An enemy within Irish society? By Mark Tighe The Sunday Times March 14, 2010

From The Sunday Times March 14, 2010

An enemy within Irish society? By Mark Tighe

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/ireland/article7061014.ece

The Director of Dialogue Ireland commented as follows on this issue:

“Mike Garde, of Dialogue Ireland, an organisation that gathers information on cults and religious movements, said that if Ireland doesn’t strive to promote integration, it could end up with “pockets of little Shariah states like in Britain.” “I have nothing against Islam but I see Islamism as the manipulation of the mind of the person when it suppresses normal human attributes of love and respect, and leads them into a vicious situation where they will kill or allow themselves to be killed for jihad,” he said. Garde believes that the “weakest link”, which could be exploited by hardliners in the Muslim community, would be a dedicated secondary school. “It’s in secondary that young Muslims become integrated into Irish society. They become normalised and not radicalised,” he said. “If they were cut off, it could lead to the kind of conditioning like the [July 2005 London] bombers had.” THERE has been a lot of talk in the Muslim community about whether they should establish a secondary school in Ireland, but so far there are no firm plans. Muslim children are mainly sent to Catholic boys’, or girls-only, secondary schools.”

Early last Tuesday morning,  60 gardai swooped on three homes in Cork and Waterford in scenes reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster. Seven people — four men and three women — were arrested on suspicion of being involved in an Islamic fundamentalist plot to assassinate Lars Vilks, a Swedish cartoonist. An eyewitness tweeted that a raid on the house in the Coolroe estate in Ballincollig, Cork, was “unreal”. It was “like something from Spooks and the Jason Bourne films” with blacked-out BMWs and Audis being used by the garda’s Special Detective Unit (SDU). They were acting on information provided by the FBI in America where Colleen LaRose, 46 — the supposed mastermind of the alleged plot, has been under arrest since returning from Ireland last October.

While the raids may have resembled something from the Bourne thrillers, LaRose appears to have more in common with the bumbling Sharon Collins, the “lying eyes” Clare woman, who is appealing against her conviction for hiring an assassin through the internet. LaRose, from Pennsylvania, is charged with “recruiting men online to wage violent jihad” in Asia and Europe. Amazingly, she used the alias “Jihad Jane” on YouTube, where her inflammatory comments and videos were soon spotted and reported to the FBI.  Vilks had provoked outrage among Muslims and attracted a €150,000 Al-Qaeda bounty on his head over a picture of Muhammad as a dog he drew in 2007.

According to the American authorities’ indictment, LaRose and a co-conspirator based in a “western European country” exchanged emails in which each professed a desire to become a martyr “in the name of Allah”. The Americans claim to have intercepted communication between LaRose and at least five co-conspirators.  LaRose, blonde and blue-eyed, had inquired about residency status in Sweden, where she would “blend in”. One alleged co-conspirator is said to have told her to “find location of [Vilks] and kill him”. The American woman is alleged to have agreed to this last March, saying: “I will make this my goal till I achieve it, or die trying.”  Irish authorities have confirmed LaRose travelled to Cork last autumn and met some of the people now under arrest. An Algerian with Irish citizenship is alleged to be the plot leader. Gardai say he planned to set up private prayer meetings for those who supported extremist Muslim views.

The uncovering of an alleged international plot with tentacles in Cork and Waterford may have startled the public, but not everyone in the Irish Muslim community was surprised. Immediately after the arrests, Ali Al-Saleh, imam of the Shia mosque in Milltown, south Dublin, said he had been expecting news of Ireland-based terrorists because of the “brainwashing” of young Muslims here.  Al-Saleh said support for this kind of action was the direct result of “praising those who are fighting for Islam.”  The Islamic Cultural Centre, based in Clonskeagh and home to Ireland’s largest mosque, confined itself to a simple statement saying that it appealed to Muslims “to defend their rights through legal channels and shun all illegal actions.”  So were last week’s arrests a one-off event or are they the clearest warning sign yet that Ireland has become a base for Islamic fundamentalists?  GARDAI say a “handful” of extremists are being kept under surveillance by SDU’s Middle Eastern section. Many of these travel regularly to and from Britain.  The best-known suspect based here is Ibrahim Buisir, whom the Americans accuse of being a fundraiser for Al Qaeda. Buisir, who has lived in south Dublin and has been a regular attender at the Clonskeagh mosque, denies this. For Al-Saleh, the past few years have seen a worrying increase in the number of Muslims who make no effort to integrate into Irish society. He believes this leaves Muslims open to the teachings of radical imams who preach that violence is acceptable in the sermons they deliver in small prayer rooms around the country.  Speaking after evening prayers last Wednesday, Al-Saleh noted that he has been living in Ireland for 25 years but it is only recently that he has seen women wearing niqabs (veils) and burqas here.  “In Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the niqab and the burqa is the culture,” he said. “But in Ireland we know the niqab means extremism and radicalism. I have lived in Ireland for more than 25 years and we didn’t have the niqab before. This is worrying, as it is a sign we are not successful in defeating extremism.  “Extremism is the last stage before being recruited by terrorists. Not all extremists are terrorists, but all terrorists are extremists.”

Al-Saleh believes that “Islam is in crisis” because of the failure of its leaders to admit there is a problem with people using the religion to justify violence. He says other imams need to speak more about moderation to counter the extreme messages spreading through the internet and satellite television. “What is happening is that our leaders are condemning terrorism, but then continue to make the atmosphere hot, and then that makes it easy for the terrorists to come and recruit,” he said.  The imam believes that hardline Muslims in Ireland are influencing organisations, including college societies and the board of governors of a national school in Clonskeagh.  “Because extremists have control and they want to show that Muslims are different to Christians, we cannot teach music, and our school year is based on the Middle East calendar so our children go to school at Christmas and Easter,” Al-Saleh said.

The Clonskeagh primary is one of just two Muslim national schools in the state and has 270 students. Its principal since 1990 has been Colm McGlade, a non-Muslim. He agrees that the school does follow a Muslim calendar for holidays and doesn’t teach the full music curriculum, but argues these are are long-established practices.  “In general, parents are very happy with the school,” McGlade said. “Music is a grey area and musical instruments are not permitted here, which I think is a pity, as it would be great to keep the choir in time. There are some parents who have made a noise about some things in the school recently but it’s not something I would like to discuss.”

Mike Garde, of Dialogue Ireland, an organisation that gathers information on cults and religious movements, said that if Ireland doesn’t strive to promote integration, it could end up with “pockets of little Shariah states like in Britain”. “I have nothing against Islam but I see Islamism as the manipulation of the mind of the person when it suppresses normal human attributes of love and respect, and leads them into a vicious situation where they will kill or allow themselves to be killed for jihad,” he said. Garde believes that the “weakest link”, which could be exploited by hardliners in the Muslim community, would be a dedicated secondary school. “It’s in secondary that young Muslims become integrated into Irish society. They become normalised and not radicalised,” he said. “If they were cut off, it could lead to the kind of conditioning like the [July 2005 London] bombers had.” THERE has been a lot of talk in the Muslim community about whether they should establish a secondary school in Ireland, but so far there are no firm plans. Muslim children are mainly sent to Catholic boys’, or girls-only, secondary schools.

There is evidence that Muslims sympathetic to Osama Bin Laden have tried to exert influence through the education system. In 2006, a Prime Time Investigates programme reported that Ismail Kotwal, the imam at the Blackpitts mosque in Dublin, praised Bin Laden as a “great leader” during a religion class at the De La Salle school in Churchtown, south Dublin. Two of the students walked out in protest.  “I admired the school but how dare he [Kotwal] say these things that aren’t right,” said Mustapha Alawi, the parent of one of the children that walked out. “If we didn’t raise the issue he might have gone on to repeat it in the school.”  At the time, De La Salle issued a statement saying the two children walked out because they were Shias and objected to being taught by a Sunni. Last week the school refused to discuss the incident.  Kotwal, who attracts 600 to 700 Muslims to his Friday prayers, said in the Prime Time programme that Bin Laden’s appearance was “like prophet Muhammad — you can see he is a good god-fearing man.”  Last week Kotwal accused RTE of having “evil intentions” in the way it edited his interview. “They wanted to show myself as a radical, but that is not the case,” he said. “I am a Muslim and I run a mosque and I have no problems. The media don’t give us a fair ride, but they have to answer to God for that.”  Kotwal said he did not know Bin Laden personally and so could not condemn him. “If he is promoting the killing of innocent people then of course we don’t agree with that,” he said.  The imam described the arrests in Waterford as a “nightmare”. “Nobody in Dublin knows these guys,” he said. “We’ve all been asking about them. It is not good for us and not good for Ireland. We don’t want these kind of people here.”  Unlike Al-Saleh, Kotwal is Sunni, like the majority of the estimated 40,000 Muslims in the state. He insists that there are no radicals in Ireland and challenges the Shia imam to provide proof of the contrary.  “If this is true, I will be the first be to help out if I can,” he said. “The last thing we want is any sort of aggression, but they need to show proof.”  Al-Saleh, however, believes the arrests “prove all our fears”. “We thought they might disappear to do planning,” he said. “We also fear they would use Ireland to attack elsewhere. We see an American and Croatian arrested, so this is ideological, as they are converting others to their cause.”  Like many Muslim leaders in Ireland, Kotwal is in regular contact with garda special branch and with a community-liaison officer, who attends the weekly prayer meeting each Friday. Only once did gardai contact him about a person who was fundraising outside his mosque for political purposes, Kotwal says, and this was not related to terrorism.  He believes in integration, but that doesn’t mean abandoning Islamic beliefs. “I won’t promote mixing in pubs and clubs,” Kotwal said. “But my daughter goes to a Catholic school not a Muslim one. I believe I can live here as a Muslim and respect the law.  “I was at a meeting yesterday to promote the establishment of an Islamic bank, as Muslims cannot buy houses here and they are isolated. This is the kind of good integration I want. We don’t want families breaking up. We don’t want divorce and affairs. We don’t want drinking and alcohol in the house. We want to promote respect and love.”  Concerned parent Mustapha Alawi, however, fears that extremist clerics are radicalising an increasing number of Ireland-based Muslims. Shias like him account for about 5,000 of the Islamic population in Ireland. They say they have no problem with the majority of Sunnis, but believe a group of Sunni Salafis, who believe in a strict interpretation of the Koran, are controlling the mosques.  “In all our debates we have been raising the issue of who the extremists are,” he said. “How can the government allow these people to come and live in Ireland? You [the Irish] feed them but the first thing they do is attack you through what they say. They use Ireland as a safe haven and nobody says ‘stop’, as the government is too lenient with them.  “There are people who even collect money for Bin Laden openly in one of the mosques in Dublin. Nobody says anything to them. People come to us disgusted, saying ‘Can you believe they are collecting money for Bin Laden?’ People know about this but nobody does anything.”  Ali Selim, a spokesman for the Islamic Cultural Centre, declined to be interviewed. In a statement he said the Vilks cartoon had “degraded” Muslim values “under the guise of freedom of expression”. “Thank you Ireland for the recent blasphemy legislation,” he said. “We condemn violations of all religious values regardless of their faith. We also condemn illegal actions.”  Like his imam in Milltown, Alawi believes last week’s arrests show that radicals are keeping under the radar by moving away from Dublin. “There are people who admire Bin Laden as a role model,” he said. “They shouldn’t be allowed to preach anywhere, publicly or in private.  “We are worried this will spread because they are moving and living in the other cities away from Dublin, [where] it is quieter. We feel they might be planning something big. Maybe not in Ireland but planned from Ireland.”  Gardai say the reaction of the Muslim community in Waterford to the arrest was one of gratitude. “They don’t want people who would plan to murder for religion any more than we do,” one said. “They say it’s important to weed out those who would cause a problem.”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: