Thomas Hegghammer of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (Forsvarets forskningsinstitutt) says that Islamophobia and racism bring about a security problem. The more Norwegians hate Muslims, the more likely it will be to see Islamic violence in Norway. The more Muslims meet aggression from Norwegians, and taxi drivers have to deal with questions about Iraq and religion, the more they will become radicalized. He thinks the fear of Islam has grown in the West since Sep. 11. "It's a problem, because Islamophobia brings discrimination that again can lead to terrorism," says Hegghammer.
"We must limit Islamophobia by conducting an enlightened debate. We must distinguish between political radicalism and social conservatism. Some Muslims are strongly conservative, things like the Muhammad cartoons, the issue of women and equality, have to do with social conservatism. But when Muslims make remarks with conservative standpoints in the value debate they often get stamped as political radicals. This image must be nuanced."
Hegghammer has specialized in the Middle East and terrorism problems and has recently written an article in The Guardian about the importance of the Palestine conflict in relation to preventing recruitment of new terrorists. He says there's a widespread opinion, especially in the USA, that the Palestine conflict is not related to the war against terror, but he thinks this is a big mistake.
"The Palestine conflict is the foremost symbol of Muslims' suffering. These symbols drive the recruitment to al-Qaeda. The symbols of suffering function as examples of places where Muslims suffer under the yoke of non-Muslims. That is first and foremost Palestine, but also Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq is important. In addition come symbols like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and are used effectively by al-Qaeda's propaganda people to paint a picture of the world where non-Muslims are out to humiliate and kill as many Muslims as possible," says Heggehammer.
"When people look at what suicide bombers say or write in their wills, for example, the London bombers, they mention the whole time these symbols of suffering. They say they do this to punish Great Britain for the 'criminal acts in Afghanistan and Iraq'"
Heggehammer says it's hard to say whether the oppression is real but that many Muslims feel it is so. "There are also more Muslims who feel humiliated, discriminated and treated unjustly after Sep. 11 than before Sep 11. The feeling that Islam is persecuted and oppressed by the West by the war against terror is very widespread."
"Naturally there's a political reality at the bottom, often in the form of a real political conflict. Palestine wouldn't have been the symbol of suffering it is without the occupation, Iraq wouldn't have been a symbol of suffering without the invasion. By doing our best to solve these conflicts, we will weaken the force in these symbols. It will make the job of the radical propagandists harder again. Unfortunately today we are not doing out best to solve the Palestine conflict."
And if that doesn't succeed, people should take into consideration that many in the Islamic world feel that Muslims are persecuted and oppressed. The latter means, for example, recognizing suffering or injustice that happens and being very careful with collective accusations against Muslims that have nothing to do violent Islam. The al-Qaeda fighters who are now active will never lay down their weapons, but it can stop new recruitment among the youth.
Asghar Ali of the Islamic Council of Norway agrees completely with Hegghammer's conclusions. "Confusing social conservatism and political radicalism is, like Hegghammer says, most unfortunate. And such confusion be help increase the distance between Muslims and others in society."
"We can't exclude that Islamophobia can lead to radicalization. It can be one of several central elements that cause this."
"That al-Qaeda uses real suffering among Muslims and oppression of these in their propaganda is well-known. More important is that the West exerts itself to solve deadlocked conflicts. Unfortunate many Muslims feel that the West isn't a part of the solution, but the problem. A peace solution to the important conflicts will reduce the basis for recruitment for militant forces like al-Qaeda. A constructive dialog also works against radicalization and it's important that this work continues."
Source: ABC Nyheter (Norwegian)
See also: Norway: Trying to please extremists