By Astrid Goh
WASHINGTON — The only way European governments can stop Islamist radicalization that creates terrorists like those responsible for the recent Paris attacks is to get help from Muslim religious leaders, a group of foreign policy experts said Tuesday.
Four men have been charged with association with terrorism for their roles in the hostage-taking at a kosher supermarket and the earlier attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in which 20 people died. At least one of those involved is associated with the Islamic State.
“One of the characteristics of Islamist groups of any kind is that everything they do, including violence, has to be justified scripturally,” Angel Rabasa , a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, said Tuesday during a panel discussion. “They have imams—Islamic religious scholars—who issue the justification for the violence based on scripture.”
Many believe European Muslims are susceptible to radicalization due to poor integration of their communities into general society and lack of economic opportunities, which keeps them in poverty. Rabasa thinks otherwise.
“What we’re seeing more often is this transfer of conflicts in the Muslim world to Europe channeled by these diasporic ties between Muslim communities and their home countries,” he said during the discussion, sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a global security think tank.
Jackson Janes, president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University, said imams, who have a large influence on much of the European Muslim community, are key to combatting the growing threat of homegrown terrorism.
“The actual radicalization starts in a mosque somewhere… if you have the heavy hand of the government coming in… that’s far less effective than if you have an imam saying, ‘Don’t go there’.”
These scholars are often the only role models young Muslims have, Janes said. For instance, he noted, the composition of the Bundestag—Germany’s national Parliament—includes only a handful of Muslims.
“The aspirations are missing,” he said. “Where do you go if you are a 16-year-old Muslim person?”
An estimated 152 terrorist attacks were carried out and 535 individuals arrested for terrorism-related offences in 2013 in the European Union, according to a 2014 Europol trend report. The law enforcement agency announced early this month that 5,000 European citizens have joined the armed conflict in Syria and pose a direct threat to their home countries upon return.
The European Muslim population is growing—Pew Research Center forecasts the population will exceed 58 million by 2030, comprising 8 percent of Europe’s population. Their links to their native countries are much stronger than among Muslims who immigrated to America, Janes said.