Islamism, the Middle East and Europe: Through the Eyes of Former Jihadist and Affiliate of Osama bin Laden

Date of event:

On February 9, 2017, The Prague Centre for Transatlantic relation of the CEVRO Institute (PCTR) organized a public lecture of Noman Benotman, former Jihadist and affiliate of Osama bin Laden and currently the Quilliam President and an Executive Board Member. The lecture titled “Islamism, the Middle East and Europe: Through the Eyes of Former Jihadist and Affiliate of Osama bin Laden” was opened by the CEVRO Institute Vice President for International Relation Tomáš Pojar, who introduced the speaker and later moderated the debate.

Noman Benotman started his lecture by admitting that the terrorism is indeed a very complicated topic. He reminded the audience that a lot of reports from the late 90s, including those of much respected organizations, predicted the end of Islamism. We can clearly see now that all of them were wrong. But the events of so-called Arab Spring meant the beginning of the era of modern democratic Islamism rather than spreading of democracy and liberal values.

The Muslim brotherhood established in 1928 in Egypt can be regarded as the first Islamist organization. At first, activities of this organization were very positive, including for example building of hospitals and caring for the poor. But the organization gradually politicized and militarized. We can see similar development in similar Islamist groups and organizations. The goal of Islamists is to reject the status quo and to bring back Islamic life. Because even the Islamic countries do not meet their criteria of Islamic state, in every Muslim country there is an Islamist opposition that creates a parallel society.

If then for whatever reason the West decides to support this opposition, it must realize that the ultimate goal of all Islamists is the creation of an Islamic state which is indeed in contradiction with the liberal democratic values. We also need to realize that Islamism is not the same as Islam. If the West thinks that they are helping Muslims by supporting Islamists it is not true because Muslims are the major victims of Islamist attacks.

Islamism is not a religion but a man-made ideology that like fascism tries to control people and takeover power. While Islamists are Muslims they do not represent Islam. It is not like conflict of two social groups because Islamists declare that they are the only way to go to heaven. The main issue is thus not terrorism but the Islamist ideology itself. Moreover, the situation is even more complicated when people in the West, influenced by mainstream media, starts to think like Islamists and see the West as the main problem.

The lecture was followed by a debate that was opened by Tomáš Pojar's question about the current situation in Turkey. According to Noman Benotman, the current Turkish President Erdogan allowed his country to be taken by ideology of Islamism. The President was also very smart to use the negotiation with the European Union to weaken the military establishment in the country. The debate then moved to the topic of Muslim immigrants to Europe. Noman Benotman said that multiculturalism is a good idea but we cannot let any group change the fundamental principles of liberal democratic political system. 

In response to question on recently elected US President Noman Benotman shared his concerns about possible effort to stabilize the Middle East by more significant American military presence which he would consider a mistake. One of the latest questions was about the options for dealing with the Islamists in Europe who use political means instead of guns. Noman Benotman stressed the need to change the policy of talking only to the Muslim leaders and ignoring the community on grass-root levels. We must go deeper to the communities and the clash of civilizations may appear.

The event was held with the kindly support of Mr. Petr Mothejl. We would also like to thank the media partner Pravý břeh.

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