Minister: Czech Muslim community non-radical for historical reasons

Milan Chovanec, photo: Filip Jandourek

Following last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris, the Czech authorities are not ruling out the possibility of the radicalisation of individual Muslims in this country. However, says the minister of the interior, the Czech Muslim community as a whole is unusual in not having a radical component, having arisen in very different circumstances than the communities in bigger European states.

Milan Chovanec,  photo: Filip Jandourek
In the wake of last week’s horrific attacks in Paris, questions have been asked about the possibility of similar terrorism occurring in the Czech Republic.

The minister of the interior, Milan Chovanec, says the intelligence services are keeping a close eye on the situation. But, he told Czech Television on Sunday, Czechs have no particular cause for concern.

“I would like to reassure the Czech public once again that we have no information to suggest any genuine threat of danger in our country at the present time. But we are not resting on our laurels. We’re monitoring these matters very carefully. We’re in contact with partners not only in Europe but also the United States and Arab countries. We assess every person who comes to the Czech Republic, every danger.”

Unity march in Paris,  January 11,  2015,  photo: CTK
Speaking after attending Sunday’s huge unity march in Paris, the Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, said the country’s intelligence service, the BIS, would be given more resources to keep tabs on suspicious individuals.

But the need to do so is unlikely to ever be as acute as in France or other Western European states. That’s because, as Interior Minister Chovanec says, the Czech Republic’s small Muslim community has grown in large part out of the country’s communist past.

“We’re in a unique situation in that the Czech Muslim community is a markedly peaceful Muslim community that emerged in different conditions that in Germany or France. It emerged under the previous regime when, with the approval of the previous regime, people moved here from Arab states with which the regime had a relatively positive relationship. There aren’t any radicals, no radical wing has emerged. But you can’t rule out individuals in any community wanting to become involved in illegal activities.”

Illustrative photo: Antonio Melina / Agência Brasil,  CC BY 3.0 BR
Many Czech Muslims are indeed of Arab origin, coming in particular from Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Libya and Algeria. Often middle class, many arrived on scholarships and decided to stay in the country after completing university studies in medicine, technology and other fields.

There are estimated to be several hundred Czech converts, most of them the wives of men from “progressive regimes of the Third World” who moved here in the 1970s and 1980s.

Other nationalities are also represented, including from the Balkans, the Caucasus, former Soviet Central Asia, Pakistan and Turkey.