The real problem, though, lies not in a few high-profile individuals or national institutions but in the spread of extreme ideas into ordinary mosques and community centers. These institutions provide recruiting grounds in which enthusiastic young people—usually men—can be identified and tested before being directed to serious training for actions abroad or at home. Dewsbury, Beeston, and other Pakistani communities in West Yorkshire fill such a role for British Islam: the July 7 plot had its origins in a Youth Access Project run by Mohammad Sidique Khan. But similar communities exist across Europe. In Belgium, for instance, the small town of Maaseik was home to several hundred Moroccans. Maaseik proved to be an organizational center for the GICM, and local radicals sheltered suspects associated with the Madrid bombings.
Since the early 1990s, many European mosques have witnessed fierce struggles as younger militant Islamists challenged the apolitical regimes of older community leaders or of other moderates who saw extremism as a path to ruin. One celebrated case concerned British ex-convict Richard Reid who attempted to blow up a transatlantic airliner, using explosives stashed in his shoe. Reid had worshiped at London's Brixton mosque, alongside Zacarias Moussaoui. The Brixton mosque was headed by one Abdul Haqq Baker, who complained that police never paid enough attention to his earnest warnings about terrorist talent scouts preying on mosques like his in search of the young and unstable. As he warned his congregation, "The recruiting has got out of control. Beware. It's your sons, your teenagers who are being plucked into these extreme groups." In 2003, a British Muslim leader warned that if Hizb ut Tahrir are not stopped at this stage, and we continue to let them politicize and pollute the youngsters' minds and other gullible [people's] minds, then what will happen in effect is that these terrorism acts and these suicide bombings that we hear going on around in foreign countries, we will actually start seeing these incidents happening outside our doorsteps.
In his undercover exploration of radical Islamic underworlds on European soil, Mohamed Sifaoui warns of the "warrior-gurus who turn aimless souls into human weapons."34
In a number of cases, Islamist radicalism has established a foothold in a particular community, which then becomes a base for wider organization. In such a setting, radical-sounding views become so commonplace that police and intelligence services find it difficult to distinguish between empty rhetoric and threats of actual violence. Outside the formal religious world of the mosques, radicalism also exercises an appeal to criminal subcultures, which have already shown themselves willing to use violence. In principle, conversion to Islam could be a positive development, a turning away from crime and illegality. In some cases, though, criminal gangs have formed street-level alliances with militant Islamic groups. In 2005, France's Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy was criticized for remarks about minority communities that were widely taken as racist or insensitive, but many would echo one part of his analysis. Responding to demands that the police, les keufs, withdraw their heavy-handed presence in ethnic areas, he urged, "The police presence in the suburbs is vital. The police are the republic's police. They keep order in the republic. If they don't do it, who will replace them? Mafias or intégristes [fundamentalists]." On occasion, though, Mafias and intégristes have allied. According to one official observer, "Although hoodlums of North African descent smoke marijuana, wear Nikes and drive BMWs, many of them also admire Bin Laden. . . . They share turf and services with extremists: documents, weapons, vehicles. And they are susceptible to the extremists' message of discipline and respect."35
The extremist appeal gains added force in a prison setting where recruiters can be assured of finding an audience thoroughly hostile to the status quo. Even where prison authorities appoint or supervise imams or chaplains, most have no idea of the contents of sermons given in Arabic or other non-Western languages. Clergy might indeed be urging their listeners to be respectful and law-abiding but would also be free to insert much stronger fare.
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