Muslims in Europe: The EU's new agenda on integration and radicalisation

8 December 2005

Antonio Missiroli opened the debate by highlighting that Muslims in Europe were the victims of two phenomena: terrorist acts, in which Muslims were among the dead and injured, and marginalisation and prejudice in part related to those acts. He stressed that radicalisation must be distinguished from social unrest and pointed out that the recent violence in the suburbs of Paris was not driven by political radicalisation or terrorist organisations, but was rather the result of social failures which needed to be addressed by social policies.

Daud Abdullah said integration was an imperative, not an option, for European societies. "Diversity is a fact of life," he said. "We come from different ethnic backgrounds, different political and religious backgrounds, but we have to share the same resources and space and must learn to live together in unity for the common good."

Integration has to be based on mutual respect. Muslims, from very different backgrounds, bring a very rich history to Europe. Living in Europe, Muslims had responsibilities as well as rights. But integration meant recognition of Muslims’ identity by European governments and societies.

Claude Moraes said the recent European Commission communications on integration and radicalisation were extremely important. It was, however, vital to decouple the issues of integration and security. It was important to make clear that radicalisation of Muslims and jihadi movements were no more likely to occur in a place of worship than in school, college and gyms. "People in mosques are devoted to their faith and not likely to have truck with cult-like behaviour," Mr. Moraes insisted, adding: "We want to attack stereotyping."

Jihadi behaviour must be distinguished from concerns about society and unemployment - factors which were responsible for the radicalisation of Muslim youth in France, and the cause of the recent violence in the suburbs of Paris. Only a "tiny number of people" would end up committing violent attacks in a jihadi, cult-like way. The issue of integration and the depiction of Muslims in the Western media also had to be tackled in a sophisticated way.

Mahmoud Ould Doua said the reasons for the radicalisation of young French Muslims were very complex and that the recent violence was the result of an accumulation of problems linked to French society as a whole, and to the role and status of Muslims in France.

"Islam is only the mirror of all the problems - in schools, unemployment and lack of security," he said. While the current focus was on Islam, "as in the case of anti-Semitism, in fact, French society is suffering and needs to find scapegoats."

Mr. Doua insisted that radicalisation among Muslim communities in France was the result of individual actions and did not reflect a structured response by Muslims. It involved individual Muslims who had been rejected by society and faced discrimination in the work place and in schools. Muslim radicals selected those parts of the Koran which mirrored their frustrations and anger.

Radicalism was therefore mainly a psychological problem. The majority of Muslims in France practiced their religion in private and were peaceful and responsible, but they wanted to be recognised for their specificity.

Acting only on the security front was not the correct way to tackle radicalisation. The French authorities had to deal with an array of problems, including discrimination in education and the rising rates of unemployment in poor suburbs.

Mr. Doua said an Islam specific to Europe was still in the process of being developed.

Andre Rizzo said that all EU documents after the 11 March 2004 attacks on Madrid had focused on understanding and tackling the root causes of terrorism. The Commission was now focusing on research and studies into radicalisation, illustrating that "we are aware of the complexity of the problem and the need to analyse the subject with a great deal of caution".

While the Commission document dealt with all kinds of violent radicalisation, it acknowledged that the current biggest threat "comes from terrorists who have an abusive interpretation of Islam."

It was important to strike a balance between fundamental rights and the right to life which terrorists are targeting. "Terrorism violates human rights, but we have to make sure we do not trample on the very same rights we are trying to protect," insisted Mr. Rizzo, adding that Islamophobia could contribute to the radicalisation of Muslims. The failure of integration could also provide a breeding ground for radicalism.