Islamic fundamentalism, “simple decisions” and European values


For the past year I have participated in several debates in European Parliament concerned with tackling Islamic terrorism. My interest in the topic was fuelled by the immediate experience as a witness of terror attack in the Brussels airport in March 2016. Over the course of various discussions I have confirmed my opinion that it is not possible to defeat Islamic, as well as any other terrorism, with the help of police and intelligence services alone. It is far more important to secure a victory in the war of values and ideas, MEP Yana Toom wrote in the EP Today.

Islamic, as well as Christian religious fundamentalism, is a pained human reaction to the modernity, along with the fear of necessity to step out of the rigid, yet understandable life of traditions and patriarchal relations. Contemporary European society is very complex and faces extremely diversified problems. Fundamentalism, however, may seem appealing since it offers “simple decisions”. Therefore there is also another form of fundamentalism – that of the inhabitants of large cities who seek salvation in turning back to the “forefathers’ wisdom” and traditional forms of faith.

It is important to note that of all others, individuals who grew up or seemingly indigenised in Europe were involved in carrying out the most terrifying attacks of the recent times, such as the ones in Paris and Nice. Europeans are especially afraid of the sensation that there is an invisible enemy creeping among them, and this enemy is capable of stabbing their backs at any given moment. Mass killings in European cities, growing power of ISIS and influx of refugees from the Middle-East – together these factors can effortlessly perturb European governments and citizens. However easy it would seem to go down the wrong path, it would not solve the problems rooted in radical Islam, on the contrary – it would aggravate them.

Recently European Parliament has adopted quite a few resolutions and reports touching upon radicalism, in particular:

• Resolution of 25 November 2015 on the prevention of radicalisation and recruitment of European citizens by terrorist organisations

• Resolution of 11 February 2015 on anti-terrorism measures

While agreeing with follow MEPs, I would like nonetheless to offer my own explanation of why people who grew up or reside in Europe may become terrorists.

There is a number of obvious factors that contribute to the increase of the radical Islam in Europe. In several countries there are closed Islamic communities that are often poorly integrated in the hosting society and are promotive of the marginalisation of youth. There is also the flow of propaganda coming from the outside of the European Union – ISIS has made great progress in this field lately. Moreover there are extremist preachers, whom European governments do little to set back. The radicalisation of religious views often happens with social instability and lack of prospects in the background, under the influence of friends and relations, and as a consequence of misfortunes in personal life. However, all these things cannot provide a comprehensive answer to the question: why, on the looks of it, ordinary young people start killing randomly for the sake of some abstract ideas.

In order to understand Islamic fundamentalism, we need to find similar phenomenon in European history. It is important to admit that while fundamentalism is a reaction to the modern world, in essence it represents an alternative project of the future. In their own time anarchism and later European fascism had roughly the same role. Fascists rose to power quite quickly in a number of countries and switched from individual- to the state-coordinated terror. Decades later, in 1970s European leftists have yet again immersed Italy and Germany into terror. As we can see, history repeats itself, although organised terror changes labels and political cronies. One thing remains unchanged, though – the strive to reach fast radical changes through violence.

There have always been many young people among terrorists – black-and-white thinking and often willingness to sacrifice are characteristic of youth. Militant fascists, then radical rightist armed group, radical communists that followed and guys from RAF and BR – all of them one way or another could not fit in, become a part of the society and find their place in it. In their case, ideology became a substitute for a normal life. Striving for an unreachable ideal took place at the expense of fostering genuine human feelings and relationships. While having different ideologies, these movements represented the same concepts: horrible anti-world for the society and fighting as a goal and reason for existence for the terrorists.

Intoxication with Islamic terrorism has become the mark of our time, when both European fascism and communism have gone to the dustbin of history. Among powerful secular ideologies remain liberalism which, alas, is not always appealing to the youth from the deprived areas; social democracy that has poor solutions to the issues of the modern era; and radical nationalism, which is usually unacceptable to the children of the immigrants. Islamic fundamentalism has filled in the empty niche, declaring the bond with the “religion of the forefathers” of the many of its followers. However, simple answers to the complex social questions are its main asset: it is not a coincidence that many Europeans nowadays fight for ISIS.

Systemic battle with terrorist threat must include preventive measures by the police as well as extensive effort in the field of education and awareness raising. But these factors alone are not sufficient to win the battle for the souls of potential terrorists: Europe must finally provide itself and the world with an integral world view of its values and its social structure. Although all of us know what European values are, we are still lost in details and nuances. Besides, we attempt to cover social problems of immigrant communities with multiculturalism tag, indifference towards the needs of religious people with secularism tag and inability to empathize with tolerance. Restless youth is very sensitive of this. During its fat years Europe has relaxed, deideologised, became indifferent. If we do not commence with extensive public debates about our values and about our vision of the future right away, the “simple decisions” of fundamentalists will continue to enchant European youth.