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How West Allowed Islamist Radicalisation to Flourish

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Home-grown terror emerged, often under the protective umbrella of the state.

By Megha Arora

What has drawn thousands of westerners to jihad? Why have products of the modern liberal secular state taken up arms against their fellow citizens? Why were the French astonished at how "French" the perpetrators of the November 2015 Paris attacks were?

Among other acts by extremist Islamists in the West, the brutal carnage witnessed as a result of home-grown terrorism in Paris recently, can partly be attributed to the violent subcultures of radicalisation that have emerged and flourished in the West, often under the protective umbrella of the state. Many causes have been identified, but in the frenzied and flat debate on radicalisation, the acts of omission and commission by the western states over decades have largely been ignored.

Many religious extremist anti-state elements, arguably terrorists, found refuge in the US, UK, Germany, France and other Western states in blatant abuses of asylum law. Among radicalised elements from across the developing world, the broad trend included top ideological leaders from West Asia and North Africa, particularly Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, who had perpetrated violence against the state and preached anti-west political views in their own countries.

Prominent examples included Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, allegedly tortured in Egypt as a suspected radical Islamist before he found political asylum in the United Kingdom, who was sentenced to death in absentia in 1995 by the Egyptian authorities. He was eventually extradited to the United States for his involvement in the 1998 US embassy bombing and links to Al-Qaeda. His son is one of the earliest known Londoners to have traveled to Syria and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State

Hani al-Sibai, an Egyptian Sunni who was one of the 14 members of the shura of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organisation active since the late 1970's with the primary goal to replace the Egyptian government with an Islamic state, was convicted by Egyptian authorities in 1999 in absentia and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He is also one of the many radicals who arrived in Britain as a political refugee in 1994. The organisation he was a part of later broadened its ambition to attacking American and Israeli interests.

Abu Anas Al Libi was granted asylum in the United Kingdom after a failed Al-Qaeda plot to kill Hosni Mubarak. The Egyptian request for extradition was denied on the ground that he would not receive a fair trial. He eventually became a computer specialist for Al-Qaeda and was implicated in the 1998 United States embassy bombings.

Mahmud Abouhalima, who spent his adolescence with the al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, a militant Sunni Islamist organisation considered a terrorist formation by the United States and the European Union, found permanent residence in the United States in 1986 on expiry of his tourist visa. He was eventually convicted as one of the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Many other radical preachers who received asylum established networks that influenced and supported acts of violence and operated with a free hand from mosques across the West for a very long time.

They propagated the particular orthodox interpretation of Islam rooted in Wahhabism and distorted the mindsets of a generation. Over the years, these mosques helped create an atmosphere in which killing came to be considered as not only a legitimate course of action but a moral and religious duty in pursuit of perceived justice.

Thus, for instance, the imam (prayer reader) of the Dar Al Hijrah mosque in Northern Virginia between 2001 and 2002 was Anwar al-Awlaki, a senior Al-Qaeda recruiter, known to give eloquent talks to bolster the ideological appeal of Jihad. The mosque's imam from 1995 to 1999 was Mohammad al-Hanooti, a co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Islamic Center Tucson (ICT) in Arizona is alleged to have served as the first cell of Al-Qaeda in the United States.

So deep was the radicalisation in the United Kingdom that one writer sought to capture the mood in the sobriquet Londonistan. A survey of radical mosques in the UK gives an insight into this system. Abu Qatada, alleged to be the "spiritual leader" of Al-Qaeda in Europe and the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), was granted asylum in Britain in 1994 on grounds of "religious persecution" in Jordan. From his base in London as the preacher at the Finsbury Park Mosque, Qatada is known to have advanced a regressive view of militant Islam and inspired a cohort of terrorists.

Abu Hamza Al-Masri, who sent an article to Al-Hayat, a pan-Arab newspaper, supporting the Russian apartment bombings that killed 300 people, was a preacher at Finsbury Park Mosque from 1999 till his arrest in 2004. Abu Uzair, formerly a member of Al-Muhajiroun - a banned terrorist organisation that earned notoriety for its "Magnificent 19" conference praising the 9/11 hijackers - also preached at Finsbury.

Al-Qaeda operatives, including the shoe bomber Richard Reid (who Christopher Hitchens described in Vanity Fair as the man in whose honour we have to take off our shoes at airports); French citizen Zaracias Moussaoui, convicted of involvement in the 9/11 attacks; and millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam, were all "inspired" by the sermons at Finsbury. The mosque was known the world over for its militant Islamist preachers, many whom came seeking a safe haven from the dirty war between the Algerian state and Islamist rebel groups.

Similarly, the terrorists of the London metro bombings were inspired by the teachings of Abdullah El-Faisal, a cleric who preached at Brixton Mosque and gave lectures all around the UK. El-Faisal was finally convicted in 2003 for stirring up racial hatred against Jews, Christians and Hindus. Al Quds mosque in Hamburg, Germany, known for preaching Sunni Islam, became the breeding ground for a group of radical Islamists, including students who eventually became the key executers of 9/11.

Jocelyne Cesari, a senior fellow at Georgetown University, points out the "powerful presence of the Salafi version of Islam in the religious market of ideas" that has resulted in community hubs permeated by a deep sense of collective sympathy for acts of political violence. A network of radical mosques that promoted hate speech under the garb of religion operated under the benign neglect of the law enforcement agencies in the West, as long as the killings they inspired were located in strange and faraway places. Arrests and convictions were too little, too late and took place only after high-profile attacks specifically targeting civilians in the West.

Western cynicism is exemplified by what Mohammad Sifaoui, author of Inside Al-Qaeda, describes as the "covenant of security" that has long been acknowledged between British Islamists and UK intelligence agencies. Omar Bakri, leader of Al-Muhajiroun and founder of Hizb-ut-Tahrir - an organisation believed to be contributing to the politically charged festering ground of terrorism - moved to the UK in 1986 and openly claimed in 2004 that Muslims would give the West a 9/11 day after day.

He confirmed the concept by narrating a story about the companions of the Prophet, who were given hospitality and protection by a nation while travelling to Abyssinia. The notion of the covenant is an unspoken directive not to attack the inhabitants of any country in which the person is living safely, but without any obligation to abandon the fundamental beliefs of the superiority of Islam or necessity of the world's submission to its ideology.

The "covenant" is, in essence, an opportunistic deferring of conflict against a host society, to secure prior objectives against others. Richard Watson, an investigative journalist with the BBC, confirmed that for more than 20 years, security agencies knowingly turned a blind eye while preachers twisted the minds of recruits with religious hatred.

These are only some of the most prominent examples of elements who, under an ambiguous and selectively applied notion of human rights, were allowed to plant themselves in safe havens and mobilise funds to carry out terrorist attacks and disseminate propaganda from the West, into target societies around the world. The duplicity was evident. Law enforcement agencies stood back as long as the hate speech and violence was directed elsewhere, notably in the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan and civil wars across Asia and Africa.

It is only when Western countries came under direct assault that the activities of rogue elements were brought under intensive scrutiny. In a fascinating u-turn of morality, the West- the custodian of human rights- abruptly popularised terms like "extraordinary rendition", "extrajudicial detention" and "torture by proxy" in the counter-terrorism discourse after the September 11 attacks.

Moreover, the monster of home-grown radicalism in the West did not emerge in a vacuum. It grew over decades, neglected and aided by deranged policies overlaid on societies riddled with racism, ghettoisation and active discrimination that created a large pool of grievances and resentment - sentiments that were easily harnessed by radical Islamist preachers who were planted within precisely these population segments by the myopic policies of the host countries in Europe and North America.

Western scholars are quick to notice the "blowback" of support and sponsorship of terrorism in distant societies, but fail to recognise that this, too, is blowback.

[Source: Daily O]

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