Feeding the Crocodiles


The internal peace of the democracies of western Europe is no longer assured. It is threatened by the growing presence, and growing confidence, of the organizations, activists and spokesmen of radical Islam. This is a phenomenon rarely remarked upon in Israel. It may yet have serious and damaging effects on European views of the Middle East conflict.

Observe: In July 2004, Ken Livingstone, mayor of London and a Labor Party member, hosted Imam Yusuf Qaradawi on a visit to the city. Qaradawi, an Egyptian with a Muslim Brotherhood background, is a resident of Qatar and a founder member of the Al-Jazeera TV channel. He is also the director of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, based in Dublin. Qaradawi is a keen supporter of suicide bombings in Israel, which he describes as “martyrdom operations.” He has spoken of the inherent “iniquity of the Jews as a community.” These views (in addition to suspected terrorist connections and his support, variously, for the execution by stoning of homosexuals and adulterous women) led to Qaradawi’s being banned from entering the United States.

They did not prevent, however, the princely welcome afforded the controversial cleric by the elected mayor of London, who addressed a packed public meeting together with Qaradawi, praised the “unacceptable truths” he has raised, and denounced the “Islamophobic outcry” against him.

The public action of Mayor Livingstone, is, according to Jewish community activists in the UK, only the tip of the iceberg. They point to the presence of Muslim Brotherhood extremists such as Azzam Tamimi among the leadership of the Stop the War Coalition, which was raised to protest the war in Iraq (and organized a demonstration of over a million people in central London in April 2003).

Hebron-born Tamimi, in an interview in November on BBC’s “Hard Talk,” expressed his willingness to undertake a suicide bombing in Israel. The coalition has now morphed into a left-wing political party, improbably uniting Muslim Brothers and British leftists under one political roof.

In the very different context of France, as official recognition of communal differences increases, once again the representation of Muslim communities is falling into the hands of the extremists. Thus, the French Council of the Muslim Faith, created in December 2002 as a representative body of the Muslim community in France, is headed by a moderate, Dalil Boubakeur. The real power in the organization, however, is the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF), a Muslim Brotherhood-associated group.

The role of Tariq Ramadan, with his condemnations of Jewish “communalism,” close relationships with key mainstream bodies (including the editorial staff of Le Monde Diplomatique) and quoting of Voltaire is of similar importance. Ramadan, surely a world master in the art of ambiguity, deems the killing of Israeli children in suicide bombings to be “contextually explicable.” (He has similarly refused to condemn the stoning of female adulterers.)

Why does any of this matter? The shared goal of Qaradawi, Tamimi, Ramadan, the UOIF and other Islamist organizations in Europe is to effect a shift in the terms of the European debate. They seek to establish a foothold in the mainstream political discussion in Europe for elements of militant Islamist ideology. These elements include the delegitimization of Jewish communal activity, the normalizing of support for violence against Israelis and Jews, and of calls for the destruction of Israel. This is a long-term project, which through the slow build-up and nurturing of political power and influence is intended to eventually bring forth the fruit of profound shifts in policy.

It is primarily, though not exclusively, the ideological left in western Europe which is opening the door to the Islamists, due to their shared hatred for Israel and the United States. But those elements of the European political classes who believe that the ideas of the Jihad can become simply another item in the supermarket of a pluralistic society (once the police have dealt with their most violent proponents) are making a grave error. What is taking place here is old-fashioned political warfare, complete with front groups, fellow travelers and “useful idiots.”

The Islamists described here will not be co-opted. Neither will they become contented citizens of secular Europe in return for shifts in policy toward Israel. Theirs is a revolutionary project, concerned with the transformation of societies. They see, however, the shifting of the European view toward greater hostility to Israel as an important interim goal. Israel’s legitimacy, they hope, will be tossed to them as a morsel in return for political and social peace.

A crucial task for Israel in Europe must be to lay bare the real nature of these individuals and organizations, and to remind those who would treat with them of Winston Churchill’s classic definition of an appeaser: namely, one who feeds a crocodile in the hope that it will eat him last.

About jonathanspyer

Jonathan Spyer is a Middle East analyst, author and journalist specializing in the areas of Israel, Syria and broader issues of regional strategy. He is the director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and analysis (MECRA), a research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for strategy and Security (JISS) and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
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