Across Europe, a reckoning with Islamism and jihadist terror is unfolding before our eyes. No longer is this an issue simply of security, instead it is an existential question of values and sovereignty. This week Sweden’s Interior Minister added his voice to the new chorus of tougher language:
There has been a shift away from individualising the problem — the idea that radicalisation happens when mysterious online recruiters reach into bedrooms to groom unsuspecting victims with hypnotic propaganda — and towards the ideological milieus where terrorists are socialised and competing values are inculcated. Damberg continued: “one cannot only look at the concrete terrorist threat, one must also look at the environments in which radicalisation takes place.”
Thanks to Western media coverage and the cynicism of foreign leaders jostling for influence in the Muslim world, Emmanuel Macron’s campaign against Islamism has drawn the most attention — intensified by the appalling Nice attack and the gruesome murder of Samuel Paty that preceded it. But the mood and the mechanisms for countering terrorism have been shifting across Europe for some time. Macron has talked of tackling ‘Islamist separatism’ for years, while in the words of Muslim Brotherhood expert Lorenzo Vidino:
Britain should not necessarily (and likely cannot) enact the same measures that some European countries are introducing, but we risk falling badly behind, at least in our perception of the threat.
While Europe is confronting Islamism with increasing boldness, we remain squeamish about even saying the term, and while ‘separatism’ may be more of a problem in France, the same environments and entrenched ideological milieus have produced carnage on our streets. Manchester bomber Salman Abedi was not radicalised alone in his bedroom by online propaganda, he was the product of radical networks that put their roots down in the city almost three decades ago.
The patterns are all around us — the 2.5 mile radius of Manchester around Abedi’s home produced 16 convicted or dead terrorists, while one university cohort produced 7 ISIS fighters — yet the political, ideological and environmental elements of the problem are often overlooked or actively downplayed.
A handful of Islamists in Manchester in the 1990s helped create the conditions for bloody reverberations and an ISIS exodus over two decades later. So what impact will the hundreds who joined ISIS or who languish in our prisons have? Britain will be better equipped for the next two decades of terror if, like Europe, we allow ourselves to see the bigger picture.