By Ahmed Akkari
This article follows Ahmed Akkaris’s earlier piece on “Gangs and Islamists in the West as the Long Arms of Foreign States”.
Gangs and Islamists in the West can be useful tools for foreign dictators. They can seek to organize regime-friendly migrants to make trouble both for Western democracies themselves and for peaceful working class migrants with Muslim backgrounds.
One can turn to Lebanon for lessons here. The changes seen before the Lebanese civil war provide a perspective on assessing and managing the growth of unfriendly ideological pockets with hidden allegiances to foreign totalitarian dictators or authoritarian theocracies.
One should immediately stress that, fortunately, the democratic West is not close to a scenario like the Lebanese civil war, especially because Muslims in general do not associate their belief systems with gangs or violence. Many are simply working or middle class people getting on with their lives, like their fellow citizens.
Moreover, democracies in the West can show resilience and strength when dealing with threats to basic human rights and the foundation stones of liberal thinking, starting with the vision of the Age of Enlightenment and modern citizenship concepts.
Nonetheless, even if it is but a distant specter on the far horizon, Lebanon’s dark past should motivate us to take stock and then action. We do face serious divisions with significant religious dimensions and foreign powers are looking for openings.
In particular, two important social developments should focus attention on challenges that might make our societies and our politics dangerously fragile:
1 – The rise of criminal and radical ideological gangs and groups in certain ghetto-like areas. Finsbury Park in London in the era of Abu Hamza comes to mind. So do parts of Birmingham, Molenbeek in Brussels, Mjølnerparken and Vollsmose in Denmark, and Rinkeby and Malmö in Sweden. France in turn lived under a state of emergency for two years up to November 2017. The growing problems in the Republic are chillingly tangible – armored vehicles have been deployed in city streets to deter attacks and soldiers patrol outside synagogues. One can see similar scenes in other European countries.
2- The turn towards strongman leaderships in Pakistan, Turkey, Russia and parts of Eastern Europe undermines the very idea of democratic rule – democracy is but a path to power, which, once gained, will be wielded against freedom. Social and political pockets of Turkish, Arab and Somali communities are fertile soil in this situation. Backed by hidden sources of support, they can shake the ground under European communities when they gain strength, and in our days the time is right for this kind of action.
If one knows, as I do, about the mentality underlying the radical groups and their agendas, it becomes easy to see and understand developments that can turn societies into places of unrest.
Look, for example, at President Erdogan using his influence on Turkish communities in France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany to tip elections in his favor and to drive people towards accepting a concentration of power in his hands. In fact, Erdogan can reach so deeply into Europe’s big Turkish diaspora that he could even start riots.
Or consider the bigger picture in Scandinavia. Since the 1980s, the region has received high numbers of migrants from the Middle East. Some bring their political factions, divisions and leaderships deep into the West. Here one must remember that some of these minorities, such as the Somali people or the Palestinians, have causes which bring them sympathy, not only among other Muslims but also among different political groups in the West. This boosts the political parties among them in the business of organizing and gaining political influence.
All this happens even though regime followers and sympathizers – again, not Muslims in general – are living in democratic states, where they benefit from well-to-do or at least secure social backgrounds and enjoy the freedoms of speech, belief, and assembly.
In sum, the very idea of migrants assimilating or at least integrating in the West is being seriously damaged by the radical groups and gangs. Their influence encourages people to have doubts about taking steps toward any integration. This can be seen among third and fourth generation Pakistani and Bengali workers in England, Moroccans and Algerians in France and Belgium, and lately Palestinians, Iraqis and Somalis in Scandinavia.
Once again, careful caveats are in order. Migrants do tend to like the West. But some do still feel loyal to the causes promoted by preachers, political agitators or regular gang leaders. This can be seen on the streets in riots in France, Belgium and Sweden.
This makes it important to look into security policies within the democratic framework. Given time and space to grow, cultural clashes combined with security conflicts can create the very civil war scenario feared not just by the authorities, but in recent years by gloomy European artists and writers as well.
The bottom line is this: the threat of states with grudges against Europe and the West putting pressure on politicians and using European citizens as tools must not be taken lightly. It is not an illusion or paranoia. Some nations in the east do think in those terms, and so do powerful gangs, groups, Islamic religious parties, and elements of the far left.
One of the best ways to proceed is to bring democratic-minded people who are loyal to their new homes in the West forward to take up the challenge of speaking up. By organizing against the gangs and radical groups, they can become a major cultural voice, not afraid to criticize and protest and certainly not cowed by fear of being driven underground because of their allegiance to the Western societies where they live. They want the West to remain a haven for freedom of speech and religious belief for individuals and minority groups and they should be heard.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.