Muslim Germans took to the streets of Cologne several weeks ago to protest terrorism. The march was held under the banner “Not with Us,” and its goal was to condemn terrorism and the terror cells that have developed in the Muslim communities in Europe in the past two years.
The newspapers were pretty excited about the event. They may not have said it explicitly, but mass public activity by Muslim Europeans against Islamic radicalization is a rare thing. The headlines stated that “tens of thousands of protestors are expected.” That’s quite a modest number considering the fact that, in the past two years alone, Germany has taken in some 900,000 refugees from the Middle East. But when the day of the protest arrived, and a bitter truth was revealed: Only several hundred people arrived. “Maybe 1,000,” one of the organizers said dryly.
Where were the rest? They likely obeyed orders issued by one of the most important Muslim organizations in Germany, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), which decided to boycott the event. DITIB is a highly significant organization, which is responsible for some 900 Muslim German communities. It was followed by the Islamic Council, another Cologne-based umbrella group, which stated that it would be “unreasonable” to expect Muslims to march “in a heat of 25 degrees Celsius” while fasting in honor of the month of Ramadan.
The religious Turkish group offered a more essential argument: Such a protest, they said, establishes the claim that international terrorism is an exclusive problem of the Muslim community and helps create stigmas against the community. These are staggering arguments, as they deeply illustrate the huge discrepancy between the radicalizing political discourse in the continent and its Muslim communities that keep dozing off while radicals come out of them.
One after the other, terror attacks are striking the continent, and their characteristics are more dangerous than usual. They are no longer carried out by rare, sophisticated cells that work on the execution of an attack over a long period time, exposing themselves to early detection and arrest. The current European wave of terror is increasingly looking like an outburst of acts of murder by individuals, cells of two-three people at the most. The European security services are searching in vain for organized hierarchies in the tradition of al-Qaeda. What they are noticing, though, is incitement and opportunity attacks, in the tradition of the Middle East. Incidents of this kind are hard to predict, and even harder to thwart, whether they take place at Nablus Gate or on London Bridge. Their influence on the public perception, however, is immense.
People say that terror can’t defeat the routine of life, but that’s a really old cliché. The truth can be seen in the incident that took place at Piazza San Carlo in Turin about a day after the terror attack in London. Thousands of Juventus fans gathered at the square, when a firecracker suddenly exploded and someone shouted, “There’s a bomb.” It immediately created a hysterical stampede, which led to the injury of more than 1,000 people, some sustaining serious injuries. One woman even died of her wounds several days later. Terrorism won there, it won big time, and it wins when European politics changes because of it.
It also wins when Europe's Muslim communities focus on providing excuses to their internal radicalization trends: The Western attitude towards the Middle East, pushing the minorities to the suburbs, the basic inequality in European societies, and so on. These are social explanations that make sense, but when they are joined by the communities’ limited activity against Islamist radicalism—it means that these are just excuses. Plans against radicalization in Britain and in other countries are subject to profound criticism from the Muslim communities, which fear the stigma more than they fear radicalization itself.
The victory on Western-based violent Islamism will only be achieved when the communities themselves reject any manifestation of religious-political fanaticism in a firm and uncompromising manner. In certain places, it’s already happening. Friends of the Manchester terrorist reported him to the British security authorities before he carried out the attack. In most leading mosques, the community heads report young people engaged in incitement and violence, but they do it secretly, almost with a sense of shame. But still, when a public protest is being held, the leaders of important organizations turn their noses up at it.
Rejecting terror is both a human and a religious duty, but if these arguments are not enough, then community leaders must understand the political significance of it; If European Islamist terrorism turns into lone-wolf terrorism, the communities will suffer deeply and Europe will experience a new wave of xenophobia, the kind of which it has not seen in a long time.
Nadav Eyal is Channel 10's chief international correspondent.