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Splits Between Muslim Brotherhood and “Offensive Jihadists” Brewing in Europe

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by Douglas Farah
Published on May 16th, 2006
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Across Europe, according to intelligence sources, the international Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al Moslemoon) is competing for recruits, cash and ideological and theological predominance with armed, radicalized Islamist groups operating in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere. This competition is a growing part of the Islamist landscape that intelligence services see as both dangerous and offering potential openings to exploit frictions and divisions.

The competition is not over the short-term goal of the Islamist project: the re-creation of a Muslim caliphate in the areas of the world once ruled by Muslims. Nor is it over the ultimate goal of Islamist groups, the eventual Islamization of Europe, the United States and the entire world. Rather, it appears that the Brotherhood, long able to recruit among the best and brightest Islamists in Europe and the Arab peninsula, is now struggling to make its more staid message of incremental change and political action relevant to those who would join the Islamist movement and attack the West, and Europe in particular.[1]

The Brotherhood has the financial infrastructure. The jihadists are getting the recruits, some Saudi money and an infusion of hard-line salafist imams originally from Syria, along with the dominance of the use of the Internet.[2] How this dichotomy plays out in Europe, particularly, will have a significant impact on the shape of jihad in coming years.

The divisions among the different Islamist groups are not absolute and lines are often blurry as different networks overlap, cooperate and compete all at the same time. But there appears to be a relatively clear division between the classic, hierarchical structure of the international Ihkwan structure and those of the emerging, aggressively decentralized Islamist groups willing to engage in violence.

So far, the different paths have not caused an open rupture. The Brotherhood, according to a seminal work by the Ikhwan leadership called "The Project," written in 1983, lists as one of the precepts of converting the world to Islam as follows:

Sincerely work with Islamic groups and entities on various axes and in agreement on a common number of points where "we cooperate on issue we agreed upon and excuse each other on issues we disagree upon".[3]

One of the "suggested tasks" of the Brotherhood stated in the document is to "Create communication bridges with Jihad movements in the Islamic world and among Islamic minorities. Support these movements within possible limits and cooperate with them."[4]

This may explain the ongoing communication between the Ikhwan leadership and the newer organizations. The Ikhwan have exerted their influence by negotiating the release of Italian hostages from Zarqawi’s group in Iraq and by stepping in to help calm the Islamic unrest in France by mediating between the government and those instigating the riots.[5]

The Brotherhood has long served as a key financial node for different Islamist groups, and the intelligence officials say that has not changed significantly. Indeed, recent intelligence reports show that the Brotherhood has expanded its financial network of holding companies and bank accounts in almost every European country. The analysis is that the Brotherhood is anticipating a financial crackdown on its financial empire and is prepared to shift assets rapidly should that happen.[6]

But the Brotherhood is encountering unwillingness among many potential young recruits to play the long-standing double game that the Brotherhood has mastered. This includes a moderate public discourse, particularly for non-Islamist audiences; deception; denial of the true goals and aims of the Brotherhood; and the stated need to portray the Brotherhood as modern and open to assimilation in the West while financing the spread of Islamist movements and jihad.

This strategy of "Euro-Islam" is premised on reigniting fervor for Islam, but encouraging the devout to move into the political process with the promise that "it is just a matter of time before we get a minister and finally a Muslim prime minister. At that time a country might be majority Muslim and can then become a part of the caliphate."[7]

In a famous 2002 fatwa, Yousef al-Qaradawi, a leading theologian of the Muslim Brotherhood, clearly articulated the Brotherhood’s goals: "Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror and victor, after being expelled from it twice - once from the South, from Andalusia, and a second time from the East, when it knocked several times on the door of Athens."[8]

Al-Qaradawi added that "the conquest this time will not be by the sword but by preaching and ideology."[9]

But with the 9-11 attacks, other Islamist attacks in Europe and the Islamist insurgency in Iraq led by Zarqawi, the perceived correlation of forces may be changing among the segment of the Muslim population that is open to recruitment into the Islamist project.

Zarqawi and home-grown Islamist groups are recruiting heavily Europe and the existence of visible battlefields where Islamists can go and wage offensive jihad, the Brotherhood message is being losing some of its appeal. Why attempt to blend in and pretend to be moderate when you can join a group that openly states its claim to Islamic legitimacy, can wage a hot war against the infidels and makes no attempt to hide its agenda?

Increasingly, the best in the Islamist mosques are opting for the latter course of action.

The Brotherhood of Yousef Nada, Idriss Nasreddin, Gahlib Himmat and others is an organization that moves easily in the corridors of power in much of Europe and the Gulf, despite recent difficulties with the Saudi regime. While they can and do support the Islamist project, the international Brotherhood is part of the existing power structure. Zarqawi and others represent the chance to go out and do something now, not the multi-generational, long-term view the Brotherhood has traditionally taken in its quest for power.

Those that move in the corridors of power are often viewed as the enemy, even if their money is not. The "Westernization" of Nada, Nasreddin and other international Brotherhood leaders is also a growing problem because these leaders wear Western dress, drink alcohol, deal with leaders of "apostate" Islamic regimes like the one in Saudi Arabia and have blended into European culture much more than the current generation has and more than many want to.

But there are some significant, and perhaps exploitable, differences between to two lines of thought and action. A recent study by the interior ministry of the Netherlands found that the new jihadist network differs from more traditional networks of the Islamists in that the new network:

Lacks a formal (hierarchical) structure, and has an informal, flexible membership and fluctuating leadership. It is incorrect, however, to conclude that such a network possesses no structure whatsoever. There is always a pattern of connections between individuals who communicate with one another with a view to achieving a common goal. In some cases these communication lines converge in one or more core groups, which thus play a coordinating and controlling role. In other cases there are random communication patterns between all members while the network functions practically without any leadership or central control. It is also possible for several groups to be active within one network.[10]

Brotherhood leaders do not, in their teachings, reject the use of offensive jihad, as al-Qaradawi has made clear in numerous writings. In one of his most famous works from 1990, al Qaradawi states that political work is:

This kind of work would be aimed at extricating the rule from the hands of weaklings and traitors to place it in the hands of the powerful and honest who seek neither to be high and mighty on the land nor to corrupt it, who, if Allah establishes them in the land, establish prayer and give alms, enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong.[11]

One of al-Qaradawi’s main arguments against "offensive jihad" is not that it is wrong, but that it is impractical because for several reasons, including the inability of good Muslims to wage even "defensive" jihad effectively. But the most interesting reason was self-interest:

We depend on others for military power. Those against whom we want to launch our offensive jihad are the same people who make all sorts of weapons and sell them to us. But for them, we would be unarmed, defenseless and unable to do anything!

That being the case, how can we talk of launching offensives to subject the whole world to our Message, when the only weapons we can muster are those given us by them and when the only arms we can carry are those they agree to sell us?[12]

In part because of this reality at the time, al-Qaradawi clearly articulated the Ikhwan strategy for Europe:

I heard imam (Hasan) al Banna once describing the national demands of the Muslim Brotherhood in a national conference. He spoke of the minor homeland that comprised the Nile Valley, i.e. Egypt and Sudan; the great homeland that comprised the Arab World, which extended from the Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean; and the greater homeland the Muslim World that extended from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean. He emphasized that emancipating that greater homeland from every foreign influence imposed on Muslims was a farida for all Muslims and one of the major missions of the Muslim Brotherhood.

I used to tell our brothers in foreign countries, "Try to have your small society within the larger society, otherwise you will melt in it like salt in water. What has preserved the Jewish character over the past centuries was their small community that was unique in its ideas and rituals and was known as "the Jewish ghetto." Try to have your own "Muslim ghetto then."[14]

This concept of the "Muslim ghetto" expanded over time into what Reuven Paz calls the "Non-Territorial Islamic State" in Europe.[14] It is characterized by the increasing demands for separate Islamic services, from schools to business hours. Many Muslims do not view themselves primarily as citizens of the country in which they live, but as Muslims. This has led to a two-track system in France and elsewhere where "more and more Muslims refuse to sing, dance, participate in sports, sketch a face or play an instrument. They won’t draw a right angle (it looks like part of the Christian cross). They won’t read Voltaire and Rousseau (too anti-religion), Cyrano de Bergerac (too racy), Madame Bovary (too pro-women).[15]

This self-segregation—rather then the lack of assimilation opportunities, as is often portrayed by Islamist groups—feeds the perception that the "Muslim ghettos" are in fact, vital enclaves or Islamic colonies surrounded by enemy territory. The main reason for the French riots, some argue, is not that two youths died hiding from the police, but rather that the state "responded to the initial unrest by sending police into an area many local saw as their own inviolate domain."[16]

The 9-11 attacks and subsequent strikes by Islamists in Europe have changed the perception of many that there are no weapons available to the enclaves for offensive Islamic jihad. Those living in the self-imposed alienation from broader society, fostered by the Ihkwan, no longer found themselves dependent on outsiders or enemies for weapons. They could simply make their own. As the Dutch report noted:

By means of the attacks on American embassies in East Africa in 1998 and

on the World Trade Center in New York though, Al-Qaeda demonstrated that the

powerful Western enemy could also be hit on its own territory. This opened up the entire world as a potential jihad area. These attacks and their ideological justification were, in fact, Bin Laden’s declaration of war on the West and his designation of all citizens in Western countries as justified jihad targets.[17]

This is an important shift in thinking, and the movement away from the path of traditional political activism from the "Muslim ghetto" was greatly accelerated by the Islamist use of the Internet, which has allowed the more radical messages to reach young people while bypassing the traditional filters of family and mosque.

The Dutch study found that, largely because of messages spread by the Internet, "It is alarming that certain youth groups among the younger generation of Muslims in the Netherlands not only appear receptive to radicalization, but perceive violent jihad as positive and ‘cool.’"[18]

One of those to emerge as a respected voice for the "non-territorial state" and the decentralization of the Islamist forces is Abu Mus‘ab al-Suri, who argues that the "traditional secret organizations so typical for jihadist activities in the past, have outlived their relevance. Their dependency on sanctuaries in friendly states can no longer be counted upon in a unipolar world order and the increasing international cooperation against terrorism."[19]

Brynjar Lia of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, who has studied al-Suri’s influential "The Call for Global Islamic Resistance," states that:

Al-Suri’s slogan is: nizam, la tanzim, ‘System, not organisation’. In other words, there should be ‘an operative system’ or template, available anywhere for anybody, wishing to participate in the global jihad either on his own or with a small group of trusted associates, and there should not exist any ‘organisation for operations’. Hence, the global jihadist movement should discourage any direct organisational bonds between the leadership and the operative units. Leadership should only be exercised through ‘general guidance’ and the operative leaders should exist only at the level of small cells. The glue in this highly decentralised movement is nothing else than ‘a common aim, a common doctrinal program and a comprehensive (self-) educational program.’[20]

There seems to be little doubt that the Ikhwan remain the stronger force in Europe and will for the foreseeable future. At this time a large majority of European Muslims are not radicalized and are not willing to support violence, certainly not violence in their own countries of residence. But the so-called "long beards," armed with Saudi money, appeal to a new generation and Internet access and knowledge, are clearly making inroads. The connection between the Ikhwan-supported strategy of retaining one’s religious identity through the development of "Muslim ghettos" and the next step of viewing oneself as surrounded by the enemy, thereby justifying jihad, is not far. While the correlation of forces is unlikely to change radically in the immediate future, it is likely to change substantially over time.

How this evolves, and what choices are made in confronting the different tracks, will help determine the ability of these groups and others to successfully carry out their designs. The European intelligence services appear to have a better understanding of the Brotherhood and the emerging non-territorial jihad movement than their U.S. counterparts. Awareness is the first step. The next steps will be more difficult.


[1] Author interviews with European intelligence officials.

[2] Author interviews with European intelligence officials.

[3] “The Project: Towards an International Strategy of Islamic Policy,” Jan. 12, 1983, in possession of the author.

[4] “The Project: Towards an International Strategy of Islamic Policy,” Jan. 12, 1983, in possession of the author.

[5] Author interviews with European intelligence officials

[6] Author interviews with European intelligence officials.

[7] Author interviews with European intelligence official.

[8] Quotes reported in the Middle East Media Research Institute, Bulletin #447, Dec. 6, 2002, translating the fatwa issued on Dec. 2, 2002.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Violent Jihad in the Netherlands: Current Trends in Islamist Terrorist Threats,” The Ministry of the Interior, the Netherlands, November 2005, p. 13.

[11] Yousuf al-Qaradawi, “Priorities of the Islamic Movement in the Coming Phase,” April, 1990, accessed at: www.witness-pioneer.org/vil/Books/Q_Priorities/index.htm

[12] Yousuf al-Qaradawi, “Priorities of the Islamic Movement in the Coming Phase,” April, 1990, accessed at: www.witness-pioneer.org/vil/Books/Q_Priorities/index.htm

[13] Yousuf al-Qaradawi, “Priorities of the Islamic Movement in the Coming Phase,” April, 1990, accessed at: www.witness-pioneer.org/vil/Books/Q_Priorities/index.htm

[14] Reuven Paz, “The Non-Islamic States in Europe,” The Project for the Research of Islamist Movements (PRISM), December 2005.

[15] Bruce Bawer, “Not All Muslims Want to Integrate,” The Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 17, 2005.

[16] Bruce Bawer, “Not All Muslims Want to Integrate,” The Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 17, 2005.

[17] “Violent Jihad in the Netherlands: Current Trends in Islamist Terrorist Threats,” The Ministry of the Interior, the Netherlands, November 2005, p. 22.

[18] “Violent Jihad in the Netherlands: Current Trends in Islamist Terrorist Threats,” The Ministry of the Interior, the Netherlands, November 2005, p. 8.

[19] Paper by Brynjar Lia, PhD, Senior Researcher, Head of The Transnational Radical Islamism Project Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), “The al-Qaida Strategist Abu Mus‘ab al-Suri: A Profile,” presented March 15, 2006.

[20] Paper by Brynjar Lia, PhD, Senior Researcher, Head of The Transnational Radical Islamism Project Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), “The al-Qaida Strategist Abu Mus‘ab al-Suri: A Profile,” presented March 15, 2006.

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