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Interview: Imam Discusses Islamic State's Recruitment Of European Muslims

Tarfa Baghajati says young people who go to join Islamic State in Syria and Iraq "do not see themselves as being part of this [Western] society: they were not brought up to blend in in a positive way."

Syrian-born Imam Tarfa Baghajati, who is active on such issues as immigration, racism, and human rights as chairman of the Austrian Muslims Initiative, spoke with RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq about Islamic State's efforts to recruit youths in Europe following reports that hundreds of Europe-based Muslims have joined their ranks.

RFE/RL: What factors could lead European Muslims to join up with Islamic State militants?

Tarfa Baghajati: There are a number of factors: first and most noticeable is that the young people who go with these groups do not have a prior strong bond with Islam and Muslims. They have never visited mosques and some do not even know how to pray. That is why they are quickly taken down an emotional direction, then in a religious direction. They are told that "We hold the absolute reality and we will show you the path of truth, of martyrdom, and the way to paradise.

Tarfa Baghajati
Tarfa Baghajati

The second factor is that these young people do not see themselves as being part of this [Western] society: they were not brought up to blend in in a positive way. There is also some discrimination and indirect persecution against Islam and Muslims that is defined here as "Islamophobia."

RFE/RL: And this sense of estrangement is exploited by extremist organizations?

Baghajati: Here we must desist from laying the blame on the West, and we must ask ourselves about how this thinking has infiltrated our societies. It is a thought process that has nested in our minds for decades, particularly over the past 20 years. It has influenced the minds of our youths and led them toward rejecting their own societies more than the Western ones. It distances them from the traditional Islam of Iraq, Syria, and open societies, driving them on the path of bigotry that has only one interpretation of any [Koranic] verse. All the relevant verses are intended to bring about justice on earth, not to cut off hands or carry out beheadings or to strike others or to whip adulterers.

RFE/RL: Do mosques in Western countries share responsibility for the recruitment trend?

Baghajati: Moral responsibility, yes. We are all responsible. That is why we at the Austrian Islamic Commission and in many mosques in Austria try not to leave this matter to others. The subject must have its place in the Friday sermons. Most importantly, we need to speak the local language. One of the problems is that the Internet is the prime source for these young people, even on religion. Regrettably, it is the extremist trend that is populating the Internet via YouTube in every language. We admit our shortcomings.