Multiple Reasons for Islamist Violence on European Soil, Experts Say
Compared to Muslims in the US, those in Europe are less integrated and more vulnerable to radicalization
Counterterrorism analysts who spoke to The Media Line a day after a deadly attack by a convicted Islamic State supporter in Austria’s capital of Vienna attributed multiple factors to the Islamist extremist violence seen in Europe recently but not in the United States.
Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer on Tuesday said that 14 people were detained in 18 raids in Lower Austria and Vienna but that police believe that the attack in the central area of the city near the main synagogue on the eve of a COVID-19 lockdown was carried out by a lone gunman.
Kujtim Fejzulai, 20, a dual Austrian and North Macedonian national, was shot dead by police Monday night, but not before killing four people and injuring 22 in the rampage, including a police officer who attempted to get in the way of the attacker, according to authorities.
The suspect was convicted in April of last year for attempting to travel to Syria to join Islamic State as a member and was released early from a 22-month prison sentence in December.
“Yesterday’s attack was clearly an Islamist terror attack,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said. Nehammer also referred to the suspect as an “Islamist terrorist.”
The Vienna shooting follows a series of Islamic terror attacks in France including the beheading of a schoolteacher in a Paris suburb and the fatal stabbing of three people at a basilica in the southern French city of Nice.
There seems to be less integration amongst the Muslim communities in Europe than in the United States. Integration is not perfect in the United States, and this is not to say that anti-Muslim sentiment is not a problem in the US. But Muslim communities are not marginalized to the same degree as we see in many European countries
“There seems to be less integration amongst the Muslim communities in Europe than in the United States,” Julie Coleman, senior research fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague, told The Media Line. “Integration is not perfect in the United States, and this is not to say that anti-Muslim sentiment is not a problem in the US. But Muslim communities are not marginalized to the same degree as we see in many European countries.”
Coleman added that Europe is seemingly caught up in a cycle where every time there is an attack perpetrated by an Islamist extremist, it increases anti-Muslim sentiment that makes integration harder and radicalization easier.
It is the second- and third-generation European Muslims who are vulnerable to radicalization because they can feel alienated from the larger society and are exposed to incitement by religious leaders, Dr. Michael Barak, senior researcher at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel, told The Media Line.
Barak said that in Austria, for example, there are Muslims living there mainly from Turkey, Albania and Bosnia who are listening to imams sent by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to several states in Western Europe who promote the Muslim Brotherhood ideology.
“The problem is that in Western Europe there is more penetration of radicals and also preachers from the background of the Muslim Brotherhood, or they belong to Salafism (a Sunni reform movement advocating force to reestablish a caliphate),” Barak explained.
“And in the United States there is also a movement of the Muslim Brotherhood but you can find in the United States also other players, Islamic players, that are trying to diminish or to counter the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood for example, and of course the Salafists,” Barak continued.
Sufism is a moderate form of Islam that has been promoted by succeeding administrations since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
“From the Bush Administration, we are witness to an increase of the Sufi school playing the role, particularly in the United States, of trying to counter the radical ideology of these radical movements,” Barak said.
Geography also plays a role in why violent Islamic extremism seems to be worse in Europe than in the United States, according to analysts, given that the US is separated from the Middle East and North Africa by the Atlantic Ocean.
“Given Europe’s geographic proximity to the Middle East and North Africa, there have been large numbers of European Muslims that have traveled to Iraq and Syria as foreign fighters. This in and of itself has a radicalizing component, especially if there is cachet that comes with joining a group like al-Qaida, ISIS, or any of their affiliates,” Colin P. Clarke, an adjunct senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation whose research focuses on terrorism, insurgency and criminal networks, told The Media Line.
The Muslims who immigrate to the United States are generally more diverse than their brethren who make their way to Europe, with higher education levels and resources to succeed, analysts point out.
Despite the rhetoric from the current administration, the United States is still seen by much of the world as a nation of immigrants with fewer socio-economic barriers compared to Europe.
“Unlike the American dream for all, in Europe for some Muslims the dream was provided by ISIS,” Anne Speckhard, director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, told The Media Line. “Of course, it was false, but many still bought into it and continue to do so.”
The vast majority of Muslims obviously realize there is an issue and it needs to be tackled from the community. … A small but significantly vocal set of Islamist groups promote a view that Muslims are under threat or that Muslims are perpetual victims. But most of the Muslims … are sickened by what is done in the name of their religion
Fiyaz Mughal, founder and former director of London-based Faith Matters UK, a nongovernmental organization that works on countering extremism, supporting victims of hate crimes and supporting social cohesion projects in the UK and the Middle East, told The Media Line that there has been a shift over the past two decades in the Muslim community realizing that Islamist extremism is a problem.
“The vast majority of Muslims obviously realize there is an issue and it needs to be tackled from the community. However, you have a small but significantly vocal set of Islamist groups in the UK who constantly try to promote a view that Muslims are under threat or that Muslims are perpetual victims,” Mughal said.
Continued Mughal: “But most of the Muslims go about their daily lives. They are worried about their safety. They know that there is a problem. They are sickened by what is done in the name of their religion.”