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Low support for radicalism among European Muslims

PARIS (Reuters) - Support for radical Islamist groups is low among European Muslims and some leading groups with overseas roots are now cooperating with local governments and encouraging Muslims to vote, according to a new report.

European groups linked to wider Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-i-Islami now focus more on conditions for Muslims in Europe than their original ideologies from Egypt and Pakistan, according to the report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The report also cited tensions between “jihadists” and peaceful Islamists in Europe, saying some groups linked to the Muslim Brotherhood were working with police to counter militants.

“By most accounts, support for radical extremist groups is relatively low among Muslims in Europe,” it said. “Nevertheless, such groups have been central to the public discussion of Islam in Europe, especially in recent years.”

The report said supporters of European groups with links to foreign Islamist movements often showed little interest in their founding ideologies, which critics say are radical and anti-Western.

Although some groups promoted militant views, others dealt only with religious issues or education, making it difficult to generalise about Muslim organisations in Western Europe.


The report said several Islamic groups with foreign roots had changed their focus to European issues because of pressure from younger European-born Muslims with fewer links to the Muslim majority countries their families emigrated from.

“Many of the younger leaders are pressing for an agenda that focuses on the interests and needs of Muslims in particular European countries rather than on global Islamic causes, such as the Israeli-Palestinian dispute,” the report said.

It said most of the movements, including the politicised ones, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, encouraged their followers to participate in local and national elections in Europe.

Some leading Muslim groups in Europe are loosely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt, including the Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF), Muslim Association of Britain, Islamic Community in Germany and Intercultural Islamic League of Belgium, according to the report.

The Turkish group Milli Goros and Pakistan-based Jamaat-i-Islami have similar Islamist roots, it said.

These groups have been working more closely with local governments since 2001, responding to efforts by officials to engage more with Muslim populations. Some have joined with domestic opposition groups to protest against the war in Iraq.

A large but little known group is the religious movement of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen. It is strongest in Germany, with a dozen schools and over 150 cultural centres.

The Saudi-financed Muslim World League and World Assembly of Muslim Youth seems to be losing influence because their strict Wahhabi Islam has little appeal in Europe, the report said.

Groups practicing Sufism, a more mystical style of Islam, make up a widespread minority among European Muslims, but they are not centralised and often shun political activity.

A British government effort in recent years to promote a Sufi council to counter radicalism “has been widely viewed with suspicion by British Muslims,” it said.