In response to the first attack in Paris on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, a member of a jihadi forum, affiliated with ISIS, wrote a very striking explanation as to why France in particular was targeted. As is usual in the jihadi world, which seeks to return to the early days of Islam centuries ago, history played an important role in his thinking: “France was one part of the Islamic land and it will be Islamic again.”
What was he talking about? For years, global jihadi organizations have issued calls to retake al-Andalus, the Arabic name for Spain and those parts of the Iberian peninsula when they were held by the Muslims from 711 until 1492. This last summer ISIS members produced a video calling for the liberation of al-Andalus. But, it is often forgotten that shortly after the conquest of Spain, an Arab army crossed the Pyrenees and occupied territories that today are part of France. Having captured Bordeaux, it was met and defeated in 732 by a Frankish army led by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours — some 200 miles from Paris. Even after this historical battle, Arab armies did not halt their efforts to seize French territory. They in fact reached Lyons and threatened to occupy all of Provence. In fact, parts of France remained under Islamic rule until 759, when Narbonne, the main base of the invading Arab armies, fell.
Whether or not the attack in France was motivated by such historical memories, the passion to recover lost territories that were once under Islamic rule is a theme running through most of the organizations associated with the global jihadist network. It was no less than Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, who first articulated this theme: “Andalusia, Sicily, the Balkans, South Italy and Roman Sea Islands were all Islamic lands that had to be restored to the homeland of Islam; the Mediterranean and Red Sea should equally be part of the Islamic Empire as they were before.” Al-Banna’s writings, which are to this day still revered by most of the radical Islamic movements, are available on the internet today in Arabic and even in English.
In recent times, this ideological orientation of the Muslim Brotherhood has been best represented by Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, who is based in Qatar. Regarded by many as the highest spiritual authority in the Muslim Brotherhood, Qaradawi appeared on Qatari television in 2007 and declared: “I expect that Islam will conquer Europe without resorting to the sword or fighting. It will do so by means of da’wa (proselytizing) and ideology.” The only geographic points he mentioned in relationship to this expansion of the Islamic realm were as follows: “The conquest of Rome — the conquest of Italy, and Europe — means that Islam will return to Europe once again.”
Qaradawi, who appeared weekly on Al Jazeera, gave his patronage to a Muslim Brotherhood facility in a French chateau where Islamists used to train European Imams. Thousand of young Muslims were bussed into this retreat center. In short, Qaradawi’s ideas had multiple platforms through which they could spread.
There were other organizations that took Qardawi’s declarations a step further. Hamas, which is after all the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, has also made similar statements. Sheikh Younus al-Astal, who has had a leading role within the supreme religious body of Hamas (the Association of the Religious Scholars of Palestine) gave the following sermon in 2008 that was broadcast on Hamas television: “Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was, as was prophesied by our Prophet Muhammad.” He then spoke about how the “Islamic conquests … will spread through Europe in its entirety” and beyond.
Dabiq, a journal published by ISIS, also deals with the conquest of Rome. The journal recently put on its cover a picture of Saint Peter’s Square in Rome; the editors manipulated the photograph and put the flag of ISIS on the obelisk in the center. The journal also quotes the founder of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as saying: “We fight here while our goal is Rome.” Before he led the insurgency in Iraq against the U.S. and its allies, Zarqawi actually set up a terrorist network for operations on European soil.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, under the ruling AKP Party, has also taken up the cause of recovering lost Islamic lands. In 2004, a U.S. State Department official sent a cable to Washington warning that at an event held at the AKP’s main think tank, he heard the idea voiced that Turkey’s role is to spread Islam in Europe, and “avenge the defeat at the siege of Vienna in 1683.” The cable linked a high level Turkish official with this view. It was made public by WikiLeaks.
What all these statements teach us is that virtually all these radical Islamic leaders see themselves as in no less than a civilizational battle with the West. There have been those who do not want to depict this struggle in this way, including those in the West who, out of political correctness, refuse to discuss the threat of radical Islam. They also cling to the mistaken idea that the Muslim Brotherhood can become an ally against al-Qaida and its affiliates.
Last week, on January 9, the American journal National Review published emails, leaked from an Al Jazeera producer, about the attacks in France. He sought to play down the significance of the terror in Paris, rejecting the notion that this was a “civilizational attack on European values.” He insisted that no one knows the motivation behind the attacks, suggesting perhaps that it was a reaction to France’s military actions against ISIS, or its operations in Libya and Mali.
In other words, the Al Jazeera producer did not want his network to admit that the attack in Paris was motivated by an aggressive Islamist ideology, but rather preferred to blame Western policies, which if it became widely accepted would cripple its leaders and deny them the self-confidence to take any effective action. That is what has largely happened until now. It is no wonder that Al Jazeera, whose headquarters is located in Qatar, has been correctly described as the satellite channel of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In contrast, Ghassan Charbel, the editor-in-chief of Al Hayat, the leading newspaper in the Arab world, on Monday refused to play down the Paris attacks as a unique, one-time event: “No one can disregard the scale of the problem and the extent of the threat any more.” Defying the political correctness of many of the world’s capitals, he bravely told the truth about what was happening: “What is clear is that the Paris attack is just the opening shot of a global war that the Islamist extremists will be waging in the West and the rest of the world.” He had no qualms about saying that the problem was the threat of radical Islam. Until the West internalizes his warning of what it is facing, unfortunately a new wave of attacks in the West will only be a matter of time.