Sputnik discussed the report with Qanta A. Ahmed, a British-American Muslim physician and member of the Committee on Countering Contemporary Anti-Semitism through Testimony, Shoah Foundation, University of Southern California.
Sputnik: In your view has the extremist preaching in Brussels’ main mosque been overlooked for such a long time?
Qanta A. Ahmed: It’s very difficult for me to say, but the circumstances you’re describing fit a pattern that's very typical of the indirect inculcation of terrorism. I’m sure if you spoke to any of the preachers at these mosques, they would say, “We did not personally coach an ISIS* fighter, we did not personally sent or financed jihadists out to Syria or Iraq.” But their language and their words are actually pure Islamism, which is casually known as radical Islam, masquerading as the true religion of Islam. What you just described, the enmity, not just mortal, but cosmic, towards Judaism or the barbaric punishments that they think are deemed for LBGTQ people, are classic central tenants of a political totalitarianism known as Islamism, which was invented in the 20th century. If you want another example that is similar to the Belgium situation, look at the history of the mosque in Munich where the 9/11 hijackers used to worship and were also indoctrinated by preachers even though they were financed by other people. This kind of language is hugely destructive to a democratic society and is absolutely antithetical to European values, but also true Islamic values. Islamic values, and I think as a Muslim myself, recognize the Jewish people and in fact even the Torah, their holy book and their prophet are absolutely recognized and revered by believing Muslims, so this is very important that this has been uncovered now.
Sputnik: Can you tell us where do these imams and the books they use usually come from?
Qanta A. Ahmed: Very often this kind of ideology is being financed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that has for many decades been exporting Wahhabi ideology. Salafism can be considered completely related to that. We know with the Belgium mosque in 1969 there was the deal signed between the Belgium Ministry of Public Works and the Islamic Cultural Center of Belgium linked to the World Muslim League that was created by Saudi Arabia. At the moment the current crown prince is functioning really as the de-facto king of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, is on the charm offensive – women are going to be driving, women can go to football matches, there’s going to be movies in Saudi Arabia. What we’re waiting to see is how will he really tackle this kind of ideology that his kingdom is known to export. They may not be Islamists themselves, the Saudi Arabians, but they’re huge patrons of Islamism. From where my family comes from in the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan and India, over 300,000 medreses are present there, all of them financed by this kind of money, which then raises a generation of Muslims with no real connection to Islam, but completely believing in evolutionary jihadism, and it’s a huge problem, until you tackle the financing you’re not going to be able to strangle the ideology.
Sputnik: How in your view can the authorities in Europe prevent Salafist mosques from preaching on their territory?
Qanta A. Ahmed: I think that they already seem to have had because they’ve discovered this kind of activity at this mosque, they’ve already had a dialogue with Saudi officials, the lease that was supposed to be for 99 years beginning in 1969 has already been terminated; now they’re looking for someone to fill that space and there’s rivalry within Belgium between people that are originally from Turkey and people originally from Morocco. There possibly an opportunity for Morocco to be able to step in, that is much more liberal and much more tolerant in its own society so, perhaps, that’s an opportunity, but a very important thing Europe needs to do, and we also need to do here in the United States, is begin to have very frank conversations about Islam and Islamism. Currently in the United States and also in Europe, as you know last night there was a knife attack in Paris and also we know in Indonesia there was a church bombing, both attacks by ISIS. There’s a fear of speaking about those things whether you're Muslim or not because you’re accused of Islamophobia, which is another false construct, so there have to be some very difficult conversations, and Muslims that are brave enough to confront these issues should be able to lead the way, and I think that there is an opportunity in Europe to do that. Parts of what happened in Europe, and I am from Europe originally, born in London, part of what’s happened is Europe is so tolerant, it has allowed dens of intolerance to develop extremely freely, much more so than we actually have in the Muslim world. A great example for the Belgium authorities would be to speak to Egypt where I have travelled. Egypt eliminated Muslim Brotherhood influence, and Muslim brotherhood was the progenitor of Islamism for mosques, so in Egypt the mosques are monitored from inside by authorities, sermons are listened to, if an Imam is preaching this kind of hatred that person is removed and the mosque is either shut down or cleansed of this kind of ideology because the Egyptian people know how destructive this is. Remember more than 90 percent of Egyptians voted to eliminate Morsi, the head of the Muslim brotherhood, from power. So real Muslims that know Islam, recognize this is a complete corruption of our religion. You also asked me in the preparation of this interview how many European fighters are there, well two day ago I got back from Kurdistan where I was with the Peshmerga, the extraordinary Kurdish soldiers who personally repelled ISIS from Iraqi territory with great heroism. The Peshmerga military leaders that I was with, generals and colonels, explain to me that many times they caught ISIS fighters, apprehended them, opened their jackets to find a European passport, so this problem inside Europe not only wreaks havoc in other places in the world, where having just met wives, women and children that were enslaved by ISIS, including sexually abused, as well as child soldiers that were indoctrinated by ISIS, I’ve just been with those people, this problem is returning to Europe. 2016 data show us that 4,000 EU citizens left to join ISIS in Iraq or Syria, about 30 percent have come back, but the vast majority, more than half of those people, are coming from four countries in Europe – Belgium, France, Germany and Britain – but the highest number are coming from Belgium. Belgium is a small country, but has the highest per capita ratio of ISIS fighters per citizens so surely this mosque may have been a big factor in indoctrinating its youth. Listeners can read my articles on my website about Islamism and how dangerous this is not only to democratic society but ordinary Muslims ourselves, and if we don’t take back Islam from Islamism we’re only going to face more of these problems.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.
*Terrorist organisation, also known as Daesh or ISIL, banned in Russia, the United States, United Kingdom and many other countries.