European Union weighs crackdown on Islamist extremism after terror attacks

By: Bloomberg |

November 9, 2020 1:28:01 pm
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                                                    </span><span class="custom-caption"> <span class="ie-custom-caption">People pay respect to the victims in front of the Notre Dame church in Nice, France, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.  (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)</span></span>European Union governments are considering a coordinated crackdown on Islamist radicalization, according to a draft statement that risks stoking tension with Muslim countries.

“We must protect people in Europe from Islamism,” according to the draft seen by Bloomberg, which has been prepared for a meeting of EU home-affairs ministers on Friday. It calls for the EU’s executive arm to promote religious education and training of imams within the EU “that is in line with European fundamental rights and values.”

Attacks in France and Austria have catapulted terrorism back to the top of the EU’s political agenda. French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to crack down on Islamist “separatism” and his comment that Islam was facing a “crisis” have led to conflict with some Muslim leaders, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who accuse him of religious persecution.

Also read | Explained: France’s complex relationship with Islam, and Macron’s recent remarks

“We require mutual respect, including within religious communities,” ministers will declare if the draft is approved. “This applies equally to Islam and all other religions.”

EU leaders have added a debate on religious extremism to the agenda of their December summit, where relations with Turkey will also be discussed, according to a separate memo to national delegations seen by Bloomberg.

Erdogan has led calls to boycott French goods over what he called France’s hostile stance toward Islam, as he seized yet another opportunity to promote himself as a leader of the Muslim world. The proposed ministerial statement calls for developing “a shared language at European level which distinguishes between Islam and Islamism.”

Also read | Explained: What explains the calls to ‘boycott France’ in the Muslim world?

Bearing the stamp of Germany, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, the draft also includes warnings for immigrants and asylum-seekers. It says integration “is a two-way street: providing support, but expecting more in return.”

“Migrants are expected to make an active effort to become integrated, while they are offered help with integration through government integration measures,” it says. “Along with recognition of European values, what successful integration means above all is learning the language of one’s new country, earning a living for oneself and one’s family, and supporting the integration of one’s children.”
A police officer stands near Notre Dame church, where a knife attack took place, in Nice, France October 29, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/Pool)
Social Media

Among the measures considered for the clampdown on extremism is empowering governments to access encrypted communications, such as messages exchanged by most electronic-chat applications. “Access to digital data is becoming ever more crucial — whether it is connection data or in some cases data content,” according to the draft statement.

“Social media and other hosting service providers have a responsibility in making sure that their services are not used for illegal activities or to promote crime, terrorism or hatred,” ministers plan to say, ahead of an expected new regulation on online terrorist content. The aim is to create an “instrument” that will be enforceable across borders “for the effective removal of terrorist content within less than an hour of its being reported.”

The draft urges the European Commission to “present an ambitious Digital Services Act (DSA) with regard to liability of the internet companies for illegal content and amplification, financial penalties and an oversight mechanism.”

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