The Muslim leader who can defeat Islamism

By Jake Wilde

After the terrorist attacks in Brussels three months ago I wrote about the danger of under-reacting, in particular about not making the mistake of thinking that Daesh were comparable to traditional European “liberation” movements such as the IRA.

“Daesh are not attacking European cities in order to conquer them. Or to force countries to leave them in peace in their so-called caliphate. They attack because they wish us dead. If they had nuclear weapons they would use them. There are no demands from Daesh because they have none. There are no warnings before bombings because this is not about terror, it is about death. There is nothing to negotiate, nothing to discuss over a cup of tea.”

I think this is being missed in the analysis of the atrocity in Orlando, described by President Obama as terrorism (and there are other factors involved too). This is understandable shorthand for ideologically based mass murder but it is incorrect. The purpose of terrorism is to induce fear amongst a population in order to modify behaviour, such as the withdrawal of troops or political concessions, or flight amongst a civilian population. Daesh have no such motivations. They do not demand that the United States stop their bombing campaign. They do not demand peace talks. These are not terror attacks, these are death attacks.

In my previous piece I also drew the contrast between Al Qaeda and Daesh, in that the latter have generally relied upon radicalised national citizens to undertake their attacks, either as part of a centrally organised and coordinated campaign using cells and networks, or inspiring individuals to act alone without any direction. This is covered in greater detail in an excellent piece by Kevin D Williamson today in National Review:

“We speak of “lone wolf” jihadists as though this phenomenon were somehow independent of the wider Islamist project. It is not. The model of “leaderless resistance” in the service of terrorist projects is not new, and it has not been employed by the Islamists at random. If Omar Mateen turns out, as expected, to have had little or no substantive contact with organized Islamist groups, that fact will demonstrate the success of their communication strategy rather than the limitations of their reach.”

Max Boot, writing in Commentary today, also makes the point that there is no magic bullet for stopping the “lone wolf”, but diligence and extensive (occasionally undercover) intelligence:

Of course, the best human intelligence-gathering depends on the cooperation of the communities where you are trying to gain information. Thus, maintaining good relations between the American Muslim community and various law enforcement agencies is of critical importance. Unfortunately Donald Trump’s crude anti-Muslim rhetoric and his calls to “ban” foreign Muslims (which would not have stopped the American-born Mateen) detract from this goal by sending Muslims a message that they are less than wholly American. Part of the reason why there has been less terrorism in the U.S. than in Europe is that we have done a better job of assimilating our Muslims. It would be a costly tragedy if that achievement were to be undone.

The multi-layered Islamist war upon non-Islamists claims lives across the world, in Iraq and Syria, in Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Western Europe, the United States and countless other countries and regions besides, with the fifty people murdered in Orlando the latest western casualties. The Islamists involved in this war are a mixture of conventional troops, cell-based terror groups and individuals motivated to act alone. The latter two concentrate upon, almost exclusively, “soft” targets amongst the civilian population. As Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister who is still the clearest voice in The West on what needs to be done, observed after the Paris Attacks “We are at war”. So why are we not behaving as though we are? There is no sense that we, as a society, have been galvanised to do anything other than mourn when yet another atrocity is committed.

We need to be honest with ourselves. We have an enemy, and that enemy wants us dead. We must abandon our normal concepts of an enemy that can be subdued, educated and brought back into the fold. I fear we have yet to convince people, especially in the West, that this is not like the terrorism they are either used to or have read in history books. The blunt truth is that the only good Islamist is a dead Islamist. This is a difficult concept for our Western liberal sensitivities to accept.

But we forget that we are not the only enemy of Islamism and we need to work harder to build alliances at home and around the world, not just with Muslims but with everybody who isn’t an Islamist. This requires genuine leadership. It is understandable why some have mistaken Donald Trump’s overblown, ill-conceived and insubstantial rhetoric for leadership.

The controversy surrounding Owen Jones’s appearance on Sky News illustrates what needs to happen. People who attend a gay-friendly nightclub are targets in the same way as Nigerian schoolgirls, Jewish shoppers, or Parisian rock fans. Gay people are targeted because they are gay, and that, to Islamists, is an additional crime upon their broader crime of not being Islamists. It follows that there should be common ground between the LGBTI community and every other non-Islamist section of society on this one issue if nothing else, and this is important enough to be called a matter of life or death.

To create such an alliance between the LGBTI community and non-Islamist Muslims is certainly a challenge but we have, in Europe, an example of the leadership that is required. Earlier today I tweeted about the importance of Muslim leaders like Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi:

President Thaçi is a Muslim who fought to liberate his country, not to impose a caliphate but a liberal democracy. He is the fifth President of a country that saw 314 of its citizens join Daesh in the last two years. Constitutionally secular Kosovo has found itself at the centre of the broader conflict between the old West and the new East. This is from Carlotta Gall’s detailed piece for the New York Times on Daesh’s Kosovar recruits:

They were radicalized and recruited, Kosovo investigators say, by a corps of extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab gulf states using an obscure, labyrinthine network of donations from charities, private individuals and government ministries.

“They promoted political Islam,” said Fatos Makolli, the director of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police. “They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature. They brought these people closer to radical political Islam, which resulted in their radicalization.”

In May of this year President Thaçi was at the head of Pristina’s first ever Gay Pride march. Those who think that it is impossible for Islam and the LGBTI community to work together against hate and death need look no further than President Thaçi. More than that, he also knows the perils of failing to act. Carlotta Gall again:

Why the Kosovar authorities — and American and United Nations overseers — did not act sooner to forestall the spread of extremism is a question being intensely debated.

As early as 2004, the Prime Minister at the time, Bajram Rexhepi, tried to introduce a law to ban extremist sects. But, he said in a recent interview at his home in northern Kosovo, European officials told him that it would violate freedom of religion.

“It was not in their interest, they did not want to irritate some Islamic countries,” Mr Rexhepi said. “They simply did not do anything.”

Writing in The Guardian towards the end of 2014, while Prime Minister, Thaçi said:

“Kosovo is a country where the majority of the population declare themselves to be Muslim. But Kosovars wholly reject the religious dogma proposed by radical strains of political Islam, and we shall not allow it to endanger our path towards eventual NATO and EU membership.

We will crush any cells that believe, wrongfully, that they can find cover in Kosovo. Just as my former guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army rejected offers from jihadists who wanted to volunteer in the 1999 war, we now reject the new evil that is stemming from Islamic State and related groups in the Middle East.”

Here is the model then, for both Western countries and Islamism’s enemies amongst Islamic countries, to follow. Kosovo have turned the situation around, destroying the networks that acted as recruitment to Daesh and putting the perpetrators on trial. The result has been popular support for Hashim Thaçi’s election as President in February and Kosovars having the highest approval rating in the world for the United States.

Writing after Austria’s Presidential election saw a narrow defeat for the far right candidate, Norbert Hofer, Thaçi explained the potentially crucial role that Kosovars, and other Balkan citizens, could play in the quest for a peaceful future:

“Hofer’s platform, like other far-right movements in Europe is based on the Huntingtonian concept of the clash of civilizations and on promoting the theory that Islam is incompatible with Europe. For us in Kosovo, Albania or Bosnia, with large strata of our societies belonging to the Muslim faith, this effectively excludes us from feeling part of the continent where we have lived for centuries, indeed millennia.

Besides, Kosovo is not Muslim: our society is secular and civic.

Kosovo became the first Balkan country to elect a woman president in 2011 and is the only Balkan country to have recognised the LGBTI community in its constitution. I led the LGBTI Pride Parade in Kosovo last month to mark our support for this community precisely to show our citizens and the wider world that extremism and prejudice has no place in our midst.

Neither are we a safe haven for extremists. Our security services have made 110 arrests and secured 67 indictments and 26 convictions against ISIS supporters in our country. US Secretary of State John Kerry noted in a recent visit to Kosovo that Kosovars are the regional leaders in combating violent extremism.”

The bombastic soundbites and the vague military strategy offered by Donald Trump needs to be rejected, not because the use of force is not the solution, but because Trump suggests that he can solve the problem without Muslims. That is to ignore the most fundamental of simple facts – more Muslims die at the hands of Islamists than anyone else. Islamism is a far bigger problem for Muslims than it is for The West and Muslims like Hashim Thaçi have proved they have the answers to destroy Islamism while retaining a commitment to liberal democracy. If it’s a strongman you want then at least look to the real thing.

 

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7 thoughts on “The Muslim leader who can defeat Islamism

  1. Part of the reason there have been fewer Muslim terrorist atrocties in the US is that the US has a much smaller Muslim population. Didn’t stop Osama though.

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  2. Obama and his allies don’t believe this can be solved without Muslims either. The problem is that he chooses the wrong ones. Mindlessly sucking up to the Muslim Brotherhood types and ignoring the truly anti-Islamist Muslims is no recipe for success.

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  3. Thaçi did not fight for a liberal democracy; he fought to impose a kleptocracy. There is much that is good about the efforts of the few brave souls in Kosovo who try to encourage a free press and a civil society with democratic values, and Thaçi is the embodiment of everything they detest. As for “popular support,” perhaps you might reflect that the head of Prizren and Skenderaj municipalities, both from Thaçi’s party, have both been sentenced to jail for corruption, yet both continue to run their respective councils. The state broadcaster is a creature of Thaçi’s party, for which it has been repeatedly been criticized by the EBU. The criticisms of Transparency International, the EU and other bodies about Thaçi’s regime have evidently passed you by. The truth is, if it weren’t for the international presence, Kosovo would be as democratic as Putin’s Russia.

    The woman president, Atifete Jahjaga, was not so much “elected” as appointed by the American ambassador having forbidden alternatives like Behgjet Pacolli. In Kosovo, she’s known as Zarife (from “zarf,” meaning “envelope”) for the envelope delivered by the US ambassador to the parliament with her name in.

    Perhaps you ought to read Stephen Schwartz or Xhabir Hamiti on the Kosovo Islamic Community and the stories about the closeness of the Grand Mufti Halit Tërnava to Islamists. Or the many stories circulating in the press in Kosovo that many of the arrests were to please the Americans and that the accusations had not much evidence behind them. To say that Kosovo is seriously tackling Islamism, let alone has defeated it is, to say the least, fanciful.

    Many of those from Kosovo who have gone to fight in Syria have gone not out of theocratic fanaticism but for money. Daesh pays well by Kosovo standards and it is worth remembering that Kosovo has 50% unemployment, 40% of people earn less than 2 euros a day and citizens of Kosovo have no freedom of movement to work in Europe. Meanwhile, young men and women are paid by “charities” from the Gulf to follow the Wahabi lifestyle and they get more numerous every year. The people of Kosovo need also help to work so they can support themselves, otherwise they will take to desperate measures.

    I live part of the year in Prishtina and have been active for 20 years in the cause of a democratic and free Kosovo, so I’m happy about any positive story. But that story has to rely on a thorough understanding of the country and an attachment to values of freedom, decency and democracy that are just as valid for people in Kosovo as the West. What the people of Kosovo need is the ability to get a job or a qualification without worrying about their party affiliation or the size of the bribe they have to pay. What they do not need is to be patronized.

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  4. You might also like to know that, in the last two parliamentary elections, Hashim Thaçi’s PDK party ran on an electoral slate with the Partia e Drejtësisë (Justice Party) which is, um, a hardline Islamic party. So we should think Thaçi’s a wonderful guy for leading a Pride March? LGBTQ+ people under Thaçi faced violent attacks and public outings during the years he was prime minister and he didn’t complain once. But Thaçi’s nom de guerre is not Gjarpni (“the snake”) for nothing: he is brilliant at gestures that beguile the impressionable and serve his purpose – a new constitution with a powerful presidency centred on one Hashim Thaçi.

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