Nikos Chrysoloras, Bloomberg, November 8, 2020
European Union governments are considering a coordinated crackdown on Islamist radicalization, including an effort to gain access to encrypted communications in a move that risks stoking tensions with Muslim countries and a backlash from tech companies.
“We must protect people in Europe from Islamism,” according to a draft paper seen by Bloomberg, which has been prepared for a meeting of EU home affairs ministers on Friday, but may be elevated into a joint communique by EU leaders. 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.
Among the measures considered 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,” the draft statement says.
An EU policy proposal for tighter oversight of technology companies, including in areas related to removal of terrorist propaganda, is expected as soon as December. EU leaders have also added a debate on Islamist extremism to the agenda of their December summit, where relations with Turkey will be discussed, according to a separate memo to national delegations seen by Bloomberg.
“The ‘Muslim question’ today is fast becoming what the ‘Jewish question’ was in 19th-century Europe,” Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said in a Twitter post on Monday. “Negative attitudes towards Islam and Muslim communities are increasingly setting limits to religious tolerance, pluralism and democracy.”
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 EU communique calls for developing “a shared language at European level which distinguishes between Islam and Islamism.”
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.”