by Soeren Kern
One month into 2014, Islam-related controversies continued making headlines in newspapers across Europe. The most salient topic involved the dramatic increase in the numbers of European jihadists participating in the war in Syria.
An ominous foreboding is unfolding over Europe, as counter-terrorism officials intensify their warnings about the negative security implications surrounding the return of hundreds—possibly thousands—of battle-hardened jihadists to towns and cities across the continent.
But Syria is only one of many concerns. What follows is a brief survey of some of the more noteworthy stories involving Islam in Europe during just the month of January 2014.
In Britain, a Muslim extremist who hacked a soldier to death on a London street in May 2013, launched ataxpayer-funded appeal against his murder conviction. Michael Adebolajo, 29, who tried to behead the British soldier Lee Rigby with a meat cleaver, maintains he should not have been convicted because he is a “soldier of Allah” and therefore Rigby’s killing was an act of war rather than premeditated murder.
Adebolajo and his co-defendant, Michael Adebowale, 22, were found guilty by a jury in December 2013, but have yet to be sentenced. The judge in the case, Nigel Sweeney, is said to be considering a whole-life prison term, but is awaiting legal guidance from the Court of Appeal of England and Wales. That court is currently reviewing a ruling by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, which states that whole-life terms violate the rights of prisoners.
Also in London, a Muslim woman was arrested by counter-terrorism police at Heathrow Airport on January 16 as she was preparing to board a flight to Turkey. Nawal Masaad, 26, is accused of trying to smuggle £16,500 ($27,000; €20,000) in her underwear to jihadists in Syria. She and her alleged co-conspirator, Amal El-Wahabi, 27—a Moroccan who does not work and claims British social welfare benefits for herself and two young sons—are the first British women to be charged with terrorism offenses linked to the conflict in Syria.
In a separate but related incident, two 17-year-old schoolgirls were arrested at Heathrow over suspected terrorism offenses. Police say they were “inspired by jihad” and were attempting to fly from Britain to Syria to fight in the civil war there.
The head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism unit, Commander Richard Walton, revealed that 14 British minors were also arrested on charges linked to the Syrian conflict in January, compared to 24 for the whole of 2013. Calling the figures “stark,” Walton said it was shocking to see “boys and girls enticed” to join jihadists fighting in Syria. He said he believes it is “almost inevitable” some fighters will try to mount attacks in Britain upon their return.
In a sign of further challenges ahead for Britain, an analysis of recent census data published by the Daily Telegraph on January 10 shows that nearly ten percent of the babies and toddlers in England and Wales are Muslim. The percentage of Muslims among children under five is almost twice as high as in the general population. By way of comparison, fewer than one in 200 people over 85 are Muslim, an indication of the extent to which the birth rate is changing the religious demographic in Britain.
The long-running war on free speech in Britain continued apace in January, when a British Muslim lawmaker was threatened with beheading after he posted an image of Jesus and Mohammed on his Twitter account.
Liberal Democrat Maajid Nawaz (an MP who is also the co-founder of counter-extremism think-tank the Quilliam Foundation) posted a cartoon on January 12 of Jesus and Mohammed greeting one another with the caption, “This is not offensive and I’m sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it.” Furious Muslims launched a petition to have Nawaz removed from Parliament.
|British politician Maajid Nawaz received death threats after posting this cartoon to Twitter, writing “This Jesus & Mo @JandMo cartoon is not offensive&I’m sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it الله أكبر منه” (Image source: jesusandmo.net)|
The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, said he had no intention of asking Nawaz to step down. “We simply cannot tolerate anyone in a free country—where we have to protect free speech, even if that free speech might cause offense to others—being subject to death threats and them and their family being put under extraordinary pressure to recant what they said,” Clegg said.
Muslims eventually retaliated by rescinding Quilliam Foundation’s nomination for the annual British Muslim Awards, held in Manchester on January 30. The foundation had been listed in the “Spirit of Britain” award category, but a statement on the awards Facebook page reads: “In light of recent activity, The British Muslim Awards, after careful consideration, have come to the decision that it can no longer promote the Quilliam Foundation as a finalist, and thus its nomination has been removed with immediate effect.”
In Bristol, the city council approved a controversial plan to convert a former comedy club into a mosque. In Cambridgeshire, a Muslim group submitted plans to convert a warehouse into a new mosque. In Cambridge, locals are opposing a plan to build a £17.5 million ($28.5 million; €21 million) mega-mosque, claiming it could be “a front for terrorism.” In Blackburn, home to nearly 100 mosques, city councilors have been urged to reject a plan to open a mosque in a residential neighborhood….