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Why are Britain and France producing so many young jihadis?

The answer may have more to do with social exclusion than Islam


 
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, aka Abou Omar Soussi Terror attacks in Paris, France - 15 Nov 2015 A Belgian national who is currently believed to be in Syria is suspected of being behind Friday´s attacks in Paris, according to a source close to the French investigation. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was reportedly the person likely behind the killing of at least 129 people in Paris on Friday. Abaaoud is a 27 year-old from the Molenbeek suburb of Brussels, home to other members of the militant Islamist cell that carried out the attacks. (REX Shutterstock/CP)

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, aka Abou Omar Soussi. (REX Shutterstock/CP)

The death of Abdelhamid Abaaoud and two accomplices in a shootout in the suburbs of Paris last week has ushered in a fresh round of soul searching on the roots of radical Islam in western Europe. Abaaoud, 27, is believed to have been the planner behind the recent terrorist attacks in Paris in which 130 people were killed.

He was also yet another European Muslim who was somehow transformed from a secular middle-class student to a hardened jihadi in just a few short years. Born to Belgian Moroccan immigrant parents in the suburbs of Brussels, Abaaoud attended Catholic school but dropped out in his early teens to pursue a life of delinquency, during which time he became estranged from his family. Living on the streets of Molenbeek, a rough neighbourhood on the outskirts of the Belgian capital, he met a young man named Salah Abdeslam, who would become one of the Paris attackers and is currently still wanted by French police. In 2011, Abaaoud was sentenced to a short jail term after a violent robbery. His radicalization to fundamentalist Islam occurred either on or around the time of his incarceration. By 2014 he had slipped into Germany and boarded a flight to Istanbul where it’s believed he slipped into Syria. Abaaoud quickly ascended the ranks of the so-called Islamic State and eventually became a head of a unit devoted to radicalizing other European jihadis with a view to sending them back to their countries of origin with deadly intentions.

Abaaoud is hardly the first Western-born jihadi. Three of the four London bombers in 2005, the Charlie Hebdo shooters and Mohammed Emwazi, a.k.a. Jihadi John (the now-dead perpetrator of the filmed ISIS beheadings) all fit the same bill: second-generation Muslims who did not grow up in particularly religious families but who nonetheless sought refuge in radical Islam, culminating in their alienation from the broader Muslim community. It’s also a description that could apply to many of the thousands of young European Muslims who have fled to Syria in recent years to take up arms for Islamic State. So how and why is socially democratic western Europe producing so many young jihadis and what can be done to prevent it?

According to Kenan Malik, an Indian-born British writer and broadcaster who has written several high-profile books on multiculturalism and the politics of race (including The Meaning of Race and Strange Fruit), almost all our received wisdom about the process of radicalization in European countries (in particular France and Britain) is wrong.

Malik points to four key ideas that illustrate the misguided thinking around the so-called radicalization process. “The first is the idea that people are drawn to extreme religious notions. The second is that these extreme religious beliefs are somehow different than other belief systems. The third is that there is a direct conveyor belt between religion and jihadism, and finally there is the notion that these young people are attracted to these ideas in the first place because they’re badly integrated. In fact, all these ideas are incorrect.”

Malik points to a host of studies that show that most French and British jihadis are not brought up with a strong religious faith and a high proportion are recent converts to Islam. “Most of them speak the local language and are very well integrated in their communities. So it’s a much more existential form of disaffection and alienation that leads them down this path.” Malik points to the disintegration of political ideology and political institutions such as trade unions in recent decades, which has been supplanted by the rise of identity politics, as the true reason for the rise of so-called “radicalized” European Muslims.

“We have a group of people who are both detached from the societies in which they live but they’re also detached from Islam,” he says. “When you look at most radicalized jihadis they’ve rejected the Islam of their parents and they tend not to get radicalized in mosques. They are viewed by broader society as Muslim but they don’t feel attached to the larger community. There’s this tension between feeling disrespected by mainstream society and also alienated by their religious community. It’s not so much the pull factor of ISIS but the push factor of the societies we live in.”

In this way, Malik explains, both the multicultural social policies of modern Britain (up with diversity) as well as the assimilationist social policies of contemporary France (ban the niqab) have failed dismally when it comes to staunching the flow of young European Muslims fleeing east to take up arms in Syria. Why is this? Because both societies inadvertently set immigrant communities apart, leaving their secular offspring feeling aware of their own otherness despite being born into a different culture from their parents.

This disaffection is not peculiar to European Muslims, but is also evidenced in the rise of far-right parties like Britain’s BNP and France’s Front National. “Racist populism is an expression of the same sentiment and disaffection as jihadism,” says Malik. “In fact, they feed one and other. What we need to do is remake the institutions of a civil society. We need to allow people to bond and feel integrated.”


 

Why are Britain and France producing so many young jihadis?

  1. Thank you for using the word “planner” and not “mastermind.” This wasn’t a particularly difficult nor masterful plan. By all accounts it seems Abaaoud was a rather simple minded person with very dangerous delusional beliefs.

    Second, this is either a poorly articulated picture of Kenan Malik’s argument or Kenan Malik has a terrible argument to make. Because what’s presented here makes very little sense.

    Kenan claims there are four key misguided thoughts around radicalization:

    1. “The first is the idea that people are drawn to extreme religious notions.”
    This seems reasonable enough.

    2. “The second is that these extreme religious beliefs are somehow different than other belief systems.”
    Well, this is um … wrong. Not every belief system celebrates death and martyrdom. Not every belief system instructs violence. Not every belief system revolves around reaching paradise. Every belief system is different and Islamist and jihadist belief systems are outrageously dangerous and delusional. They are different.

    3. “The third is that there is a direct conveyor belt between religion and jihadism”
    It may not be the only belt, but there is certainly a direct conveyor belt between religion and jihadism. That doesn’t mean all religious people become jihadists, but all jihadists are most certainly religious. It also doesn’t mean religion is the only thing that could get them there but it does get them there and does so efficiently.

    4. “Finally there is the notion that these young people are attracted to these ideas in the first place because they’re badly integrated.”
    I’d like to hear more on this, but clearly there is some integration failures in that these jihadists do not share the same basic liberal values of the communities in which they live.

    • Gary, I was very happy to read your post. The content answers quite sensibly the Islamic-related problem in Europe (and elsewhere). I must wonder why Mr. McLaren is the writer of the article because, with respect, to ask “Why?” suggests little knowledge of the subject.

      From my experience, the answer lies within the Islamic culture and finding ways for its change. In my opinion, if all imams and their madrasas were banned from teaching in anything but the language of residency, short of being a ‘fly on the wall’, such a ban should have a huge affect on Muslims of all ages.

      To use the apparent language of our First Nations, most imams speak with ‘forked tongue’.

    • Hi Gary,
      Here are some of the fundamental beliefs of Islam. Please feel free to point out what you find delusional and dangerous.
      1. Belief in God that He is our creator.
      2. Belief in all Books sent by God, i.e Quran, Torah, Psalms and Gospel.
      3. Belief in all Prophets of God including Mohammad (p.b.u.h), Abraham(r.a), Moses(r.a) and Jesus(r.a)
      4. Belief that whatever actions we perform here we will be answerable to God for those actions. Few key guidelines to go by in this world according to Quran are as follows
      –“And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him; and that you be dutiful to your
      parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of
      disrespect, nor shout at them, but address them in terms of honor.”(Verse 23, Chapter 17, Holy
      Quran).
      — “Serve God, and join not any partners with Him; and do good—to parents, kinsfolk, orphans,
      those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, and the companion by
      your side, the way-farer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess: for God loveth not the
      arrogant, the vainglorious.” (Verse 36, Chapter 4, Holy Quran)
      –“Give orphans their property, and do not substitute bad things for good. Do not assimilate their
      property into your own. Doing that is a serious crime.” (Verse 2, Chapter 4)
      –“Whoever slays a soul, it is as though he slew all mankind; and whoever keeps it alive, it is as
      though he kept alive all mankind;” (Verse 32, Chapter 5, Holy Quran)
      –“O you who believe! be maintainers of Justice, bearers of witness of Allah’s sake, Though it
      maybe against your own selves or (your) parents or near relatives; if he be rich or poor, Allah is
      nearer to them both in compassion; therefore do not follow (your) low desires, lest you deviate;
      and if swerve or turn aside, then surely Allah is aware of what you do”.(Verse 135, Chapter 4,
      Holy Quran)
      –“Help one another in goodness and piety, and do not help one another in sin and aggression”.
      (Verse 2, Chapter 5, Holy Quran)
      Its a brief summary of islamic belief system. If you would like to further inquire about this belief system please visit http://alislam.org. Have a nice day!!

  2. I really like some points mentioned in your article. First and foremost I disagree with the means these people have taken (Paris attacks) as well as any of the past bombings, shootings, killings of innocent people.

    I feel that these young people who are so attracted to ISIS and other fake so called Muslim groups are making these young people go astray. There is so much hared towards Muslims these days that it is hard to survive when everywhere you go you get treated differently or doubting upon. These youngsters are frustrated and how do they take their frustration out? Groups like ISIS basically take advantage of these young people who are looking for an outlet. They call these people twist and play with their minds and influence them to join them and do such horrible acts.

    You mentioned ‘They are viewed by broader society as Muslim but they don’t feel attached to the larger community” This is the problem they have created their own Islam of violence. If one reads Islamic history killing, wars and violence is not what it teaches. Even if circumstances arise when war is needed justice is still given 9for example don’t kill women, children, treat even the captives with respect, don’t mutilate dead bodies etc). What we need to do as a society is work together towards peace. Before groups like ISIS get to people who are vulnerable we as a community need to help these people. This is just like the many people in America who walk into schools and theatres to kill people because they have a “mental illness” these terrorists can also have a mental illness. Do we start to hate people with mental illness? NO. Then why do we treat the worlds peaceful Muslim horribly when 3 Muslims go killing people.

    Just like when Hitler Killed Jews the world didn’t start to hate Christians. When KKK killed people , the world did not start to hate them for their religion. Now that so called fake Muslims are spreading terror we should not start to hate all Muslims.

    We need to stand together in times of terror and sorrow and support each other regardless of race, religion and ethnicity and support one another in this tough time. Killing innocent people is never justifiable no matter what their religion is.

    • “Three of the four London bombers in 2005, the Charlie Hebdo shooters and Mohammed Emwazi, a.k.a. Jihadi John (the now-dead perpetrator of the filmed ISIS beheadings) all fit the same bill: second-generation Muslims who did not grow up in particularly religious families but who nonetheless sought refuge in radical Islam, culminating in their alienation from the broader Muslim community.”

      As a Muslim, I refuse to label these terrorists as “jihadis”. Far from it, they are ruthless murderers who have no understanding whatsoever of the concept of jihad. Jihad is a striving or struggle against the self/ego, against self-aggrandizement, against oppression. Jihad can be a military struggle only in self-defence and only to uphold religious freedom of all people no matter what religion they belong to. This is clearly stated in the Quran! There is nothing self-defence in killing innocent people and there is no “jihadi” element in any of the terrorists.

      Jihad is not a ‘holy war’ against non-believers and Islam has nothing to do with radicalization. As noted by the author, all of the terrorists were from families who were not particularly religious which means Islam was not the inspiration behind their barbaric acts. It was their alienation economically and socially that contributed to their radicalization. It’s about time we realize this root cause of terrorism and nip it in the bud by reaching out to the vulnerable youth and offer programs that will ameliorate their economic prospects in life. They need to be educated in order to become contributing members of society. By addressing the root cause of terrorism, we will be able to thwart any further terrorist acts.

  3. “Racist populism is an expression of the same sentiment and disaffection as jihadism,” says Malik. “In fact, they feed one and other. What we need to do is remake the institutions of a civil society. We need to allow people to bond and feel integrated.” This quote by Kenan Malik illustrates how the problem can be fixed. By allowing people of different minorities to speak up and be inclusive in both school and work will help reduce the amount of young jihadis.

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