Some young Muslim men in western Europe want to participate in Jihad, and some have done that in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and now in Syria. Shiraz Maher estimates that about 2000 ‘foreign fighters’ have gone to Syria from western Europe. Their governments treat their activities as terrorism, although paradoxically these same governments also seek the overthrow of the Assad government, and covertly aid the opposition in Syria (so long as they are not affiliated with Al-Qaeda).
The UK government has now started to revoke the citizenship of jihadists who fight in Syria. Other EU states, notably Belgium and the Netherlands, have similar problems, and have adopted similar repressive policies – withdrawing passports, revoking residence permits of fighters in Syria, making it a criminal offence to recruit for jihad, and so on.
There is no real justification for such policies, which typify the inability of political elites to adjust to multi-ethnic societies. It is preferable to legalise and regulate the armed Islamist struggle. At the same time, European states and political elites must recognise, that there is an emerging trend to anti-Islamic violence in countries with Muslim minorities, and that this too is attractive to a section of the population. That goes beyond attacks on mosques and on individual Muslims. Anti-Islam sentiment is probably driving recruitment to the British Army, which by now only fights Muslims. It certainly drives the ‘Crusader’ rhetoric and aspirations of the EDL and similar groups (and Anders Breivik). In other words, although it is ignored in the media, there is a latent ‘foreign fighter problem’ on the anti-Islam side as well.
The obvious solution is to allow both groups to form armed militias, to train, and then fight each other, far away. Preferably that would be done at a European level. Jihadists could travel to training camps in remote areas, for instance in southern Spain, with some supervision by the military and police. They would then be allowed to leave Europe and travel to specified regions, for instance the Sahel, to engage in Jihad. Similarly, militant anti-Islamic groups would have their own supervised and regulated training camps, and their own organisation (they would probably call it the ‘Legion of St. George’ or something similar). They too would be allowed to depart for specified regions after training, to fight against Muslim insurgents or militias.
Of course British jihadists would sometimes end up fighting the British Army, and occasionally French jihadists would fight French troops, and German jihadists German troops. That happens already, and there is no need to be hysterical about it. The idea that the nation is ‘united behind the national army’ is no longer relevant, in today’s fragmented and polarised societies. British soldiers are volunteers : they signed up to fight in a western army, which fights explicitly for ‘western values’. They are fighting for specific values. However, in Britain itself, there is no consensus on those values. Nowhere in western Europe, in fact, is there consensus on national values – and there probably never was. They are a fiction of nationalist ideology and propaganda.
Violence is simply the inevitable result of people choosing to fight for their own specific values. British soldiers do that, and Muslims do that too. Since the values of the two groups conflict, their adherents are inevitably in conflict. There can be no long-term historical trend to the abandonment of war, as some theorists claim. It is true that the nationalist ideal, if fully implemented, will result in a harmonious society. Harmony is easy, if the population are clones with identical values and aspirations. However, even in that case, there is no guarantee of peace with other nation-states, which would have different values.
In historical reality, harmonious societies of clones did not exist. Nationalist attempts to create them usually involved brutal repression of minorities, and in some cases mass murder. There is no way that western European countries such as Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, can create an Islam-free society, short of violent mass expulsions. These states are stuck with the fact, that their populations have divergent values – and will therefore generate violence. Nor can they avoid the fact that a section of their population wants the Muslims out, and will inevitably turn to violence, if the government does not expel them.
So if two groups want to fight each other, and if they can do that in the almost empty Sahel, then no-one else needs to suffer, and there is no reason to stop it. It needs regulation, not prohibition. The European Union and its member states, should decriminalise jihad and crusades, and should provide for the legal formation and training of armed Islamic and anti-Islamic militias in Europe, and for their legal engagement in combat outside Europe.