‘I want to join ISIS’: How big a problem is radicalisation in Ireland?
Originally published by TheJournal.ie on March 15, 2018 and written by author Órla Ryan, featuring an interview by Imam Ibrahim Noonan among others.
HOW BIG A problem is radicalisation in Ireland? That’s something mosques disagree on.
The number of people who have radical or extreme Islamic views here varies from a handful to over 100, depending on who you ask.
Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri, an imam based in Blanchardstown and the chair of the Irish Muslim Peace & Integration Council, thinks the risk of radicalisation in Ireland is “much smaller when compared to the UK” but that Muslim communities here “need to be vigilant”.
Al-Qadri said he believes there are “at least 100 people [in Ireland] that would be supportive to the form or understanding of Islam that Daesh (ISIS) adheres to, that all these militants adhere to”.
“This support does not necessarily mean that these people are terrorists, it means that they could support them, you know, ideologically. They may also support them financially.”
Al-Qadri said these people need to be monitored.
When asked how he arrived at the figure of 100 people, he told us: “I’ve been living here for the past 14 years. I have a lot of people throughout Ireland who are in contact with me and keep informing me about the various different activities that have been happening.”
A spokesperson for An Garda Síochána said the organisation is “monitoring no more than 30 people living in this State” in relation to radical views.
“The threat level is kept under constant review,” the spokesperson added, stating that gardaí are “constantly vigilant for any potential emerging threats” and “in constant contact with our policing and security partners across the world, but particularly in Europe, to share information and analysis”.
Al-Qadri said he has reported suspicious activity to gardaí on numerous occasions.
“I am in contact with law enforcement agencies on a regular basis … We exchange information to ensure that our country remains a safe country.”
Video produced by Niamh Heery of Swansong Films
During our interview, Al-Qadri placed an emphasis on Muslim leaders providing people with a “counter-narrative” to make them “immune” to dangerous ideologies. He said certain speakers who have been given a platform by some mosques in Ireland are “known to have had radical views”.
“They’ve had the opportunity to address Muslims, particularly youngsters, teenagers, and I think that is a problem.” He said mosques in Ireland should not invite “hate preachers” to speak to their congregations.
“If there is one person of my congregation whose child has travelled abroad to participate in a foreign conflict, and has died for example, or has participated in a militant organisation, I would say that is my failure as an imam, as a Shaykh, as a leader of the Muslim community.
“So, when we know that there have been members of congregations whose children have travelled to Libya, whose children have travelled to Syria, whose children have travelled to these parts of the world to participate in foreign conflict, I find that a huge failure on behalf of the leadership from those mosques.”
Dr Ali Selim, of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI) in Clonskeagh, home of Ireland’s largest mosque, disagrees with some of Al-Qadri’s assessments. He’s less concerned with the threat of radicalisation in Ireland, saying it’s “not at all” an issue.
He also disputes that in the region of 100 people in Ireland hold radical views.
“I don’t think that’s true, I think the number is smaller. I cast huge doubt over the existence of individuals who are having radicalised thoughts in Ireland. Even if you travel outside of Ireland to Muslim countries or Arab countries, Ireland has a fantastic reputation, it is known as a friendly country. Muslims living here, they enjoy equal rights.”
However, he added that gardaí hold a clinic at the ICCI every Friday, where people can share any concerns they have.
Selim said Muslim people in Clonskeagh have been embraced by the wider community and vice versa. He said the Muslim population in Ireland would not have grown from about 4,000 in 1991 to over 63,000 in the 2016 Census if its members had any problem integrating into Irish society.
“The fact that the members of the Muslim community in Ireland have increased gives a very positive indication about the level of harmony and cohesiveness.
“Had the Muslim community not felt comfortable about Ireland, they wouldn’t have rapidly increased … The Muslim community, when they arrived in Ireland, they positively contributed to the country that they lived in,” Selim told us.
‘Renowned for their extremism’
Imam Ibrahim Noonan, who is based in Galway, is concerned about certain speakers preaching in mosques around Ireland. He said some of these people are “renowned for their extremism”.
“They have been coming here and they have been lecturing here. I can’t understand how the government allowed it. OK, they had British passports, but they’re here. I mean everyone knows it, everyone involved in Islam in Ireland knows they’re here and that they’re spreading their hate here.”
Noonan said if imams don’t support the more extreme views held by certain preachers, they shouldn’t invite them to speak here.
“If they don’t support it, they shouldn’t allow them in. They should have said ‘You’re not welcome here and that’s it, bye bye – you’re not coming in.’ But they allow them to come in because they are ‘renowned scholars’.
“If I say I don’t support extremism, it means I don’t support extremism. That means if I know that that group and that mosque and those people are linked to extremism, I will say ‘They are extremists.’
“I condemn their actions and I will have nothing to do with them. I will not associate with them, I will keep away from them and I will expose them. That’s how you get rid of extremism,” Noonan said.
Video produced by Niamh Heery of Swansong Films
Concerns have been raised about some preachers who have been invited to speak at the mosque in Clonskeagh, due to their views on certain issues. One speaker in particular has been accused of making anti-Christian statements and defending female genital mutilation (FGM).
When asked about this particular speaker, Selim said: “I personally have never heard him inciting hatred or anything like that … I have never heard him saying that.”
Selim said, when the mosque invites a speaker to give a talk, the mosque itself decides the theme, rather than the individual.
“We decide the title of what they’re talking about and we control the stage when it comes to a question and answer session. We chair panel sessions so basically there is no way for a speaker to come here and talk about whatever topic they want to talk about.
“We do our homework properly before we invite the speaker. It’s not like someone would come to us with a name and that we would give them a platform. Before inviting the speaker we do our homework but, at the end of the day, we are human beings, we have our shortcomings – if it happens, it happens by mistake. Even if it happens, we control the stage.”
Selim himself came under fire last month after saying female circumcision is acceptable in some cases. He later apologised, saying he misunderstood the term ‘circumcision’ and condemns FGM “in the strongest terms“. Medical professionals say there is no benefit to, and many negative implications of, FGM.
There have long been rumours that the mosque in Clonskeagh is connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. The mosque’s imam, Shaykh Hussein Halawa, has always denied this.
Documents published by Wikileaks in 2011 show that the US Embassy in Dublin had concerns about this possible link, as well as “radical” people supposedly meeting at the mosque.
The cable, written in July 2006 by then-US ambassador James Kenny, also discussed the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR), whose general secretariat is based in Clonskeagh.
The ECFR is chaired by Qatar-based Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, 91, who has links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Qaradawi previously said homosexuality should be punishable by death, and that a husband “lightly” beating his wife is acceptable as a last resort.
Video produced by Niamh Heery of Swansong Films
When asked about some of Al-Qaradawi’s controversial views, Selim said: “People only focus on certain opinions he expressed. They overlook most of his opinions.
“You and I will never agree on everything. The fact we disagree on certain matters does not disqualify you from being a scholar, it does not disqualify you from contributing positively to what we are talking about. It does not mean we have to adopt everything you are saying … Your contribution is of great value because you are a scholar.”
Selim said the cable from the US Embassy was full of errors, adding that the US’s views can’t be trusted. “The Americans told us that Iraq had chemical weapons. They invaded Iraq and they said they did that because they believed they had chemical weapons. Iraq did not have chemical weapons. What level of credibility can they have after that?,” he said.
When asked if there is any link whatsoever between the mosque and the Muslim Brotherhood, Selim gives a definitive: “No.”
He said the fact people keep asking that question, despite the mosque having answered it on a number of occasions, classifies as “Islamophobia”. “People ask these questions and, when we answer, if it’s the answer that they want then that’s it, but if it’s the answer that they don’t want then they don’t believe us. I think it puts us in a very difficult situation, it makes us feel that we have been victimised.”
‘I want to join ISIS’
Al-Qadri said he is not aware of any member of his congregation travelling abroad to fight in a conflict. However, some young members have come to him to discuss radicalisation and extremism.
“They would have certain concerns. They would say, ‘Shaykh, I’ve heard this, can you tell me if it’s right or not?’”
Al-Qadri said, a few years ago, one man told him, ‘I want to go to Syria, and I want to join ISIS.’ He said this happened when there was “confusion or ambiguity” about ISIS’s goal, something he said no longer exists – given the atrocities the group has committed.
“Their slogan was ‘We are fighting against those that are oppressing us, and against injustice’.
“Some members came to me and they had expressed their concerns, their fears, the questions that they had.”
Al-Qadri said he’s relieved these young people came to him, and listened. “They were able to understand that these militants or these hate narratives really have no place in Islam.”
Al-Qadri said that while there are “common threads” in the narratives of people who become radicalised, such as isolation and “religious distortion”, “there are many factors that contribute to it”.
“There is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ because when you look at those people who travelled to Syria, travelled to Iraq to participate, and to be part of Daesh, many of them, of course, they were vulnerable.
“There was no sense of belonging, and this is why they were much more vulnerable to radicalisation, much more vulnerable to fall into the traps of these extremists.”
Dr Muiz Hajaz, a Sudanese doctor who works in Portlaoise Hospital, helped organise a conference in Dublin last year about radicalisation.
Hajaz said he is aware of some second-generation Muslim immigrants who were living in Ireland but left to fight with ISIS, adding that some of them “died violently”. He’s also worried about certain preachers who have come to Ireland.
Video produced by Niamh Heery of Swansong Films
Hajaz said the conference he ran explored three intertwined topics: radicalisation, Islamophobia and integration.
“When you talk about radicalisation, you cannot escape the other parts of Islamophobia and integration. The three of these issues are interconnected with each other so we want to open a conversation about this.”
Hajaz said minorities are sometimes criticised for “not doing enough about radicalisation” but that many Muslims in Ireland are working to help tackle it.
“The main idea is to try and talk about this because it affects our position as a minority in Ireland and also affects the general public.”
Noonan told us it’s vital to talk to young males, in particular, about these issues. He has started a course at his mosque called ‘A journey through the Quran’ which is aimed at boys and men aged from 12 to 20.
“Anything after 20, if you haven’t convinced them by that age, they’ve already moulded their minds. That’s not to say they can’t change but, if you get them within this age group, you’re pretty sure that when they hit 21 they’ll be balanced.
“When I started doing these lectures, a lot of these young men were like ‘No, no, no, we would never be extremists’, and they were genuine.”
Noonan said, despite some initial reluctance, boys agreed to sit down with him and talk about certain topics. “One of the first things I asked was about homosexuality, and straight away there were 15 different views – from extreme to liberal.” Noonan said he told the boys the point of the exercise was to show how people’s views can vary greatly and how they can be moulded through dialogue.
“That’s why I say to them now, ‘You need to listen to people like us, who will guide you, who will show you what the Quran actually says.’”
Noonan said many of the young men he first spoke to a few years ago are now in college. “I’ve had young men thank me for making things clear to them so now when they go to university they’re very balanced. They know this is not what Islam teaches.”
Noonan said he asks “lots of questions” when new members start to attend his mosque in Galway.
“If I think for a second that they hold any extremist views, I will tell them, ‘I’m sorry but this is not the mosque you should be attending.’ And I won’t entertain them here in this mosque. That’s the way you get rid of it.
“I have given countless sermons on Fridays about this, while they have been sitting in front of me. They know very clearly our position.”
Noonan said there’s a chance radical or extreme views could have an impact on people living in difficult circumstances such as Direct Provision centres. He said asylum seekers need psychological support, noting that many of them have witnessed conflict and killing, or lost their families after leaving their home countries.
“Can a radical mind from Syria come here and get really fed up waiting for his status and then one day lose it? Possibly.”
When asked if some people in Direct Provision centres may be more susceptible to being influenced by radical views, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice said there is “no evidence” to suggest this is true.
“There is a small number of individuals in the State whose actions in support of ISIL-inspired extremism are a cause for concern and they are monitored on an ongoing basis by the authorities. Any necessary actions, in accordance with the law, are taken in respect of their activities.”
The spokesperson added that, while some of the recent terrorist attacks in the European Union “have brought a spotlight to bear on Muslim communities, it is to be emphasised that no one community or faith group can be held responsible for acts of terrorism or violent radicalisation”.
“Ireland has a small and peace-loving Muslim community that makes a positive and valued contribution to our national life. The leaders within our Muslim community have made very clear publicly their abhorrence at and their rejection of terrorism and violent radicalisation.”
Working with gardaí
Noonan said if more Muslim people were recruited by An Garda Síochána, “they could utilise them and use them to go out into the Islamic communities, and they will hopefully infiltrate and mould [people with radical views]”.
Noonan said he has no issue with gardaí coming to his mosque and asking questions.
“After the Paris attack (in November 2015), there was a huge movement by gardaí to interview all the imams, including myself, and it was a really long interview … but it didn’t bother me.”
Noonan said one of the gardaí involved in the interview later apologised and said, ‘We already know you’re a peaceful community but we have to do this.’ “I said, ‘That’s fine.’ And that’s what should be done.”
Noonan said he understands why some Muslims may be critical of this approach by gardaí but he thinks it is needed in the current environment.
“Right now people are being killed in Europe, in mainland Europe and Britain, and we’re worried it could happen here. Gardaí came into my classes and sat at the back. I have no issue with this because we need to reassure Irish society. We want that the gardaí will walk away and say there’s no issue with this community.”
This week, TheJournal.ie is exploring the themes of radicalisation, Islamophobia and integration. The series, Radical Pathways, looks at the situation in Ireland, as well as what we can learn from the experiences of other countries, particularly the UK and Denmark.
Videos produced by Niamh Heery of Swansong Films
Supported by the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund and the Tony Ryan Trust