The Kouachi brothers’ journey to terror
Confronting extremists requires an intellectual, alternative project - which is moderate Islam
Brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, who carried out the attack against French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo upon directions from al-Qaeda in Yemen, have a lot in common with terrorists whose path ended with joining extremist groups. What they have in common is their attendance of school, mosque and prison. The Kouachi brothers, like many young immigrants in France, occupied simple jobs and worked as pizza deliverers. They later began to attend Dawaa mosque, in a Paris suburb, where they fell under the influence of an extremist preacher.
Cherif went to jail after getting involved with an extremist group. He wrapped up his extremist education in prison where cells of prisoners are tasked with teaching and directing others. Cherif therefore left prison a terrorist. His brother Said traveled to Yemen where he attended al-Iman university, which fundamentalist preacher Abdel Majid al-Zindani supervises and he later joined al-Qaeda.
The school, the mosque and the prison are mutual in the journey of terrorists, including the man believed to be the leader of the Paris cell who carried out the attack. Jamil Pigalle is also a convict. He was imprisoned for ten years and was recruited and trained in a French prison, and this is where Cherif met him. Terrorist Mohammad Merah who killed seven in France's Toulouse in 2012 had been imprisoned for two years after he was found guilty in an armed robbery. It was also in prison that Merah met extremists who recruited him.
Confronting extremists requires an intellectual, alternative project - which is moderate IslamAbdulrahman al-Rashed
In France, there are around 40,000 Muslims subjected to prison environments that have been infiltrated by terrorist organizations and where extremism has spread.
Moderate Islam as an alternative
This is not a problem exclusive to the Muslims of the West, as prisons are a better place to recruit extremist than schools, mosques and households. Despite attempts to reform them, extremists may not change even after they serve their sentence. One of the Saudis who carried out the terrorist attack on the Saudi border crossing with Iraq around two weeks ago had also served a prison sentence. One of the perpetrators involved in the attack on a Husseiniya in the eastern city of al-Ahsa in November was a detainee at one of the convicted terrorist and defendants prisons. There are around 3,000 prisoners at these latter prisons. This is a huge number and a lot more than 3,000 have been released during the past few years for either lack of evidence or because their jail term has ended. These thousands of extremists or potential extremists, from the world's prisons, seriously worry societies. Their number is increasing and prisons may no longer accommodate them at some point while court houses will be preoccupied with them and they will thus become the security forces' first concern.
All this will lead takes us back to the first solution which is an intellectual one. Confronting extremists requires an intellectual, alternative project - which is moderate Islam. This can be achieved via marketing the culture of moderate and modern Islam - a culture which hasn't made it to our mosques and universities yet.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on January 11, 2015.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.