A new report, “Network of Networks: The Muslim Brotherhood in Europe”, was recently released by the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group of the European Parliament and with their kind permission is republished here.
The report was launched on 10 November in a webinar organised and hosted by Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Charlie Weimers, Chair of the ECR’s Working Group on Religious Freedom, which included the authors of the report, as well as other experts on the Muslim Brotherhood to discuss the organisation’s ideology and its threat to European values and fundamental rights.
The report’s authors are Dr. Paul Stott, the Head of Security and Extremism at Policy Exchange in Britain, and Dr. Tommaso Virgili, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Berlin Social Science Center in Germany. The other speakers were Prof. Dr. Ruud Koopmans, the Director of the Migration, Integration, and Transnationalisation Research Unit at the Berlin Social Science Centre, and Dr. Richard Burchill, a Senior Fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy and a some time contributor to European Eye on Radicalization.
Charlie Weimers explained that the report stemmed from the need to understand what the European Union is doing about the problem of its official agencies and member states providing funding and other kinds of direct and indirect support to Islamist organizations, and to look for ways to guarantee that the EU supports only organizations that embrace European values. This was the task he assigned to the scholars and on which they brought their expertise to bear.
As far as the major points of the discussion are concerned, Dr. Burchill appropriately highlighted that, when dealing with Islamists, getting facts and evidence is particularly crucial, albeit sometimes difficult, as not all hostile actions they perform are necessarily violent, even if they do strain social cohesion by fostering a dislike of the Other.
Report co-author Dr. Stott notes three elements that we need to take into account when dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood and similar organizations. First, the members and sympathizers spread in many European countries; second, the fact that they frequently gather in closed meetings that are invitation-only; third, that there are now structured organizations that descend directly from the Muslim Brotherhood. A major example is the Forum of Muslim Youth and Student Organizations (FEMYSO), which is extensively studied in the Report.
All speakers agreed that key European values these kinds of organizations do not share are: freedom of speech, the right to be or not to be religious, equality in front of the law, and gender equality.
Dr. Stott warns that the Islamists’ end goal, the objective they are working towards however they choose to go about it, is not liberal democracy. On the contrary, it is an Islamic State, pursued by attempting to radicalize Muslim communities in Europe and engaging with governments of the Member States.
The other co-author, Dr. Virgili, provides a useful example of this process by analyzing the case of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, created by the Brotherhood cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi. The Council, based in Ireland, has received money from the European Union for projects against radicalization that were based on sharia. Even more alarmingly, in the past the Council has issued fatwas calling for the death penalty for apostates, for women’s obedience to their husbands, and for the obligation of hijab.
According to all the experts, while some EU officials do not see anything problematic in engaging groups of this kind, more often they simply do not have sufficient knowledge about these groups and organizations, so they keep engaging with them—and providing them at least a passive legitimacy—due to a lack of awareness. Another frequent dynamic is EU officials who do know better fearing to act on it lest their stances be labeled as “Islamophobia”.
Dr. Koopmans urges Europe—as a united entity—to understand that there is no way to split the difference, and a choice will have to be made about which side within the Muslim community the EU wants to be on. At the present time, as the report demonstrates, many EU institutions and governments are exerting their influence on the wrong side: funding and empowering, through recognition and social status, the well-organized extremists, rather than more moderate trends.
Discussing about the practical measures that might be taken, Dr. Virgili reminds us of the need to go back to the concept of universal citizenship, often abandoned in the name of dogmatic forms of multiculturalism that foster the polarization of minorities. He also urges policymakers, EU officials, and law-enforcement officers to have a clear idea about who is being engaged and trusted, and why.
It was agreed by all the experts that there is a general need to raise the level of education among legislators and bureaucrats about the Muslim Brotherhood and derivative Islamists. Dr. Koopmans suggested that the easiest way to aid in understanding this—and for the Eurocrats to avoid their fears about falling into Islamophobia—is for the European Union and European governments to avoid double-standards and treat Islamists in the same way as any other extremist group. The report will be a crucial tool towards making this change.