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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Security Implications of Immigration to Europe

Filed under: Europe, Radical Islam, Terrorism

I think it’s an extremely important issue, but everybody’s walking on the tip of their toes because it’s sensitive. You have to choose the right language and you have to be careful, but I’m not known for being that careful. I’ll try to do my best and touch the security implications. When I wrote about the security implications of immigration to Europe, I focused on Islamic immigration. We all know that Europe has a problem today. The main security problem that Europe faces is extreme Islamism. Much of that is coming from people who are not coming with this current wave of immigrants. It’s people who came with their families some time ago, grew up in Europe, are graduates of European education systems. It’s always frustrating when you see somebody that comes from this system involved in terrorism. Of course, this is a problem. The message that I have here is that immigration feeds extremism in Islamic societies in Europe. It does so in various manners.

First of all, some of the people that come in are sent by extremist organizations. Some extremist organizations like ISIS indicate that this big wave of immigration is an opportunity for them to help some of their operatives enter Europe in the purpose of carrying out terror attacks. We are all familiar with the story of those two guys who came from Morocco who ended up in Portugal and then traveled all over Europe organizing terror attack, purposefully right from the beginning. And of course many other cases, this is not the only case. Much has been done on this issue, but not enough in order to confront this threat, by intelligence and security organizations around Europe. 

The second problem in this respect is, again, very obvious. The people who either converted to Islam or Islamic people who identified with the extreme radical Islamist organizations in the Middle East, went to the Middle East to fight for ISIS, fought in Syria mainly, some of them in Iraq, and now after the defeat of ISIS are looking for a way back. Some of them have found it, some of them are still on the way, and they have not changed their way of thinking about the relationship between Islam and the West. There are still against Westernism. When they come back, you don’t know to what extent you can trust them. There are a lot of discussions out there. 

The main point I’m trying to make is not about these two obvious problems of security. The main point I’m trying to make is that most of the Muslim people who came to Europe came because they are pragmatists within Islam, they came to Europe to have a better life. Realizing in the Middle East today it’s very difficult to be a pragmatist, especially in certain areas of the Middle East, in Syria and some areas of Muslim North Africa it became almost impossible. It is very difficult, and these people came primarily in 2015, this was the big wave of refugees. They came because what happened in 2015 was the American green card to Iran to control the Middle East. When that happened, the message to many pragmatists in the Middle East was that we lost the Middle East, there’s no way we can survive in the Middle East. We have to choose between living under Iran or living under ISIS. Neither of those are an acceptable outcome for us, we have to go to Europe. When they came, they came in order to have a reasonable life and to be integrated into Western societies. Some of them, a smaller amount, were what I call in the article “realistic radicals.” This are people who want to change the relationship between the West and Islam. They want Islam to govern the world eventually, but being realistic they understand that this can not be achieved tomorrow morning. It will take some time before we are able to change the way the world order is, so that it be governed by Islam. Right now it’s governed by Western ideals and we have to accept it for the time being. These people came mainly from Syria because in Syria even realistic radicals were not able to survive. 

The people who identify with the Muslim brotherhood, which is realistic radical Islam, they couldn’t live in Syria as well because they were defeated, so they too went to the West. Most of them were pragmatists, not even realistic radicals, but what happened was that once they got to Europe, many of them went through a process of radicalization. Those who were realistic radicals go farther into extreme radicalism and those who came as pragmatists turned to realistic radicals and then into extreme radicalists. All of that is happening mainly because of a mistake, in my mind, of the governments of the West. This is the approach towards their local realistic radicals as representatives of the Muslim community. The Muslim Brotherhood in Europe is a very strong organization. Under the global Muslim brotherhood, we have organizations that are operating in Europe. They are all under the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE). They have a youth organization called Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations (FEMYSO). They have financial support from an organization called the Union of Good which incorporates all of the financial activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe. These organizations work together, all together they have something like 500 organizations in Europe in all the main cities and many smaller cities. Wherever there is an Islamic concentration, they are present. In most cases the local government regards them as the best interlocutor for the government. So, pragmatic Muslims who come to Europe, at a certain point in time said: if we want to get the advantages that the government wants to give us, the best way to do that is through cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood and organizations who don’t publicly say they are the Muslim Brotherhood, but we know with whom they are affiliated. It’s best to go through them. 

The logic of the Muslim Brotherhood is that change will come through preaching, not though use of force. But their ideology is very often used in order to recruit people for extreme activities. Now, the numbers of people who eventually reach extreme activities is in the tens of thousands. Not millions but tens of thousands are enough, it’s a huge number. Let me give you some of the numbers. In Germany, according to intelligence there are 10,800 people involved in salafi jihad activities. In the UK there are 25,000 like that. In France, 30,000. These are not huge numbers, but it is too much for any intelligence community to follow. So, they only follow those who have already shown involvement in some activities. For example, in England it’s 3,000 people who are already involved in some sort of activity, entering websites and things like that,  and show interest in terror activity. Five hundred of them were actually involved already. These are the numbers. They are not huge numbers, but they can cause a lot of trouble as we all know.

The process of radicalization that starts with tempting the pragmatists and realistic radicals to come into the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood is the conduit through which this process starts. It goes on because it’s not only the state recognition of realistic radicals. It also goes through how these people are much better at indoctrination than the pragmatists themselves because the pragmatists are, most of the time, unorganized. It goes through the segregated education system. The education system is under the control of the realistic radicals in most cases. We tried to close our eyes because we don’t want to get involved in the activities of education, we want to leave that to them. It’s happening because of societal rejection by the local population which makes them have greater grievances. And of course it is, to some extent, due to the organization in the prisons. One other thing that we have is conversion, it is a straight way to extremism. Most of the converts don’t go to pragmatism or even realistic radicalism, they go straight to extremism. All of that is something that we have to be very careful in understanding the threats that are embedded in the growing numbers of Muslim activities towards newcomers. What we did in the paper was show the involvement of these newcomers in terrorism in Europe. We showed that more than 1000 people in Europe were hit in terror activities in the last couple of years carried out by those newcomers. Those are the people who ended up in extreme radicalism. We have to understand the boiling point in which, through this recent realistic radicalism, people are moving to extremism. It’s still working, more people will go through that. We pay more attention to that today, maybe because we better understand the process, but it’s still happening. 

What should be done about it? Well first of all, we must improve counter terrorism system and improve intelligence. I think much has been done in Europe in this respect. We have contributed to that a little bit ourselves with meeting Mr. de Kerchove who was in charge of fighting terrorism in the EU and writing the paper that Fiamma mentioned before. I think, on top of that, it takes a policy that clarifies to these newcomers that Europe is proud of its culture and heritage. There is a feeling among these people who make this move towards extremism that they are facing a hedonistic and indulgent society, and that fact that there are so many converts just proves to them that this is the case. If Europe is not able to tell incoming people that we, Europeans respect our culture and are proud of it, it will be very difficult to stop this process of radicalization. Thirdly, Europe has to make it clear that it opposes all sorts of radicalism in Europe. Not only the extreme radicalism, but also the softer realistic radicalism that doesn’t call for the use of force right now in Europe, because they have adopted the Muslim Brotherhood as a special logic about how you have to behave as a Muslim in Europe. They call it Fiqh al-Aqalliyyat, the Jurisprudence of Minorities. Islam is basically a religion that has to be a majority and has to be supreme, so how do you behave when you are a minority? They have developed this ideology, but it doesn’t mean they give up the attempt to become a majority. So Europe has to make it clear that this sophisticated way of presenting the same idea, that eventually should lead to Sharia law all over Europe, is unacceptable. What Europe does today is, in most cases, work with these people instead of oppose these people. Number four, support the efforts to oppose radical Islam in the Middle East itself, in the areas of origin, so that people will not have the incentive to come to Europe. In the same context, also support these countries economically to ease the economic pressure that also leads people to come to Europe. I must say for Islamists, most of their reasons to come to Europe are not economic. The immigration coming from Africa is mainly economic. This Islamic immigration is mainly in the recent years because the living conditions, politically, in the areas they left are impossible for them. Once all of this has been done, it will be easier for Europe to cope with the security implications of this phenomenon. Thank you very much.