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Unknown enemy: Increasing threat or irrational paranoia for Europe?
The mass bombings in 2004 and 2005, in Madrid and London respectively, rang an alarm for many Europeans who until then had perceived the threat by Islamic extremists as rather distant and not as a direct concern to the continent.

While many claim the threat by Al Qaeda is largely overstated, especially due to its allegedly weakening power after its leader’s death, others are widely and increasingly concerned in view of the current events in EU’s backyard in North Africa.

The first proof of radical Islamists in the continent go yet much further back from the mentioned mass bombings-to the setting of the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the Bosnian Mujahideen.

A direct link between this movement and Al-Qaeda is rather obscure, nevertheless, since the beginning of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992.

In fact, the country saw arrival of large numbers of foreign fighters, including Arabs from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Yemen, and also Muslims from Africa and Asia, seeking to wage a jihad against the Christian Serbs and Croats.

It is estimated there were in total about 1,400 mujahideen fighters or according to the estimates of the Bosnian army even up to 3,000 or 4,000.

Islamist propaganda

The same time marks the beginning of spread of Salafi and Wahhabi Islam in Bosnia-forms of Islam previously unknown in a country with a traditional heritage of Bosnian Islam incorporating Turkish, Sufi and local traditions.

With a funding of millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia several mosques and madrasas were built. Humanitarian aid to Bosnian villagers in hunger was provided on the conditions of meeting the “criteria”, i.e. attending these madrasas and mosques. The first Salafi community in Bosnia consisted mostly of former foreign fighters that, under the mentioned conditions, achieved to attach numerous local Muslims.

It is also important to notice that due to the exhaustive propaganda the Mujahideen fighters managed to attract also terrorist recruits from Western Europe. Many of them were genuinely seeking to defend innocent Muslims.

Yet, plentiful consisted in people of Interpol wanted circulars, expelled from their home countries without a possibility to return. Having obtained Bosnian passports, several hundred Mujahideen remained in Bosnia after the war.

With the generous financial support of Saudi Arabia, they built up a network of organizations that they are using to attract the next generation of Islamists.

Bosnia’s unique geographic position between Western Europe and the Middle East allowed the community to also expand directly into the rest of Europe: United Kingdom, Italy, France, and even Scandinavia.

The Bosnian mujahideen has been viewed repeatedly in the context of its significance in spreading and building Salafi communities throughout Europe.

Furthermore, these fighters have been accused of establishing also cells related to Al Qaeda and Bosnia, along with other parts of the Balkans, which is being viewed as becoming a launching pad for terrorist attacks in Europe.

The Bosnian mujahideen has also been brought into the light in relation to 9/11 attacks as two of the hijackers of the terror act, Khalid al Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were former Bosnian mujahideen fighters.

Nevertheless, coming back to the two mentioned biggest terrorist attacks in Europe in the 21st century, it has to be noticed there has been no proof of Al Qaeda’s direct involvement.

Attack and protests

Thus, Al Qaeda’s engagement in these acts can be widely disputed, despite of the fact the organization itself has claimed the responsibility for both, allegedly with an aim to force the European countries to withdraw their troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

Instead, investigations on Madrid attacks found evidences on local cells of Islamic extremists, who then claimed for having got the inspiration for the attack over Internet.

The suspects and convicts held in this case were mainly people of Moroccan origin but with a status of being also either a citizen or a resident in Spain.

The attackers of London were found to be Islamic extremists, but considered rather “homegrown terrorists” than allies of any large terrorism organization. Three out of four convicts were second generation British citizens of Pakistani origin, the forth one a migrant from Jamaica who had grown up in England.

At the same time, France - a country with the largest Muslim community in Europe, a vast majority of which is of the Maghrebi origin, out of which many are second or third generation migrants - has faced widest Muslim riots and civil unrest.

In 2005 when during three weeks the riots broke out in 300 cities all over the country hundreds of building and thousands of cars were burnt down, producing very violent confrontations. Since then these kind of events have been reproduced repeatedly spreading throughout the country and caused visible threat to the country’s security.

These kind of events have been repeated several times, many seeing as terrorism on local people which has also resulted in returning the attacks against Muslim population.

Holland has also faced tensions, especially after murders of the publicly anti-Islamic Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002 (who, however was killed by a Dutch) and a Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh after having produced a film criticizing women position in Islam (who was killed by a radical Islamist, a second generation migrant from Morocco).

Belgium too has experienced Muslim riots, particularly after the anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims started to spread in the country. Germany, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Norway, Switzerland and more countries have faced Muslim protests, attack and allegedly several severe failed plots.

At the same time, these events have clearly contributed to the Islamophobia among the “native” population of the continent, initiating in addition to the high tension attacks against the Muslim community.

Thus, the Observatoire contre l’Islamophobie, an organization which monitors anti-Islamic attacks in France, observed a rise in the number of attacks against Muslims by 34 per cent from 2010 to 2012.

Also Anders Breivik, a terrorist behind one of the latest attacks to shock the whole continent killing 80 people in Norway in 2011, has claimed that his horrific act was thriven by the European leaders’ impotence to stand up against the “Muslim conquest” of Europe (despite of targeting his massacre against his fellow nationals).

While the tension has clearly erupted and shows the signs of increase, there is another important fact to be considered: a great part of the Muslim community in Europe is not newcomers but descendants of guest workers recruited during the times of “economic miracle”.

Yet, even today many of these second and third generation migrants, mostly holding European nationalities, still live disintegratedly concentrated in suburb areas such as poor banlieues in France or East End London boroughs, often suffering from socio-economic disadvantages.

The problems of poverty and unemployment are wide-spread among this population and often combined with significantly lower rates of successful education completion, leading in turn to higher rates of crime, as well as even further segregation and dissatisfaction.  

Integration policy

On one hand, it has thus become evident that EU multiculturalism policy, aimed at supporting cultural diversity and enhancing tolerance between different ethnic and social groups, has been unable to integrate its minority groups in an efficient way.

That becomes even more significant when we consider the proportion of the Muslim community who is holding EU citizenship or residence-based rights, granting them equal social and legal benefits as to its “native” citizens.

Herein a fact that a will to be integrated plays a key role in the integration process can definitely not be denied. Neither can be the reality that due to the strong religious and cultural identity of a large part of the Muslim community integration into an European society is often considered by them as a threat to their own cultural values or even decadent to their society.

In any case, Europe has already seen the severity of the issues that result from this kind of segregation yet not much proof of progress made in this area. Rather more there is a fast growing sentiment named “anti-Islam” and increase in support for extreme right-wing parties opposing (often particularly Islamic) immigration.

Consequences of that kind of Islamophobia cannot probably be any other than a further tension, further inquietude, further segregation, even more lack of misunderstandings which possibly cannot end otherwise than even further scale of conflicts.

The past events have already shown us that the biggest threat for Europe does not come beyond its carefully protected borders but from the people holding its legal identity (yet not cultural despite of being born and raised surrounded by European values).

The orders for this “home-grown” terrorism do not come from the headquarters of major terrorism organizations such as Al Qaeda, even if their ideological role in regards of its influence and inspiration must neither be underestimated.

Currently there are about 20 million Muslim people who call Europe their home. Neither their existence nor the issues it involves, cannot or at least should not be ignored.

Especially in a current situation of mutual confrontation where no place is left for doubts that in order to bring any credible solution to the table much more effort for an open dialogue between the two groups is required.

In order to tackle the Islamophobia, more emphasis should be put on educating people on distinguishing different forms of Islam and understand the diversity among Europe’s Muslim population.

At the same time, the EU should seek to reason out the challenges that Muslim people are facing and that sets obstacles to their integration and assimilation - such as their high segregation, low levels of education leading to high rates of poverty and crime, resulting in turn in favourable circumstances for radicalization.