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Holy smoke: Will Islamic extremists ignite rioting across Europe?

Published time: September 18, 2012 20:19
Edited time: September 19, 2012 01:41

Protesters from Hizb ut-Tahrir demonstrate against insults to Islam at the American Embassy in London September 16, 2012 (Reuters / Neil Hall)

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European capitals have become stages for anti-Western protests, by those outraged by the US made film ‘Innocence of Muslims’. But are calls for a holy war a sincere protest or a recruiting strategy of radical groups?

­A wave of anti-American rallies, that started in Muslim countries a week ago, have spread rapidly to Europe, engulfing Paris, Berlin, London, Antwerp and other major cities.

The low-budget film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a fraudster and child molester provoked a varying reactions amongst the Muslim community. While one called for their religion to be respected, others called for American embassies to be burned down. Now, as the outrage has engulfed Europe, protests there differ, too.

Thus, a demonstration in Belgium’s Gent gathered around a hundred or so young Muslims, chanting “We want respect”, with the small rally wrapping up without incident.

In Antwerp, though, police had to detain 120 people. Around two hundred of those demonstrating were carrying black flags associated with the Salafi radical Islam sect, chanting anti-US slogans such as “Obama go to hell” and refusing to disperse. In total, some 250 protesters were detained in Belgium over the weekend.

Reports suggest the radical Islamic group, Shariah4Belgium, have been behind calls to stage major protests in Belgium. Muslim leaders in the country, though clearly disapproving of the film, wasted no time in condemn the street violence.  

In London roughly 1,000 people answered the calls issued by the hard-line Hizb ut-Tahrir organization, which seeks a unified Islamic government throughout the Arab world. Gathering near the American embassy on Sunday, the angry crowd burnt US flags and shouted “America – get out of Muslim lands.

Protesters from Hizb ut-Tahrir demonstrate against insults to Islam at the American Embassy in London September 16, 2012 (Reuters / Neil Hall)
Protesters from Hizb ut-Tahrir demonstrate against insults to Islam at the American Embassy in London September 16, 2012 (Reuters / Neil Hall)

Though the European protests against the film are far smaller than those seen in the Arab world, foreign policy experts are worried the current wave of resentment might be manipulated by Islamic extremists, who want to recruit new members.

“You’ve got mainstream extremists, for want of a better word, looking to exploit this. They usually want young men to come and join – and get into a habit of protest, a habit of extreme demands and demonstration,” Carina O’Relly, security analyst at IHS Global Insight told RT.

Jamal Khashoggi, a writer for Al-Hayat newspaper, stresses that the core of the protests in Europe are made up of “conservative far-right Islamists which are as xenophobic [as the makers of the scandalous film]."

Those who react to [the film] through inciting violence are not innocent as well, for they too have a political agenda,” says Khashoggi.

Protesters from Hizb ut-Tahrir demonstrate against insults to Islam at the American Embassy in London September 16, 2012 (Reuters / Neil Hall)
Protesters from Hizb ut-Tahrir demonstrate against insults to Islam at the American Embassy in London September 16, 2012 (Reuters / Neil Hall)

Others think that the protests are only an excuse to vent anger that has been storing up for years.

Most of the people taking part in the protests are without a job, without any economical perspective, having seen humiliation, having lived under dictatorship supported by the US, UK and EU for decades. Basically, this is an expression of anger, frustration,” Lode Vanoost, an international consultant and former Belgian MP, told RT. “There are organizations – extremist movements – who use this for own goals.

Protesters from Hizb ut-Tahrir demonstrate against insults to Islam at the American Embassy in London September 16, 2012 (Reuters / Neil Hall)
Protesters from Hizb ut-Tahrir demonstrate against insults to Islam at the American Embassy in London September 16, 2012 (Reuters / Neil Hall)

In Europe, the film poses a huge human rights dilemma. Germany has been weighing up a ban on the film, hoping to appease the country;s four million strong Muslim population.

But a far-right group has announced plans to screen the controversial film in Berlin. The Pro Deutschland Citizens’ Movement says this is a question of art and freedom of expression, not religion. No cinema has yet agreed to screen the film, but the group remains undeterred, even after remarks made Germany’s Interior Ministry, who accused them of “recklessly pouring oil on the fire.

This is exactly the fire that some fear radical Muslims in Europe would be all too happy to fan.

The Muslims are rising not only in the East but also in the West. We want Islam and we want the Sharia,” Muslim protester Anjem Choudary told RT.  “People hate the Americans, and they hate their allies – and I think this is a very good turning point for the Muslims.”

French gendarmes in riot gear encircle demonstrators near the Place de la Concorde in Paris as some 100 people stage a protest over a U.S.-made film mocking the Prophet Mohammad, September 15, 2012 (Reuters / Benoit Tessier)
French gendarmes in riot gear encircle demonstrators near the Place de la Concorde in Paris as some 100 people stage a protest over a U.S.-made film mocking the Prophet Mohammad, September 15, 2012 (Reuters / Benoit Tessier)
French police apprehend a demonstrator outside the Elysee Palace in Paris who was one of some 100 people who staged a protest over a U.S.-made film mocking the Prophet Mohammad, September 15, 2012 (Reuters / Benoit Tessier)
French police apprehend a demonstrator outside the Elysee Palace in Paris who was one of some 100 people who staged a protest over a U.S.-made film mocking the Prophet Mohammad, September 15, 2012 (Reuters / Benoit Tessier)
French gendarmes in riot gear face off wtih demonstrators near the Place de la Concorde in Paris as some 100 people stage a protest over a U.S.-made film mocking the Prophet Mohammad, September 15, 2012 (Reuters / Benoit Tessier)
French gendarmes in riot gear face off wtih demonstrators near the Place de la Concorde in Paris as some 100 people stage a protest over a U.S.-made film mocking the Prophet Mohammad, September 15, 2012 (Reuters / Benoit Tessier)

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