming of the Arab Spring
revolutions gave way to desperate relief when strongmen took power. In the
West, one finds a strange fear of the political implications of dealing with
totalitarian ideas. If we think that Western societies have made compromises
and outgrown the Islam-and-democracy debate, then we are making too many
assumptions or simply avoiding the point.
That said, Western societies are starting
to turn towards stronger measures out of fear of threats, mainly those coming
from within Muslim communities.
At the sharp end, after the Soviet Union
was defeated in Afghanistan, some Jihadis decided to bring the battle to the
West. As there was no conventional battleground, they turned to guerrilla
options, mobilizing people among the Muslim communities in the West to plan and
execute attacks on Western soil.
Of course, when you have 20 mn residents
with Muslim backgrounds, one can expect to find some rogue gangs and
individuals. The security agencies have to deal with them, just as they deal
with any other threat of violence.
But Islamist political ideas seem to run
deep among non-violent Muslims as well. The ideology has made the problems
extend beyond the physical security threat. It brings Muslims to its way of
life and promotes a group mentality and behaviour that is noticed in wider
society and judged accordingly.
It is important to note that Islamism seems
to have many layers of fanatism and fundamentalism. However, a casual observer
can skip differentiation and reach a “one size fits all” conclusion: “Islamic”
means opponents, danger, and fear of the other. At the same time, many Muslims
feel annoyed and excluded by both silent and outspoken rejection, leading them
to turn to Islamic preachers for support. In this way, a cycle of mutual
stereotyping develops and barriers are raised, pulling communities apart and
institutionalizing the policies of segregation.
The Mission versus Democracy
Two major factors that have been largely
overseen in European politics until recent times must be considered: the number
of migrants with Muslim backgrounds and the missionary nature of Islamist
What has happened in Muslim countries such
as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and lately Egypt must be
noted. Islamist ideologies become empowered through the support of ordinary
people, many of whom did not realize what Islamist rule could turn out to be.
In just a few years, the mobilization of Islamist movements brought them close
to power. Similar dynamics apply to Muslim immigrants in Europe.
This should make the policymakers worried.
Islamism’s strength is grabbing the attention of as many as possible of the 20
mn people with Muslim backgrounds living, working and residing in Europe.
Islamists are not shy in the least about developing an identity for them. So, once they have an established position in
the West, it is only a matter of persistence and time before changes will
occur. The more moderate groups build mosques and centres to become the focal
point in local Muslim communities residing in concentrated areas, while more
radical and extreme groups take confrontational measures to bringing about a
“religious awakening” among Muslims. Once they are awakened by religious
feelings or traditions, it becomes easier to adopt the thoughts of political
Islam, partly or as a whole.
In addition, a large group of Islamist
centres are the primary source of European converts. They are in danger of
beginning their journey to understanding Islam with a politically rooted
organization promoting an authoritarian ideology.
Ultimately, Islamists want to be and seen
to be the voice of all Muslims, just as we have seen in Islamic states and in
Egypt during the 2013 unrest.
Clarity, Awareness and the Way Forward
To support democracy, we must revitalize
its core values. These values seem to be lost in the torrent of constructivism
and postmodern devaluation of core concepts and the difficulties of making a
proper rational judgement in complex public affairs. The situation is made
worse by the mass media overwhelming people with information, some of which is
not useful. As a result, it has become very hard for common people to judge
public issues. Extensive but fragmented information hinders citizens trying to
see a full picture, leading some to suspend judgement. That’s why some turn to
far simpler prejudice and stereotypes when looking at people with different
orientations. This in turn leads to mistrust or even discrimination against
At one point, policies can stop working
altogether. They can then be replaced with harsher or undemocratic measures.
This is where we can shift from democratic solutions to dictatorship and
And so we return to the root to the problem
– migrant integration. When we look back with retrospective clarity, we will be
able to say that by failing to contain and dismantle the Islamist strategy of
gaining influence and drawing Muslims toward their totalitarian views, the
politicians failed Europe and threw it into the hands of a dark destiny. What
is seen today as a minor matter of isolated groups and fragmented movements can
– and I fear will – become the main origin of a Europe at war or in the hands
of tyrannical powers.
To conclude, the reader should not be so
alarmed as to think that some kind of Islamic destruction of Europe is imminent
and jump to the conclusion that the time for peaceful solutions has passed.
Islamism is still rather limited in its influence. But it has a large base of
loyal followers, as seen in several places around the world, and some of them
have found the way to European countries since the 1950s.
Neither should the reader believe that all
Muslims are Islamists or associated with their ways, because Muslims are not
Islamists per se. In fact, many Muslims are not culturally affected by extreme
interpretations of Islamic principles. This point is of immense importance in
the defence of Europe’s foundational democratic values. To treat humans as
individuals with rights, and not as a part of a group or collective, even if
they choose radical ways, is a crucial principle.
Yes, there are Islamist activities that do
break the law and can be prosecuted. Overall, though, might does not make right
and the distinction between critical observations and punishment must be
maintained. Even in these fraught times, the idea of denigrating an entire
ethnic or religious group must make every European feel nothing but revulsion.
Indeed, dark as some of my thoughts are, I
do hope that strong but realistic democratic leaders offering practical common
sense and effective solutions can help us to escape the current state of
frustration and angst. Ideally, they will wear down both far right racism and
Islamist ideology to the point where they simply do not matter for the future
Ahmed Akkari is a Danish teacher of Lebanese origin who became known for
his involvement in the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy in
2005-2006. Shortly after the Danish newspaper published its Prophet Muhammed
cartoons in 2005, Ahmed embarked on an international tour that was meant to
stir up outrage amongst Muslims. Akkari, a prominent leader in Denmark’s Muslim
community, joined a group that led protests against the cartoons. In August
2013, Akkari publicly reversed course and categorically asserted that
Jyllands-Posten had a right to publish the cartoons. He is now the most vocal
Muslim thinker against radicalism in Denmark.