Pro-Western activists will soon have an opportunity to determine if their political leaders are committed to protecting the countries they govern from Islamist encroachment. They will be able to do this by asking politicians to sign a "Salzburg Pledge" prepared by a coalition of reform Muslims, ex-Muslims and their non-Muslim allies who met in Salzburg, Austria during the last weekend of October.
They met under the auspices of the Clarity Coalition established by the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation as part of an effort to formulate a strategy to halt and rollback the spread of Islamism in Western democracies. The overall agenda of the conference and its attendees is not anti-Islam, but to promote opposition to the ideology of Islamism that is gaining traction in the West, emphasized Zuhdi Jasser, conference organizer and president of American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD).
"The red-green alliance has been handing us our rear ends for the past five to ten years," he said.
Once Islamists start getting some serious pushback from activists in the West, Muslim reformers will start to gain momentum in their efforts to update how their faith is practiced in the modern world, Jasser said.
"The world is not going to shift without some cooperation amongst us," he said.
The need for a grand strategy to counter Islamism was underscored by the presence of numerous armed guards at the Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg where the conference was held. They were present to protect several attendees who had received numerous death threats because of their anti-Islamist activism and writings over the past two decades. Experts at the conference warned that Islamist violence has had a corrosive effect on the willingness of people to defend and exercise their right to speak openly about the threat of Islamism in their countries.
Sam Westrop, director of the Middle East Forum's Islamist Watch and a conference organizer, told attendees that Islamist activists are no longer dependent on countries in the Middle East for support, but have become part of a free-standing movement capable of making alliances with both the left and the right in Western democracies.
"Islamism is rapidly becoming a Western-led affair," Westrop said, adding that public officials in the West give undue credibility to Islamist leaders by providing public funds to the institutions they control. Such funding effectively anoints Islamists as leaders of the Muslim population.
Wasiq Wasiq, a fellow at the UK-based Henry Jackson Institute, warned that Islamists have learned how to use their rights in Western democracies to promote the establishment of Sharia-compliant societies. In addition to portraying free speech as a threat to Muslims in the West, Islamists work to make public institutions in the West Islam-focused and friendly. In so doing, officials establish special privileges for Muslims, he said.
For example, Islamists have demanded that Muslims in prisons be allowed to pray as a group five times a day to contravene rules that require prisoners to be outside their cells for only an hour a day. Prison officials acquiesce to these demands, Wasiq said, because they rely on Islamists to keep order over the Muslim population in their facilities.
"Prison guards lose power to charismatic leaders in the Islamist community," Wasiq said.
The details of what would be included in the "Salzburg Pledge" initiated at the conference have yet to be determined, but attendees offered several policy proposals that will likely make their way into the text.
Daniel Pipes, president of the U.S.-based Middle East Forum, called on attendees to pursue goals that are easier to achieve — such as controlling immigration — as opposed to more difficult goals — such as expelling Islamists.
"Controlling the borders is what you can do," Pipes said. "Let's focus on immigration issues."
Charlie Weimers, a Swedish representative to the European Parliament who attended the conference, stated he supports a full stop on granting asylum to immigrants from Muslim-majority countries.
"I have four daughters and I refuse to give into the idea that our country will be uninhabitable for them and my grandchildren," he said.
Attendees agreed that counter-Islamists should disregard charges of "Islamophobia," and perhaps even identify with this intended insult.
"When they draw up lists of 'Islamophobes' and I'm not on it, I ask 'What's wrong with me?'" Pipes said.
Dexter Van Zile is managing editor of the Middle East Forum publication Focus on Western Islamism.