Extrange

What ISIS Wants

Wed, 23 Mar 2016 | norman

ISIS wants an Islamic Caliphate, and, technically, although the borders are rather fluid and they are not recognised as a state, they already have one.

ISIS also wants the Caliphate to be recognised as the de facto home of Sunni Muslims, where Muslims can, and should, live as God wants. And here is the problem. Millions of Muslims don't want to live there. They have fled the region, and are pouring into Turkey, Greece and Western Europe.

How can ISIS discredit Europe as a better destination for Muslims than their Caliphate? They can turn Europeans against Muslims.

Firstly, it's easy: Right-wing Europeans have been gaining political popularity since before the wave of immigrants from Syria, and Muslim immigration just offers more support for their xenophobic narrative.

Secondly, it's win-win. When you kill European citizens, not only do Europeans blame Islam in general, and immigration in particular, but as a bonus you have more dead Europeans! Allahu Akbar!

Thirdly, politically moderate Europeans, not just those on the political right, are being persuaded that Muslims are bad for Europe. And their reasoning is justifiable; A large influx of people who subscribe to a theocratic philosophy, and who separate themselves from European society, will detract from the liberal, secular, humanist aspects of European society over time, and undo a lot of what Europeans feel separates them from the rest of the world, even America, and what they value highly.

Is there a way not to give ISIS what it wants? Can we undermine terrorism, help Muslims and save Europe?

Yes. I think there is. It is a pattern that has been repeated in Britain many times. In fact 1066 was the last time Britain failed at this, and since then, after waves of immigration from France, Holland, Germany, India and Pakistan over the centuries, they have succeeded every time: Assimilate.

In liberal Europe "assimilate" is a dirty word. It evokes ideas of the loss of cultural heritage, stifling diversity, and it pricks old wounds of fascism and the superiority of Aryan culture over all others. I feel you. I also value diversity and individualism. However, Sunni Islam will be just fine as a culture whether Muslim immigrants to Europe become more European or not, and the Arabic language is definitely not about to die out.

Assimilation is important to preserve the liberal, secular, humanist character of Europe, and to spread it among an immigrant population sorely in need of some liberal humanist love.

Which brings me to the way in which I imagine this is possible. The approach needs to be one of caring, and listening, and helping. And of all places on Earth where the kind of universal, broad-based programme I have in mind might work, Europe stands the best chance:

Every immigrant family is assigned a local assistant. These need not be professional social workers. Knowing the local language and being willing to assist the new family must be sufficient qualifications.

Encouraged behaviour is financially rewarded. (This is called conditional cash transfer, or CCT, and has been shown to work well for similar use cases. See "Conditional cash transfer" on Wikipedia for citations. The amounts concerned need not be massive outlays of taxpayers' money. Immigrants tend not to be rich, and so small cash rewards are valuable, and can form part of the structure of national social grants.) The behaviour that might be encouraged, for example, is ensuring that girls attend school after legal school-leaving age, and that children go to public schools, not religious schools.

But the value for immigrants needs to be more than just small cash rewards for encouraged behaviour. A local assistant's task is to help with all aspects of moving to a new country. They should help the family to open a bank account, and to get driving licenses, help them to understand and navigate local laws, and to encourage them to join non-religious interest groups and societies. They should listen to their problems, and even if their issues are unrelated to immigration, just be a sympathetic ear. Muslims need to feel and experience that they are welcome in Europe, and that Europeans don't fear Islam; in fact, religious freedom is a fundamental part of European culture.

Some aspects of listening to the needs of immigrants may result in actions that the political right will find distasteful. Part of integrating into European culture will be to eat with non-Muslim Europeans. That will require Halaal eateries. This programme needs to communicate not only to immigrants, but to the rest of European society as well, so that everyone understands that offering Halaal food at a restaurant is not a case of Islamifying Europe, but rather to help Muslims to spend more time with other Europeans. Those other Europeans need to show them that they can belong in Europe more than they could belong in a Caliphate. It is by welcoming those who would otherwise be ISIS cannon fodder, mothers, and workers, that ISIS loses their war for the minds of Muslims.

All Muslims will see that Europe embraces moderate Muslims, and helps them to become contributing and respected members of their society, without forcing them to abandon their faith, or turning them back to those from whom they fled. As happened with French Huguenots, and Dutch and German Anabaptists, and Indian and Pakistani Muslims in Britain, over a generation or two they will become European first, and religious second. Germans will eat more kibbeh, and more Syrians will try weissbeer and wurst. The French will eat more falafels, and the children of Syrian immigrants will have French boyfriends and girlfriends.

Today we get to choose whether those children become German engineers, French scientists and Swedish doctors. Or become disenfranchised and angry, with nothing to lose, and an axe to grind with Europe.

Muhammed used the Islamic faith to wage war, and so it is well suited to the purpose. But Muhammed also used Islam to establish peace, and to build a civilisation. I am not a Muslim nor an advocate of Islam, but I believe that by emphasising the peaceful and civilising aspects of Muslim culture, immigrants can become more moderate and more liberal. We have seen it before, and we can do it again. Active compassion will favour European interests much more than feeding ISIS exactly what they want.

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