Islamic militancy

To strike at the roots of radicalism, Europe must look beyond the burqa

Brahma Chellaney calls on European leaders to go after the petrodollar-fuelled sources of Islamic extremism, as steps such as banning burqas can only create social division

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 August, 2016, 1:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 August, 2016, 6:48pm

Europe is under pressure. Integrating asylum-seekers and other migrants poses a major challenge, complicated by a spike in crimes committed by new arrivals. Many European Muslims have become radicalised, with some heading to Iraq and Syria to fight under Islamic State, and others carrying out terror attacks at home. Add to that the incendiary nativist rhetoric of populist political leaders, and the dominant narrative in Europe is increasingly one of growing insecurity.

Many European countries are moving to strengthen internal security. But their approach is incomplete, at best. Germany and others have introduced measures including an increase in police personnel, accelerated deportation of migrants who have committed crimes, and the creation of new units to identify potential terrorists through their internet activities.

The pressure to reassure the public has driven Belgium, France, Bulgaria and the Netherlands, as well parts of Switzerland and Italy, to ban the burqa and face-covering veils in public places. Several French coastal cities have banned the burkini, the full-body swimsuit.

Even Germany has proposed a ban on face-covering veils in public places where identification is required. Such clothing, the logic goes, is not conducive to integration. But no internal security measures, much less clothing requirements, can guarantee Europe’s safety. Leaders must address the ideological roots of the security challenges they face.

Germany’s Merkel toughens tone on migrants as protesters gather against the mass assault on women on New Year’s Eve

The problem is not Islam, as many populists claim. Muslims have long been part of European society. Today, the threat results from radical Islamism – a fundamentalist vision of society reordered according to Sharia law. Beyond enduring suffering and violence, many refugees from Iraq and Syria have imbibed radical Islamist ideology and calls to jihad.

These factors suggest the key to keeping Europe safe is controlling the flow of refugees. But not even building a Fortress Europe would eliminate the terrorist threat.

The only way to address that threat effectively is to tackle the radical Islamist ideology that underpins it. This means working to stop the religious-industrial complexes in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and elsewhere in the Gulf from using their petrodollars to fund the spread of extremist ideology. It also means launching a concerted information campaign to discredit that ideology.

Burqa bans and other measures that target Islam as such are superficial and counterproductive, as they create divisions in European society while leaving the ideological underpinnings of terrorism unaddressed.

Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research and fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin. Copyright: Project Syndicate