After the 2004 Madrid bombings, the 2005 London attacks, and the myriad terrorist plots thwarted over the last few years, commentators and policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic have come to the realization that Europe faces an enormous challenge from terrorism of Islamist inspiration. Yet terrorism is only the tip of the iceberg, the most visible manifestation of a larger problem. Europe faces today a tripartite threat from radical Islam, of which the terrorist is only the most immediate and evident, but not necessarily the most dangerous one.
The European Islamist Pyramid
This tripartite threat can be visualized as a pyramid. At the top of it are the violent jihadists, a few thousand individuals scattered throughout the continent who openly challenge the societies they live in, and are willing to spill blood to achieve their goals. Below them are what can be defined "peaceful revolutionaries," groups and networks that openly express their opposition to any system of government that does not strictly conform to shari'a (Islamic law), yet do not, at least openly, directly resort to violent means to further their agenda. Finally, the base, the largest section of the pyramid, is occupied by groups that publicly purport to support democracy and the integration of Muslim communities within the European mainstream, but quietly work to radicalize Europe's Muslim population.
Each of these aspects of radical Islam has a different presence, structure and modus operandi. Each, consequently, presents a different kind of challenge to European policymakers and intelligence agencies. And while Europeans are finally paying attention to the jihadist threat and have devised solutions to contain it, there is only a limited understanding of the other two threats.