The Netherlands domestic intelligence service (AIVD) has issued a lengthy English language report warning of the growth of what it calls “non-violent Islamic neo-radicalism” which it defines as follows:
..there currently exists a variety of movements actively seeking the imposition of strict Islamic law and tenets. And they, for all sorts of reasons, are experiencing growth. These movements have their origins in the Islamic world, operate according to a strongly religious agenda, are outspokenly hostile to the values of Western democracy in a whole range of respects and reject the idea of integration into a society built upon those values. In no way, however, do they propound the use of violence in order to achieve their objectives. Their message does very much seem to strike a chord with groups of young Muslims in the Netherlands and other parts of Western Europe, who are currently struggling with issues of identity. Consequently, a train has been set in motion which – given the growth these movements currently are enjoying – might eventually lead to a growing section of the Dutch or European Muslim communities turning away, physically as well as mentally, from their surrounding societies
Although almost the entire report concerns the threat posed by Islamic salafists, those seeking what they view as an uncorrupted, pure Islamic religious community and hence a complete separation from the host society, the AIVD report does consider the Muslim Brotherhood to be another variant of neo-radicalism:
Not all Muslim Brothers or their sympathisers are recognisable as such. They do not always reveal their religious loyalties and ultra-orthodox agenda to outsiders. Apparently co-operative and moderate in their attitude to Western society, they certainly have no violent intent. But they are trying to pave the way for ultra-orthodox Islam to play a greater role in the Western world by exercising religious influence over Muslim immigrant communities and by forging good relations with relevant opinion leaders: politicians, civil servants, mainstream social organisations, non-Islamic clerics, academics, journalists and so on. This policy of engagement has been more noticeable in recent years, and might possibly herald a certain liberalisation of the movement’s ideas. It presents itself as a widely supported advocate and legitimate representative of the Islamic community. But the ultimate aim – although never stated openly – is to create, then implant and expand, an ultra-orthodox Muslim bloc inside Western Europe.
The AIVD report continues to speculate about a decline in the influence of the Brotherhood in Europe which it attributes to its failure to attract younger adherents:
The Muslim Brotherhood is actually still in the first phase of Islamic radicalism’s development. The movement may be active in various European countries, and enjoy considerable influence in some of them – Germany included – but its cadre still consists mainly of first-generation immigrants who are usually well-schooled in ultra-orthodox doctrine and methods. The Brotherhood has failed to bring down the age of that core group, however. Nor has it really succeeded in reaching a younger generation of Muslims who often come from totally different cultural backgrounds. In this effort, it is encountering strong competition from the Salafis. Whilst the Brotherhood made some progress in attracting youngsters to their politico-religious message during the 1990s, it is now political Salafism which is making the running with that audience. As a result, the Muslim Brotherhood is less prominent in Europe now than it was a few years ago. And its willingness to engage in the political process has probably been its undoing. Young Muslim radicals are not prepared to make such concessions, so they feel more attracted to the Salafis and other ultra-orthodox movements. Nevertheless, the European Muslim Brothers still have considerable influence. For instance, they played an important role in the recent controversy surrounding the Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. And they did not shy away from the use of provocative tactics during that.
Operating from Doha in Qatar, the Egyptian Muslimbrother Yusuf al-Qaradawi – who preaches on al-Jazeera television and chairs the Dublin-based European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR) – plays a part in that strategy. He regularly presents himself as the religious leader of Europe’s Muslims and issues religious edicts (‘fatwas’) providing practical interpretations of orthodox Islamic law for use in the diaspora. For example, the ECFR – which has no formal ties with the Muslim Brotherhood – has ruled that European Muslims may use interest-paying Western banking services where no Islamic alternative is available. This ‘fatwa’ typifies the blend of ideology and pragmatism now displayed by the Muslim Brotherhood. In the European context, it is prepared to make concessions and to be less dogmatic than other radical dawa movements, but at the same time it still holds firm to the supremacy of Islam and the compelling need for observance.
(It is curious that the AIVD identifies Qaradawi as a Muslim Brother yet attempts to distance the ECFR from the Brotherhood by repeating the standard Brotherhood disclaimer of “no formal ties.”)
The above observations are a combination of useful descriptions of the Muslim Brotherhood together with speculation about their declining influence in Europe relative to the Salafi movement. However it is difficult to judge the validity of this speculation in the absence of how the AIVD arrived at their conclusions. It is not all together clear that influence is directly correlated to how much appeal the Brotherhood has to young Europeans relative to the Salafists, particularly since Salafists by definition relinquish participation in the larger society. Part of the difficulty may lie in the failure of the report to clearly spell out what it means by “influence.” As various posts have documented, the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe has made great strides in establishing control of mosques, obtaining legitimacy from various governments, and in establishing funding networks to support Hamas, its terrorism arm. As the report notes, the Brotherhood works within the political system to achieve its aims and therefore risks being seeing seen as insufficiently radical by younger Muslims. The Brotherhood then attempts to counter by attempting to take the lead on issues such as the Danish cartoon affair. The Muslim Brotherhood has been walking this fine line between legitimacy and radicalism since the mid 1970’s in Egypt when, under the Sadat regime, it began to reach an unspoken accommodation with the Egyptian government allowing some measure of freedom for its operations. Given this long history, it would be premature declare a victory in the competition with the Brotherhood and the Salafists.