Muslim Communities and Responses to Extremism

On 24 May 2016, EMISCO organised an event at the EU Parliament in Brussels with the title Muslim Communities and Responses to Extremism.

EMISCO, European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion, has for the past 6 years worked and highlighted various societal issues that Muslim communities in European Union have been facing for quite some time. These range from a widely acclaimed campaign directed towards political elite in EU (A new Democratic Europe) to events dedicated to topics such as the role of media in Islamophobic discourse, connection between hate speech and hate crime, and securitization of Islam.

However, following from recent terror attacks in Europe and elsewhere, the debate seems to have shifted its focus on the radicalisation within communities with a Muslim background in Europe. It is being pointed out again and again that Muslim communities themselves need to deal with the issue of radicalisation and increasing extremism among themselves that leads to violence and terrorism directed towards majority societies.

There is a very real danger that such radicalisation is part of a wider vicious circle that intensifies alienation among Muslim communities, feeds time-old prejudices and stereotypes, normalises new forms of persecution, and thus once again alienates more European Muslims and deepens the rift between their communities and the majority societies.

EMISCO strongly believes that answers to radicalisation and extremism among a section of Muslim minorities can only be found if Muslims themselves take the initiative to diagnose the causes of this alienation and develop strategies to reverse this trend that can then form the basis of a constructive discussion with representatives from majority societies.

EMISCO wishes to encourage and facilitate discussion first among European Muslim communities and then work together with local, national and EU partners to chalk out working models of action – campaigning, lobbying, training and convincing the communities who bear the brunt of suspicion, discrimination and surveillance that it is in everyone’s interests to stop denying the existence of the problem.

Muslim communities have to come to terms with the fact that they are here to stay, their loyalties are also to the societies in which they live in, and their future is tightly connected to the majority societies in Europe.

This is why EMISCO bring into sharper focus the issues of radicalisation and extremism within communities with Muslim background, opened a discussion with experts from Muslim communities who work with this particular issue among the communities. Our aim was to invite a wide and honest consultation in order to formulate workable recommendations for police and judicial officers, NGOs, religious activists, educational practitioners, media and political leaders. We also shared experiences and insights with our partners – European institutions, EU Parliament, EU Commission, ODIHR/OSCE, COE, as well as national governments.

Our starting position was that communities with a Muslim background must be far more proactive in both re-defining the issue under discussion and shaping public debates and policy through their participation at all levels of representation and policy-making. Muslim communities have to come to terms with the fact that they are here to stay and make a strong contribution to European societies; that their loyalties are also to the societies in which they live in; and that their future is tightly connected to the majority societies in Europe. Therefore, enhanced and constructive participation is a win-win formula for Muslim communities and majority societies alike.

Furthermore, participation can address a series of problems that hamper the current debate about ‘Muslim radicalisation’. Such debate is very often full of misunderstandings, distorted terminologies (e.g. the uses of words such as ‘Islamism’ and ‘Jihadi’ in public language), generalisations and exaggerations about the nature and extent of the problem. EMISCO believes that now is the time to intervene proactively to question assumptions and stereotypical images; provide accurate research data about integration and alienation within Muslim communities; actively publicise and support initiatives that already take place in all corners of Europe; and pool experiences of the Muslim communities themselves to reframe the debate and move forward.

The event encouraged discussion on the following themes: the terminology of radicalisation and extremism; stereotypical images of Muslims and Islam in this debate; the role of the media in fanning the flames of extremism; the link between hate speech, extremism, and violence; and the possibilities of constructive participation and engagement in framing the public debate and influencing policy initiatives.

This event was co-sponsored by MEP Afzal Khan, of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group, a tireless campaigner for the rights of Muslim communities who was recently appointed as Special Representative for Muslim communities in EU. We are thankful to him and his team for their help in arranging the event.

Communities with Muslim background are not the problem but a critical part of the solution to the problem of extremism. EMISCO believes that, in a productive environment, communities are capable of finding workable solutions to the problems of extremism, which are themselves consequences of deeper issues of marginalization, alienation, and discrimination. We hope that this event will make a fruitful contribution to this goal and build a momentum for more coordinated action in the near future.