In the wake every terror atrocity that Europe has suffered, politicians and commentators have scrambled to cobble together explanations about why some Muslims turn into extremists. The same thing happens whenever anyone questions why so many young European Muslims have left the peace and relative affluence of the societies they grew up in and have instead chosen the horrors of life under the Islamic State in Syria.
Following the recent attacks in Paris and Brussels, the word Molenbeek began to recur in the news cycle. That’s the name of the neighborhood in the Belgian capital that became the center of the now infamous Islamic State cell that has been terrorizing Europe. Depending on which estimates you go on, Molenbeek’s demographic is somewhere between 25 and 40 percent Muslim. Those seeking to make sense of Europe’s growing problem with radical Islam are increasingly recognizing the challenge of extremism spreading through socially isolated Muslim communities that have formed in urban areas with a relatively high Muslim population density.
Last week the polling company ICM released findings from a major survey of British Muslim opinion. The poll which was commissioned as part of a television documentary specifically looked into the views of Muslim’s living in localities with a 20 percent or higher Muslim population density. As the Times of London observed in its leader on the subject; Muslims living in many of these communities are now leading “parallel lives” quite distinct from the surrounding society.
What the findings of this poll point to is that there is now a sizable portion of the British Muslim community that holds views that are completely at odds with the pluralistic values that liberal democracies depend upon to function and survive. Take what British Muslims think about other minority groups such as Jews and homosexuals. In the ICM poll, 52 percent of Muslim’s said they thought homosexuality should be made illegal in Britain. And what respondents had to say about Jews was no less shocking. Well over a third repeatedly endorsed wildly anti-Semitic statements.
No less than 44 percent of Muslim’s agreed that Jews have too much power in the business world, 38 percent said Jews have too much control over global affairs, 39 percent said Jews have too much influence over the media, and 26 percent said that Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars. Additionally, 34 percent agreed that “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the holocaust.” However, when questioned, only ten percent could accurately identify the number of Jews actually murdered in the Holocaust.
Cautious estimates from other research suggest that Muslims may be responsible for somewhere between twenty and thirty percent of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain, despite making up only five percent of the population. Yet, talking honestly about this problem remains difficult. The notion that one minority group might be responsible for directing bigotry against another seems to be incomprehensible to polite opinion. The overarching narrative remains that racism only happens in one direction, from the Caucasian majority toward everyone else.
Nevertheless, the findings of this survey have ramifications with the potential to impact wider society far beyond only Jews and homosexuals. It reveals a subculture among British Muslims where extreme social conservatism winds its way on into religious extremism and eventually toward support for terrorist violence and, in some cases, even sympathy with ISIS.
In the survey, 39 percent of Muslim’s agreed that wives should always obey their husbands while 31 percent said it should be acceptable for a Muslim man in Britain to keep multiple wives. And almost a quarter said they would support Sharia taking precedence over British law in Muslim dominated areas. Just how far respondents envisage this going is difficult to say. For while only 5 percent said they sympathized with introducing stoning for adultery, 78 percent said they didn’t believe any publication should have the right to publish a picture of Muhammed; suggesting that many believe that the enforcement of certain Islamic principles should be applied for more widely than just within the Muslim community itself.
Inevitably, for a hard core minority, these views stray into justifying violent extremism. For instance, 24 percent of British Muslims said it would be acceptable for organized groups to engage in violence to protect their religion, and 22 percent said they would sympathize with using violence to fight “injustice” by the police, and 20 percent agreed with the same when it came to using violence to fight the government. While only 7 percent said they actually supported Islamic State, two-thirds said they would not tell the police if they knew a fellow Muslim was actively supporting terrorism in Syria.
What we are confronted with here may, for the most part, only be a very extreme minority within a minority. But as we have seen with previous attacks, it can only take a handful of very determined radicals to inflict mass casualty terror attacks. These individuals are emerging from a much wider social milieu, such as the one that has now formed in Molenbeek. And after all, the Islamic State cell that hid out in Molenbeek for months after the Paris attacks weren’t able to do so without cooperation and acquiesce from at least some of the locals. Indeed, we saw how following the arrest of ringleader Salah Abdeslam the Belgian police came under attack from local youths in that neighborhood.
Almost every major European city now has its own Molenbeek. Given the large number of Middle Eastern and North African migrants currently entering Europe, these neighborhoods will almost certainly mushroom. The ICM poll of British Muslim opinion gives a snapshot of how these areas can become host to an extreme subculture radically opposed to the democratic values of the surrounding society. What we are still waiting for is for Europe’s political establishment to come up with some kind of explanation for what they intend to do about any of this.