Ireland must learn from Britain's mistakes on Muslim community


Dealing with the dangers of disaffection among young Muslims should be a matter of social as well as security policy, writes Mark Hennessy.

For decades, the United Kingdom and other European countries ignored their Muslim populations, their rapid growth in numbers, their economic difficulties and the disconnection felt by many of their young.

Today, the Republic has time - time to ensure that the Muslims living here are properly integrated into society as a whole and that they are convinced that they have a future.

Twenty-five thousand Muslims live in the Republic, the vast majority peacefully. Just a minority have sympathies for radical Islam, while only a fraction of that number act in any way to give expression to that support.

By its nature, the world of intelligence-gathering is opaque, but it is believed that 200 of these people have at one time or another come to the attention of the security services.

Eighty of these have received closer attention from the Garda, while 20 would be under surveillance frequently because of the suspicions held about their connections with Islamist terror groups.

Some of these are war veterans, with experience against the Serbs and the Croats in the 1990s, the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s and on the side of the Taliban regime there in the 1990s and later.

New faces have appeared occasionally, intelligence sources have told The Irish Times, though others can be British-born and thus enjoy freedom of movement, although little else may be known about their provenance.

However, some fighters are being "rotated" out of Iraq to European countries, including a few to Ireland, for a "rest" and, perhaps, more importantly, for the chance to radicalise others.

So far, it is believed that no operations have been "run" out of the Republic, though logistical support - perhaps a bed for some weeks, perhaps more - has been offered.

The dividing line between aid and support for undesirable elements can be a thin one in a society where hospitality towards family and friends is taken as a given.

Often, there can be little doubt.

A number of individuals who are subject to the interest of the security forces have developed an ability to exploit social welfare laws.

The use to which the welfare money is put has been questioned in a number of cases, since there is little evidence that they are spending it on themselves, yet it is not in their bank accounts.

If anything, however, radical elements have good reason to behave themselves here because they can qualify for an Irish passport in four years - a passport that in turn guarantees movement throughout the European Union.

Last year, one man made himself scarce quickly after gardaí broke a ring in Galway that had manufactured high-quality fake north African and Italian passports.

Italian passports are useful to Muslim terror groups because many Tunisians, Algerians and other north Africans can pass at a push for Italians, especially in out-of-the- way airports.

Two Irish-based Muslims are known to have gone to join Islamic fighters in Iraq: one was killed, the other is still alive, but he is no longer involved in the fighting.

The security threat, if any, posed by Islamic terrorists to the Republic is closely monitored by the Government's National Security Committee, chaired by the secretary general of the Government, Dermot McCarthy.

Extra numbers have been recruited into the Garda Síochána's Middle East section, though finding Arabic speakers is not easy. Even then that does little to deal with the situation since a number of other languages are spoken.

"Farsi is spoken, Urdu is spoken, there are loads of dialects. Language, though difficult, is one thing. Culture is another thing. You need to know the way people think," one source said.

Up to now, security sources do not appear to believe that the Republic is a target, regardless of charges by the anti-war movements that the US military's use of Shannon airport as a transit point has put the State on the list.

So far, they have not been faced with the same moral issues encountered by their British colleagues who have admitted that they have decided on a shoot-to-kill policy to cope with suicide bombers.

Unlike Britain, Ireland does not yet have a disaffected rump of young Muslims open to being preyed upon by a fire-breathing imam, offering the promise of martyrdom.

But the advantage enjoyed by the Republic is one created by demographics and not by policy and one that will disappear in time - perhaps in less than a decade - if the State does not avoid the social mistakes made in Britain.

"First-generation immigrants anywhere keep their heads down, work hard, try to get their family educated and settled. The real problems can occur with the second and third generations," one informed source told The Irish Times.

"The crisis of identity can occur for some in their late teens. They don't fit in where they were born, or where their parents came from."

Often, the young immigrants are unemployed and poorly educated; over-educated, struggling or discriminated against in dead-end jobs; or unemployed because they refuse to move out of tightly knit communities to where there are jobs.

In Britain, four young Muslims have already seen fit to kill their fellows by suicide bombs, while others were disaffected enough to help them, or not to stop them if they knew anything in advance.