PrintPrint EmailEmail ShareShare CiteCite


Islam in a Changing World

Authors: Olivier Roy, and Fouad Ajami, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University
November 15, 2004
Council on Foreign Relations


Speaker: Olivier Roy, professor, L’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales; senior research, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; author, “Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Umma”

Presider: Fouad Ajami, M. Khadduri professor of Middle East Studies, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

Council on Foreign Relations
November 15, 2004
New York, N.Y.

FOUAD AJAMI: I’d like to welcome you all. I’m really honored to be here, and I’m here on your behalf to welcome a very special guest, Professor Olivier Roy.

And I think you know the rules of the road. Cell phones— wireless devices, I’m told. I don’t know what wireless devices are. [Laughter.] You know, this is way too much for me. It’s too high-tech. So anything that would interfere with the sound system, please. And I think you know the rules of the road. We will— I will try— I will engage Professor Olivier Roy in a discussion at the beginning, and then, Allah willing, will open it up to you. And I’m sure— we’re relying on you, basically. I mean, that’s really what it is.

You have the bio of Professor Olivier Roy, and I’m not going to say very much about this in the interests of time. Suffice it to say that he truly is, by common consent, one of the leading students of modern Islam in the world. And he does us the favor not only of understanding modern Islam, but taking modern Islam beyond the borders of the Middle East, because we identify Islam with the Middle East, and I think that Professor Roy’s research goes way beyond that.

He is the author of many books, and of course the subject today is this fabulous new book that he has published called “Globalized Islam.” It’s very important that you read it; but more important, make sure you buy it. [Laughter.] That’s really the essence. So we’re here hawking books. We’re not too proud to take— to admit to this. And it’s really about and around this book that we thought we would engage Professor Olivier Roy in this discussion. You can also look at his early book, which was a pioneer book on the failure of Islamism called “The Failure of Political Islam.” So we really have with us one of the truly leading students of this subject.

And this meeting, as you know, is on the record, so you don’t have to call [columnist] Bob Novak and tell him what we are talking about. [Laughter.] You know, it’s perfectly open.

And I just have some— I have some questions for you, Olivier. I mean, I think that— just a couple that come to mind right at the beginning. The thing that we have been fixated on in recent days— and we were chatting just before we started— was the murder in Amsterdam of the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. And not only was this man murdered, but the man who murdered him actually sought to decapitate him in the streets of Amsterdam. This actually is a— it’s a different kind of act: the daring, the cruelty, and the sense, of course, that this world is open to these Islamists, I think, is caught by this murder. And many of my Dutch colleagues and friends I’ve talked to tell me that it’s over, the game in Holland is transformed by the murder of this filmmaker, that the Dutch really are on to this radical Islamism and the Dutch don’t really mean to put up with it. Now is there— how do you see this?

OLIVIER ROY: For the Dutch, it is obviously some sort of an earthquake, because not only it is one of the few political murders in the Netherlands, but also it means the end of some sort of Dutch dream, you know, of the positive perception of multiculturalism. And I would say since the last 20 years, we’ve had a lot of debates in Europe, you know, in Western Europe which are not necessarily American debates, but European debates between the so-called two ways, you know, the assimilationist approach, which is the French approach, and the multiculturalist approach, which is a Northern European approach: Britain, Holland, the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent Germany.

But in fact, both approaches failed, you know. For the Dutch, it’s suddenly they became aware that something was wrong from the beginning, but it’s not so new. Let’s take, for example, the case of [author Salman] Rushdie, you know. We have something— there is something to do with that, the protest of a part of the Muslim population against an intellectual, an artist or whatever you want, who writes against Islam and against Islamism, which— in a blasphemous way— which is perceived as blasphemy. And— but it’s not also the first political murder. [Dutch politician] Pim Fortuyn has been murdered two years ago, and not by a Muslim. But Pim Fortuyn came to politics because of Islam, you know.

So this is a very— I’m not speaking cynically, but you know, it’s very interesting. It’s a turning point for Europe, because suddenly the public opinions are aware that something is going on. And what is going on? I would say European public opinion usually, including in France, used to see the problems in terms of clash of cultures; by the idea that is what— the guy who assassinated Van Gogh was driven by some sort of reaction of traditional Muslim culture against Westernization, that they cannot stand this sort of Westernization. And this is now, I would say, common wisdom in Europe, this idea that we are in a clash of the cultures, if not civilization itself; which means, by the way, the cultures are driven by the religion; that at the basis of each culture you have a religion, which is the [inaudible] view.

But if we look a bit more in depth, you know, what do we see? Precisely that the guys who are making trouble now in Europe are not the expression of traditional Muslim culture. On the contrary, you know, they are accultured, culturally accultured. Not necessarily in social or economic terms; these guys are usually educated, though. They speak very good— they are fluent in the European languages, in French and Dutch and English, so and so and so. But these guys are Westernized. So what we see now, in fact, Islamic radicalism is a by-product of Westernization and not a backlash [against] traditional Muslim culture, you know, and this is something which is very important.

Islamic radicalization in Europe is not the importation of the Middle Eastern conflicts, even if the people— Muslim young guys, for example— could see in the Middle Eastern conflict, and precisely the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some sort of a mirror, you know, of the situation in Europe. But in fact it’s pure phantasma. None of these young radical Muslims in Europe, almost none, went to Palestine and Israel to fight. We have the cases of two British, no? When they go for jihad, there are two interesting patterns. They never go to the country of origin of their parents, and they almost always go to peripheral jihads. They go to Bosnia, to Afghanistan, to Chechnya, to Kashmir, but not to the Middle East. So the crisis now is not a consequence of, I would say, the spillover of the Middle Eastern crisis into Europe, but it’s the conflict points of the Westernization of the second-generation young Muslims.

AJAMI: I have some problem with your thesis. There is a man I’m sure you’re familiar—

ROY: You are not the only one.

AJAMI: Right. [Laughter.] In fact, there’s a man familiar to both of us, and I think familiar to some people here, named Yasser El-Sirri [an Egyptian dissident and former head of the London-based Islamic Observation Center]. He has a number of— there’s outstanding warrants for his arrest in Egypt. He was involved in the assassination of a prime minister [Egypt’s Atef Sedki]. And he has a seminal quote which I think catches the reality of this Islamic radicalism. He said, “The Arab world grew dangerous for me. The Arab world grew dangerous for me. I went to London.” Right?

ROY: [Laughter.]

AJAMI: And that’s really what this is about. It’s not just— I mean, I think what you— what you’ve done in this book, which is extremely important, in fact, was to take a look at the second generation of Muslims who came into their own in Europe. But I think you broke the nexus between them and their home countries. You broke the nexus. For example, this preacher, [Egyptian-born] Abu Hamza Al-Masri, in London, I mean, many of these people have grievances against their home countries, and they carry these grievances to foreign lands. I mean, someone like [Osama bin Laden’s primary deputy] Ayman Zawahiri said— when he left Egypt, he said, I will only come back when it is time for fatah, because fatah is an Islamic term, [which] means when Egypt is re-conquered by Islam. It’s a kind of a vendetta. It’s not just simply that it’s a second generation. I mean, I think you’ve kind of disconnected this phenomenon from the home of this radicalism, which is in the Arab lands. Am I wrong here?

ROY: If we speak of a second generation, it means that there is a first generation. And of course, the first generation is keeping links with the countries of origin. Ayman al-Zawahiri certainly considered himself as an Egyptian. Even if he’s fighting for the umma, for the community of— for the transnational community of all the Muslims, he is an Egyptian.

Abu Hamza and [Syrian-born preacher] Omar Bakri in London, well, interestingly enough, you know, they don’t speak too much of their countries of origin. And they have a success among the second generation, the accultured second generation. And what is at the source of their impact? They give to these accultured people the [inaudible], if I can say that, of their acculturing.

Now, let’s take some example, now. This second generation— and now on the third generation, but either way— usually they don’t speak the language of origin at all, and specifically in France. It’s not true— we have many differences. The Turks tend to keep the language, but the people of North Africa, no, you know? And a part of them, by the way, are Berbers or Kabyles, even don’t have Arabic as a dialect— local Arabic as their mother tongue. And they don’t identify with their grandparents, so then their parents or grandparents, they are losers. They came to Europe to have a better life and they don’t have a better life, and they lost their identities. They lost their culture. They lost everything. So they are not interested by the culture and the origin of their grandparents. And by the way, the grandparents usually really didn’t transmit their religion, the culture, and even the language to their grandchildren.

So these guys are Westernized. They speak French. They speak Dutch. They speak English. They usually went to school, you know. They are not— they are hardly school dropouts. Usually they made— they studied, you know, in modern fields: computering, [inaudible], things like that, you know. So they are Westernized, but they have a sense of acculturedness. And the word Salafism— which means, you know, this neo-fundamentalism, Wahhabism, whatever we call it— this new fundamentalism is prizing the acculturation. The [inaudible]--you don’t identify with the culture? It is good because, you know, the Islam of your grandfather is not true Islam.

AJAMI: Am I— I mean, I have a sense that Islam in the West— I mean, Islam in Europe, these Islamic movements in Europe, they are much more radical, much more fundamentalist than the Islamic movements in the Islamic world. I mean, I did— a while ago I did a piece] on [the] Al-Jazeera [television network]. And for my piece, for the [inaudible], I had to listen to 100 hours of Al-Jazeera. That was real punishment, I assure you. [Laughter.] And I had to translate it. And one of the interesting things, of course, were these call-in shows, the call-in shows. People would call these preachers. This is the American gift to the world, the call-in show. [Laughter.] And to the call-in show, the people who would call from Damascus were sane. The people who would call from Yemen were sane. They live on burning ground. They understand the danger that, in fact, stalks their society. The people who really were troubled and troubling, they would be someone like— I just remember him very well— a man named Ahmed Ashani, who called from Denmark, and he said, “Here I am, living among the infidels.” And my view was, “No, Ahmed, you’re living among the Danes.” [Laughter.] Last time I checked, the Danes didn’t ask you to come. [Laughter.] You made it there. So I just think that as far as this— I mean, I don’t see enough alarm in your book. I just want to be— the phenomena you describe is alarming, but there is not enough alarm in the way you discuss it.

Let me just read you something which I think is very beautifully said, and I’d like you to comment on it. And that’s— it said, “The new breed”--the new breed of Islamist— “was, above all, largely uprooted and more Westernized than his predecessors,” as you have been saying, “had few links, if any, to any particular Muslim country”--with which— we’ve already taken an issue with that— “and moved around the world, traveling from jihad to jihad. The flying jihadi was born.”

ROY: The jihadi jet set. The jihadi jet set.

AJAMI: Now to me, this— see, this is kind of— this is the frightening face of this new radicalism. It uses welfare benefits in Europe, right? I mean, that’s why all these guys are there— welfare benefits, civil liberties. And then they could do— they could cause enormous mayhem. And I don’t— I didn’t see in the book a sense of concern about this phenomenon in Europe— for example, on March 11th, the change in Spain and the attack on the commuter trains, which produced the upheaval in Spain. Now you said it wasn’t a regime change, right? Now see, to me, that was a regime change. I mean, the change was fundamental. So this— new jihadis, they move about with the freedom that Europe grants them, but Europe is not alert to this. I mean, is that wrong?

ROY: I will not say that. You know, as you know, there is not the same sense of [inaudible] of the security threat in Europe and in the USA.

AJAMI: Right.

ROY: But that’s another issue. For the Europeans, first, we have experienced— we have been experiencing terrorism for decades, you know. Ultra-left, Islamists, and there will be something else, you know, for the next generation, I guess. But it is not seen as a strategic fight. It’s a security fight. It’s a human problem, because they are killing people, innocent people. But nobody thinks that it could really change the political landscape. And as I said—

AJAMI: No, but it could change the texture of society. For example, your home— your own country, France— I would say the insecurity of the Jewish community in France today is a function of this new Islamism. So things are changing. I mean—

ROY: The problem is for me that this new generation of, you know, young radicals is— they have a problem: either they can root themselves in a Muslim community, find some sort of social and political demographic basis, you know, and manipulate the Muslim population to achieve that goal. This is the danger, of course, like I would say, as the communists used to do 50 years ago, you know, by establishing front organization, unions, networks of sympathizers and things like that.

So— but what is interesting is that these young radicals don’t care about that. They don’t care to work, you know, inside their own community. And in fact, they despise their community. They consider them as bad Muslims.

For now, the issue for such a community— and I would say we don’t have a real Muslim community. We have a Muslim population. The Muslim population, specifically in France, because they’re French, they’re very divided— anarchist, individualistic, you know, opposed to each other, you know, and expecting everything from the states, you know. So in this sense, we succeed, you know— [Laughter.]

AJAMI: They’ve assimilated.

ROY: They are French. [Inaudible]--they have assimilated, you know.


ROY: So the [inaudible], it’s another issue here. It’s the government who is trying, you know, to have a Muslim community with a united [inaudible]. But the Muslims, they don’t want to be united. And we don’t want to be united by the government. So the main flaw of the radical is on that, you know—

AJAMI: Right.

ROY: --their inability to take root among the population. But now there are things in France and in the [inaudible] everywhere— they have, I would say, to come out. You know, they have to be very clear, to clear— to take explicit positions on the issues, you know. And that’s the big difference before and after 9/11.

AJAMI: Well—

ROY: They have to be explicit. And they are becoming more and more explicit on, well, most of the big issues. Let’s— the [inaudible] France, the hostage-taking in Iraq— as you know, the hostage-taker [who seized two French journalists] asked the French government to rescind the law banning the scarf, the Muslim scarf, from the schools. And the Muslim leaders in France said no, we should not accept any kind of interference from foreigners. You know, we are French. It’s— the debate will remain inside the French [inaudible]. So it’s a big achievement, you know.

And the same for the anti-Semitic things, you know. Of course there is, well, an anti-Israeli and an anti-Semitic mood among many Muslims. By the way, I would say not only Muslims now. But when confronted with actions, attacks, and so and so, they have to take the— they have to make statements, you know. And even if some of the statements are made for political reasons, I would say it’s the first step. You know, people have to take responsibility of what is going on now in their society, and they are taking responsibilities more and more. So the radicals are isolated.

AJAMI: Now that we have you here, there is a case which has— it’s very French, if you will. The roots of it are French, or Swiss. I think you know the case. There is a very talented and famous academic by the name of [Francophone Swiss Muslim and scholar] Tariq Ramadan, who himself comes from a very interesting pedigree. And he was coming— he was offered a job at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, and he was— of all things, he was offered a chair— he was offered a chair at the Joan B. Kroc Institute, which is, as you know, the heiress of the McDonald fortune. And I found a wonderful little piece he wrote where he says he doesn’t like globalization in the McDonald variety. [Laughter.] You know, she was actually going to be paying his salary, but that’s a different story.

ROY: [Laughter.]

AJAMI: Now Homeland Security decided that we would not give him a visa, and there was a big article about him in The New York Times, making him a big martyr. And there was a big article about him in The Wall Street Journal, written by me, saying: Good, that he shouldn’t be allowed here, that Homeland Security did its job. Could you tell us something about Tariq Ramadan and maybe just, you know, in fact, just the pedigree of the man and the place he occupies in French and Swiss life? Because even though he’s in Geneva, really he is a player in your own country.

ROY: Among French-speaking Muslims, young Muslims, he has a big audience. [Inaudible.]

AJAMI: Right. Now he— by background, he is the grandson, the maternal grandson, of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt [Hasan al-Banna]. I mean, that’s— he comes to it, you know, through his— through blood, through lineage.

ROY: And he is proud of that, you know. He acknowledged that he— his origin. He’s proud of his [inaudible] father. For me, Tariq Ramadan is not a terrorist. He is not a political activist. But he is a fundamentalist.

AJAMI: Right.

ROY: He is a fundamentalist. And he’s defining fundamentalism, I would say, in modern terms. So the idea that Ramadan is a liberal— no, he’s not. He’s definitely not a liberal. He is a modern and a Western fundamentalist. He’s not the only one, by the way. We have many modern and Western fundamentalists in any religion, you know, not only in Islam, but also in Christianity, and specifically in Protestantism. What he’s trying to do is to combine an [inaudible] view of religion with political citizenship, now, and it’s a challenge, not only for Muslims but for many Christians, too.

But he is doing that, I would say, the Christian way. So for me, what we see with Ramadan is the emergence of some sort of [inaudible] fundamentalism, you know. And the question he’s expressing is how to be a total believer, you know, and to be a loyal citizen. For me, there is some sort of a contradiction in that.

AJAMI: No, he engaged in a very big debate with [French activist and doctor] Bernard Kouchner and with [French writer-philosopher] Bernard-Henri Levy. They accused him of rank anti-Semitism. A lot of it is in his writings. I mean, it’s there. Was there not—

ROY: Well, I have the idea— the main critique about Ramadan is about the double-speech, you know, that he says one thing when he’s on the TV and one— other things when he’s teaching to the young Muslims in the suburbs. I’m personally living in some— one of these towns, you know, where at least a quarter of the population is Muslim by origin. And Ramadan came to my town, and he was very— no, he was very clear about anti-Semitism. He’s opposed to this [inaudible] of course, you know, the grandson of Hasan al-Banna could— well, he’s by definition pro-Palestinian. So he is pro-Palestinian. He is politically pro-Palestinian. But he made a big thing by saying to the young guys, you know, you should make a big distinction between Israel and the Jews, you know.

AJAMI: So do you think we made a good decision here by denying him entry to the U.S.?

ROY: No. First, you know, he is a bit too much on the TV since now, and I would prefer, you know, to have him in the USA, you know. [Laughter.]

AJAMI: Did you want to— you want to export him to us?

ROY: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. [Laughter.]


ROY: Absolutely.


ROY: And you know, it’s very funny, because he has a bookshop in Lyon, and his bookshop is [inaudible]. And he has been invited to Notre Dame University, so he is [inaudible], you know, by Christianity.

AJAMI: Well, thank you. I think I have worn out my welcome. And we’d love to hear from you. I’m sure there are many questions you have, many comments. And please, if you would just— I think there are mikes. And do identify yourself for our speaker— the audience. Please.

QUESTIONER: Yes. I’m Adrian Karatnycky with Freedom House. I don’t want to make this a family affair, but I was recently in Egypt and met with Gamal al-Banna, the brother of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. And he also spends part of his time in Geneva, in the West. And he has a very interesting theory about the alienation of this second generation, and he bases it really in sexual and gender politics. He says that the shifting values of the women in Islamic society in the West, under the influence of Western values, creates this kind of a sense of confusion among younger males, and that this is also a part of their rejection of the kind of incipient liberalization of women in more open societies, and that many of these guys who go for these jihads are rootless. They don’t have families. They don’t have relationships. They don’t quite know how to make it, despite their Westernization, in their relationships with women of indigenous population.

AJAMI: Right.

QUESTIONER: They also, similarly, don’t know how to interact with the women from the Muslim world, who are now gradually changing. What say you to that?

ROY: First, Gamal al-Banna is a real liberal compared to his great nephew— which of the liberals are not always when we think they are. [Laughter.] There is an interesting thing: there are no women in al Qaeda. And, you know, there have been always women in radical movements— Baader-Meinhof, Action Direct, the Italian Red Brigade, and so on, so. Not one in al Qaeda, which shows that al Qaeda has no future, you know, by definition. [Laughter.]

But when one looks to the family relations of these guys, usually they broke with the family, most of them, almost, I would say all of them. And many are married, by the way. It’s not true that they are not married. But when they are married, it’s usually with the sister of a comrade in arms, you know, so it remains on the generational level. It has nothing to do with the traditional patriarchal Muslim family, and so on, so. And usually it’s a couple, it’s a modern family, I would say.

There is a very interesting book [by Marie-Rose Armesto, “Son Mari a Tue Massoud”] written by the wife of the guy who killed [Northern Alliance] Commander [Ahmed] Massoud in Afghanistan. And the guy was a Belgian; his wife is a Belgian of Tunisian origin, but they are Belgian. And the book has been written in French, you know. And it’s both a fanatical book, you know, because she supports her husband, but it’s a very modern book, you know. She explains that she and her husband were engaged, you know, in a common project; they share the same ideals and things like that.

So as I said, these guys are recruited from traditional Muslim cultures, you know, and in fact, they are Westernized. But they— when they become politically radical, it’s a strange mix of religious claims— jihad, things like that, and I would say traditional ultra-leftist anti-imperialism, you know. Usually they didn’t attack churches, or they didn’t attack the pope, with just one exception, you know. What they target are the traditional targets of the extreme left: Wall Street, the Pentagon, U.S. imperialism, and so and so. And it’s why they find some [inaudible] sentiments, you know, some echo among non-Muslims.

So we should not over-Easternize al Qaeda. We should look also to the political connections, the actual and possible connections. And one thing is important, the converts. In every al Qaeda cell which has been, you know, found by the police in France there were converts. So [American] John Walker Lindh, who, by the way, is a Taliban but not an al Qaeda guy, is not an exception. We have many, many converts, you know. So for me, we should look more and more at the transnational dimension of al Qaeda and not just at the Middle Eastern supposed regime of al Qaeda.

AJAMI: Please.

QUESTIONER: I have a question. Jurii Maniichuk. OK, the question is the following: Do the developments in Holland mean the end of the third world influence in Europe, and the whole theory connected with that, which as we all know is mainly the product of French intellectual discourse? [Laughter.]

ROY: Which one?

AJAMI: He wanted to know if the “tiers-mondisme” in the world is over, looking at Holland as I kind of— I gather that’s looking at Holland as a test case.

ROY: I’m not sure. You know, I’m not sure. I would say that “tier-mondisme” associated with multiculturalism is dead because cultures are dead in a sense, you know. I mean by that, the problem we have in Europe is not a clash of cultures, you know. The people who are making trouble are not cultural Muslims, they are born-again Muslims, which make a big difference, because a born-again is somebody who breaks with his origin, with his family, with the traditions, you know, to reconstruct religion as a pure religion, and the way they are reconstructing religion is not a traditional way. First point, you know.

Second point, no, I think that the left in Europe will still be third worldist, [inaudible] that, you know, because the problems are not seen as a consequence of a clash of cultures. But it’s clear that the left, the ultra-left, let’s say, or the militant left, anti-imperialist left, have a problem to deal with Islam. Should we— and there is a debate among the ultra-left: what should we do to accept fundamentalists because they are part of the supposed third-world protest against imperialism, or should we fight against fundamentalists because in fact they are homophobes, misogynes, and things like that, you know. And we have the debate everywhere. So we have clearly two schools of thought in Netherlands, in France, in Britain on that. But I don’t think that third worldism is dead at all, no. But we have the [inaudible] of the role of religion in political opposition, political contests, and this is a big debate. But the debate is the same in the Middle East here.

AJAMI: Please?

QUESTIONER: Joan Spero, from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Where is all of this going? Has this fundamentalist reaction reached a critical mass? Is it self-perpetuating? What does your crystal ball tell you?

ROY: It depends [on] the geographical area we have in mind. And I still remain optimist, you know, for the reasons I gave. We have a crisis now, a big crisis, with a lot of emotional charge and debate, polemics, hatred also, and this will go on for some time.

But in fact, there is no way to go back. The only way to go back would be to expel the people who are of foreign origin. Nobody will do that for different reasons; there are many reasons not to do that— some good, some better, some worse. But we’ll not do that. So Islam is in the West; it’s done, you know. And so the issue now is for the mainstream Muslims to come out, you know. But the problem for the mainstream Muslim is— I would say it’s the usual problem for moderates— moderates had, they had to come out. You know, they’re afraid. They don’t want to be identified as the leader of— and so forth—

So I would say most of the Muslims in Europe, they have found their own way to deal with Westernization, you know, their own personal way, and usually it’s an individual way, you know. They are not forming political parties. We don’t have any Muslim political parties in Europe, except some very small splinter groups. They are not interested in that, they want to join the mainstream political parties. They want to be on the— to be put as candidates by the mainstream political movement. They go to the right, they go to the left; they are as diverse as the society is.

But now they have to answer the question: And what about Islam? And of course we have difference on this word. There are the people who say don’t ask me anything about Islam, you know, it’s my private faith; I have nothing to do and don’t want to say anything, [inaudible] speaking about liberal Islam. Even in some secular Islam, which is an interesting thing, you know— what about a secular Southern Baptist in the USA? [Laughter.] But, you know, they are pushing different ideas, and so on.

So I would say we have a social answer from the society itself. The problem is a disconnection, a disconnect between social answers and political answers, because social answers are long-term processes, you know. But as the public opinion is expecting a political answer now, you know: We want laws, new laws, all that. So hence, the laws banning the scarf. And probably Netherlands— there will be some laws—

AJAMI: Right. Like what’s wrong— I mean, if the French have this “laicite” [secular] tradition; if you have the secular tradition and if people come to France, by my primitive reckoning, if you come to France from Morocco or wherever you come from— from Algeria, from Tunisia, elsewhere— and you choose to come to the French Republic, the French Republic has secular laws and the secular laws ought to be enforced. There’s nothing to it. I mean, this is the problem, because the problem in France, the way I read it and see it, is the French give the Muslim the [inaudible]. The North African, the Arab children of France, they give them everything and nothing. No one tells them the truth.

ROY: It’s a good definition.

AJAMI: The only one who tells them the truth is none other than [Nicolas] Sarkozy, the former Interior minister. He told them the truth— that you have to accept that you are in France. What you’ve got, the problem here is one preacher says we may carry— this one I love; this is seminal: We may carry their nationalities, but we belong to our religion. That actually they will carry a Dutch passport, a French passport, a British passport, but we belong to our religion. And that’s the danger of this.

ROY: But in fact, you know, the veil issue is a very emotional issue in France. But if we look at the number of girls who are concerned, we have, what, you know, 200, 300— no more. And there is no, I would say, popular movement, any demonstration in favor of the veil. What, you have 2,000 people on the streets, no more, you know. So it’s not a popular issue, it’s a symbolic issue. And that’s the problem, you know. Sometimes symbolic issues are of bigger importance than a really popular issue. But the mainstream Muslims don’t care about that, you know. When the schools did open, there was no hundreds of thousands of young girls demonstrating, you know, in front of the gates. And even the girls, you know, who want to wear the veil, they don’t present themselves as, I would say, expressing a community. On the contrary, they use the feminist speech. They say, “My body is my own business; I want to be recognized for what I am”--you know. And among them, we have many converts too. So beware of the converts, you know. [Laughter.]

AJAMI: On this side.

QUESTIONER: [Inaudible.] First of all, I enjoyed the book immensely. We’re talking a lot today about the reactionaries to the Islamists, the Netherlands being one example. And I wonder, given this trend toward virtual ummas, with these people withdrawing into themselves, will the reaction, this Islamaphobic reaction that you see in Europe and increasingly in the United Kingdom, where I live, will that just push them further into their ummas, further away, and therefore retard this assimilation, this cultural assimilation that you’re so hopeful about? Thank you.

ROY: I would say we have two ways to join the virtual umma. One is radicalism, you know, and going to fight through the different jihads. They went to Bosnia, Afghanistan, Chechnya. They may go to Iraq, but the question is still open, because in fact we have very few second-generation Muslims—

AJAMI: From Europe.

ROY: --from Europe in Iraq. Most of the foreigners in Iraq are neighbors, you know— Syrian, Jordanian, Saudis, and Yemenis, which is interesting in itself, but you know—

AJAMI: Right, these are the misfits. Send them to Iraq; they will kill or be killed. I mean, that’s exactly right.

ROY: (Inaudible)--Iraq is not attractive until now, it mentions. But the second-generation radicals in Europe, you know, as I said, Middle East is not the real issue for them, contrary to what the majority think on that.

So the first choice is jihad. And the guys who go to jihad, in fact they became isolated, you know, and they are rejected— at the end they are rejected by the local Muslim population because they’re troublemakers; you know, they bring problems. You know, they bring the police, they bring the TV. So it’s too much now, and you have the police and TV in your neighborhood, so you blame the guys.

The second way is, I would say, what I call Islamic territories, you know, to rebuild some sort of a local-based close community around a mosque, a neighborhood, things like that, with people behaving in a very— with the [inaudible] to be a traditional way, you know. In fact, it’s a reinvention of tradition, but they have what they think to be a real Islamic [inaudible], who are speaking, you know, as I say, they used to dot their French or their English with [inaudible] questions. You know, it’s very fashionable now to [inaudible] and things like that. But this is— and this, in fact, has a moral, social impact on the radicals, you know, because these guys [inaudible], they go to school. And we have to deal with these people who don’t want to shake hands with the [inaudible] school teacher and things like that. So we have here also— problems here and all Western Europe on that.

But in fact— see, also it’s [inaudible], because many Muslims are antagonized by that, you know, and don’t want to be identified with these guys. And it’s going along, as I said, a [inaudible] way of building cults and new religions in Europe, you know. We have Jehovah Witnesses, we have the Salafi, we have the [inaudible]. And in a sense, they behave the same way. They want to [inaudible] between themselves, you know, and they want the states and the social workers to recognize, to accept, to admit that they are not like the other people and that they have special requirements, you know, in terms of food, vaccinations and things like that, you know.

So because the Muslims are numerous in Europe, they have more visibility. But in fact, we find the same trend towards [inaudible] of the society by building some local congregations around religions, gurus, brotherhoods, and things like that, you know, which is a general pattern now in modern societies, unfortunately.

AJAMI: Please.

QUESTIONER: Hi. I’d like you to talk about two ideas in the context of your presentation. How are most of the Muslim communities of Europe funded— internal or from, for example, Saudi Arabia or other places? And the second is, how will demography play out in this context, especially in France?

ROY: Well, the first issue, I think we— as far as Europe is concerned— the States is maybe different, but as far as [inaudible] we overestimate the issue of foreign funding. Let’s take an example: schools, you know. In France, you can have a private school. It’s not against the law. You can meet at your own religious private schools. And there are, for example, many Jewish private schools, you know— religious or not religious, it’s another issue. So the idea would be, OK, for the Muslims— some Muslims are not happy because the scarf was banned from the state schools. Why don’t they build their own schools? In fact, we have no trend toward that, for two reasons. One is, they don’t have private schools; they want to send their children in the government school. And the second reason is that they don’t have the money to build, or they say they don’t have the money, you know.

Now, the issue of imams— you know, one of the problem is the importing of badly trained and very conservative imams from the Gulf, from Pakistan, and so on. So— and everybody says, oh, this is Saudi money. The problem is why does a local community in France [inaudible] to import such an imam? Just because he’s poorly paid, you know. He [inaudible] to get $300 or $400 a month, but a French-educated imam will never work for $400 a month. [Laughter.] So see, I would say the issue is not so much too much money from abroad, but a lack of domestic money or of money from inside, you know. And here we have a problem, which is more important in France than Britain, the lack of a Muslim middle class. This will change for different reasons.

AJAMI: The lack of a Muslim middle class within European society.

ROY: Yeah, yeah, and especially in France. Yeah. This will change for two reasons. First, some of the children of Muslim immigrants are doing well, you know. The idea that they are not doing well, if we compare with other people, may be right, but some are doing well. Some are becoming medical doctors and things like that.

And the second issue is immigration, as you said. Patterns of immigration are changing. Thirty years ago, millions into Europe were unskilled [inaudible] workers, you know. And these people, as I said, often now are losers. But now we have [inaudible] immigration which is made of well— more educated people. For example, in my home town, half of the staff— the medical staff of the hospital is Muslim. But they are not the children of first-generation Muslims. They came as doctors, you know. They have diplomas. They are usually secular, and they don’t go around with the second-generation Muslims.

So there is a change in the pattern of immigration, and the Muslim population in Europe will become more and more diverse, you know, socially diverse. But we will have a Muslim immigration to Europe for demographic reasons, as you said. As long as the fertility rate is under two children, there will be immigration. So to have children is a political issue now in Europe. If you have less than two, well, you invite immigration. If you want to fight immigration, you have to have more than two. Being a neutral academic, I have just two children. [Laughter.]

QUESTIONER: George Packer from The New Yorker. After September 11th, people were comparing violent Islamism to the big totalitarian movements of the 20th century— communism, fascism. But you’ve mentioned Baader-Meinhof and the Red Brigades, which is by orders of magnitude a lesser threat. So which is it?

ROY: For me, the comparison with communism from the ‘20s to the ‘50s is wrong. But the comparison with the ultra-left radical movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s is right, you know, for a very simple reason. And here I speak, you know, using Marxist terms— the masses, you know. The Marxist movement had one goal, which was to penetrate the masses, you know, to organize the masses, the workers, the working class, and so and so. So they worked very hard to build social organizations, unions, to attract intellectuals— how do you say? Good fellows?--fellow travelers—

AJAMI: Right.

ROY: --fellow travelers and people like that. And they did succeed, you know. But al Qaeda, no, it’s like Baader-Meinhof: you have no fellow travelers—

AJAMI: Let me see if I— I mean, what you’ve done is— in fact, I go back to what Joan Spero was asking you: Where does this go and what’s the direction of this? I think you’ve made this phenomenon less dangerous by in fact disconnecting it from the Islamic world and from its Arab sources.

ROY: Yeah.

AJAMI: For example, I basically, when looking at al Qaeda, I think of al Qaeda as a joint Egyptian-Saudi enterprise. Basically that’s what it is. It’s a joint Egyptian-Saudi enterprise. It’s driven by Saudi money, by Saudi ideology, by Egyptian recruits. And then finding these fellow travelers— you’re talking about finding these drifters, finding [al Qaeda operative] Zacarias Moussaoui in France or the crazy guy with the shoe [bomb], [Richard] Reid, I mean that’s not really— that’s not the essence.

But in fact I find there is something about your analysis which I found troubling, in a way. It’s this kind of consolation that they are Westernized. You know, that doesn’t really tell me very much, because you’ve disconnected them from the sources of the Islamic world; they don’t seem to be terribly menacing. I mean, that’s just my sense, my reading of both your book and of your remarks here.

ROY: Yes, yes. The first generation did come from the Middle East, you know, and as you said, it’s an Egyptian-Saudi joint adventure. But the second generation, no. For me, it’s— they are globalized Muslims—

AJAMI: Right.

ROY: --and they don’t care too much about the Saudis.

AJAMI: How do we interpret the Hamburg cell? I mean, here we are, we’re Americans. We were visited by the boys of September 11th, the death pilots from September 11th. One of them actually came from my home country, from Lebanon. This is Ziad Jarrah. He was at the controls of the jet that was forced down in Pennsylvania. And Ziad Jarrah has a very interesting story, in his own life. Ziad Jarrah— there were two elite schools in Beirut. He went to one and did very, very well, [inaudible], and I went to the other and did very, very badly. [Laughter.] And here is this boy. He had a girlfriend, which flies in the face of the usual theories about— that these people really have no sexual affinities, no attachments. So he had a girlfriend. He even had a Turkish girlfriend, who was quite secular in the way the Turks can be quite secular. And in the end he comes to Hamburg, and this boy from a terribly respectable middle-class bourgeois Sunni family ends up at the control of a jet. I mean, it’s much more— what’s happening in Europe is much more dangerous and much more political than you’re making it out. It’s more you’re interested in the sociology of it. But this is a phenomenon of terror, and these people were recruited for these missions.

ROY: Yeah, so I have to be clear about what I mean as threat. These people are a threat for security. That’s clear, you know? And there is no way to negotiate with them.


ROY: And you see, I will make a difference between them and nationalist radical movements. A nationalist radical movement, be it Irish, Basque, Palestinian, Chechen, there is room for negotiations because they want something we know about. They want something about territory, border, state, flag. So we may disagree, we may fight against them, we may oblige them to reduce their ambitions and so and so, but we know what they’re fighting for. Not with al Qaeda, so there is nothing to negotiate.

The idea that we should solve first the Middle Eastern conflicts and then al Qaeda’s terrorism will disappear and so on, no, no, I don’t buy that. These guys didn’t become terrorists in reaction towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts or the invasion of [inaudible]. Absolutely not. So it’s a self— I would say— sufficient, self-building movement, which has its roots in the globalization, which for me means Westernization— let’s be clear— of Islam. OK. It’s the pathological consequence of the Westernization of Islam, to be a bit, you know, excessive in saying that.

AJAMI: We like excessive.

ROY: [Inaudible]

AJAMI: We want you to be more—

ROY: In this sense, they are fighting, definitely fighting, but what I am saying is that it’s not a strategic fight. The communist fight was a strategic fight because they could conquer countries, they could attract masses, you know, they could win elections. The communists, you know, in France the Communist Party for years had 25 percent of the electorate and things like that, you know. This will not work for al Qaeda. They don’t care about that. And in a sense, the radicalization is pushing the mainstream Muslims to be more, I would say, clear on political issues and to take clear positions, sometimes positions we don’t like, of course, but at least they have to speak in political terms and to speak about negotiations, discussions, debates and things like that.

AJAMI: Our time is drawing to an end. Please, go ahead.

QUESTIONER: To the extent I followed what you were saying, you seem to be saying that there is a wide diversity amongst the Islamic extremists in terms of organization and objective. But one thing that I wonder if you could comment on: Most of their acting out, so to speak, involves the use of terror, involves the killing of people indiscriminately, sometimes suicide bombing, violating all the rules of what we would call humanity. If they are so diverse and so diffuse and so different from each other, why is it that there does not seem to be the arising within the Islamic world, the non-Arabic Islamic world— there are Islamic societies diverse all over— but the people of Islam have not seemed to rise up and be revolted by, have not protested, have not raised a public popular opinion against the motives and methods, if not the objectives, of these people.

What is the failure, if it is a failure, in the Muslim world to organize itself or even to find people who would speak out and begin to lead a movement to try to bring some iota of respectability to the image of the Muslim religion, which I think is rapidly disappearing, particularly in Holland, to begin with, but elsewhere? Even in the United States, we have very few Muslims who have the courage to speak out in strong criticism of the outrages we see around the world in every part. Why is that?

ROY: I will disagree with you on that, you know. There are many Muslims who protested against 9/11 and who clearly condemned al Qaeda. The problem is that in Islam, there is no church and everybody speaks for himself, you know.

The second point is— let’s stay with the Middle East. Many people in the Middle East condemn al Qaeda but still oppose the Americans. We have this anti-Americanism which is very, very strong, and not only among Muslims. The idea that the world after 9/11 was split between a Muslim population who didn’t condemn the terrorist attack and the rest of the world who was supportive of the Americans, is wrong, you know? In Mexico, did you see a lot of demonstrations in support of the Americans after 9/11? We have polls about Cairo, saying that 90 percent of the population of Cairo think that the attack against the World Trade Center was a plot, you know, Zionist plot and so and so, but nobody did the same poll in Buenos Aires or even in Paris. There has been a book in France, unfortunately, who said—

AJAMI: Bestseller.

ROY: Yeah, a bestseller, a bestseller— who said that no plane did crash on the Pentagon. It was a bestseller. Let’s give you another example. Just one week after 9/11, a little-noticed Basque journal in France published a cartoon, and the cartoon was the two towers collapsing, and the legend, the caption, was: We all dreamt of that; al-Qaeda did it.

AJAMI: Right. Jean Baudrillard.

ROY: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

AJAMI: Yes, exactly.

ROY: But he’s a bit of a—

AJAMI: He’s a nut, yes.

ROY: Right. He’s a philosopher. [Laughter.]

AJAMI: Yes. [Laughter.]

ROY: So the ambivalence, if I can say that, towards 9/11 is not typically a Muslim ambivalence, you know. And we have to face that. And I know what you [inaudible]. Look at the polls now.

AJAMI: Someone, a friend of mine, once was talking about the way people responded to 9/11 in the Arab world, and they would always say, “I condemn 9/11, but.” So he called them “sons of but.“ [Laughter.] There’s always a “but.”

As you well know, readers of “The Thousand and One Nights” appreciate the fact that there was always that time when dawn came and Scheherazade had to stop. This is how she kept herself going for 1001 nights. [Laughter.] And the same rules apply at the Council on Foreign Relations. [Laughter.] If you want to be a presider ever again, you have to call the meeting to a halt even though, again as in “The Thousand and One Nights,” it could have gone on long into the night. And I just want to thank you, Olivier, on behalf of everyone. You know, we didn’t agree with everything, but— [applause].

ROY: Thank you.

AJAMI: And don’t forget the book! OK?







More on This Topic