Roots of Militancy among some Muslim Youth: What can be Done?

By Mustafa Gurbuz

Gruesome ISIS beheadings, the Sydney siege, and now Taliban’s slaughter of children in Pakistan have haunted the media, along with the Senate’s report on CIA’s use of torture against suspected terrorists. The true nature of the radicalization problem, once again, is mostly obscured by petty domestic politics. The militant Islamism rests on a triple layer: opportunity, organizing structures, and a unifying ideology. All of them are significant to develop consistent policies, as radicalization of expatriate and second-generation Muslim youth is a growing challenge for Europe and to a lesser extent the Unites States.

First, a wide range of global and domestic factors support rebellious recruitment, providing unprecedented opportunities. About 40,000 foreign fighters have joined conflicts from Bosnia to the Philippines in the past three decades. The Muslim foreign fighter phenomenon should not be taken for granted as a corollary of conflict in the Muslim world, as argued by Thomas Hegghammer, because long distance foreign fighter mobilization was rare before 1980. Post-Cold war world context, plagued by increasing number of civil wars and failed states, exacerbates the trend. Jeff Goodwin’s study, based on a comprehensive global analysis since 1945, indicate that weak states are far most likely to incubate radical mobilizations, especially if they pursue exclusivist policies such as Iraq’s Maliki government against Sunni population. It is impossible to change the clock of globalization. Yet, it increasingly becomes imperative to grasp the link between a weak and exclusive government in Mali, for example, and the European security at large.

Second, militant organizational structures are ever more complex and powerful. Radicals are now collecting taxes, cutting energy deals, and virtually running de facto states. Such powerful localization provides radicals what they seek: a supportive community, order, and discipline. Bolstered with technological advances, global network of fighters offer a long career for radicals, moving from one zone to another. Among thousands of foreign fighters who joined the ranks of the Mujahedeen between 1980 and 1992, only 5 percent lost their lives. Average tours in late the 1980s were so short that some volunteers were called ‘”jihad tourists.” Growing Sunni-Shia tension in the Middle East provides a structural context where financial and logistical support for militants is a mundane act. Furthermore, global diffusion of governing experiences from Al-Qaeda in Yemen to Al-Shabab of Somalia is a great help for organizing militant structures.

Third, why Salafism as an ideology attracts Muslim youth in the West needs to be grasped in its complexity. The roots of Salafist foreign fighters go back to the Afghan Mujahedeen war against the Soviet Union. Populist pan-Islamism was based on the global network of charities, mostly drawing recruits from the Hijaz region of Saudi Arabia. Having the fear of being perceived as unsympathetic toward suffering Muslims abroad, the Saudi elites engaged in a competitive pan-Islamist propaganda. ‘”At the heart of the story of the transnationalization of jihad,” as one analyst maintains, is ‘”a process of elite competition.” Understanding the nature of discursive competition is important to avoid simplistic path from Salafism to terrorism. As I argued elsewhere, ideologies are neither blinkers put on radicals nor what Marx called ‘”nightmare weighing on the brain of the living”; instead, they are shaped and transformed in social relations through semiotic practices. Thanks to discursive competition among Salafis and Islamists, there is now a unifying ideology among Muslim foreign fighters: anti-Westernism and anti-Americanism.

Ironically, far right wing nationalist extremism in Europe is likely one trigger for the radicalization of European Muslim youth. Nor is this a trivial consideration. In 2030, Muslims are projected to constitute 10% of the total population in ten European nations. The hardest lesson of identity politics, perhaps, is perplexity that drives contradictory policies, often produce results in favor of radicals. Mass hysteria and the politics of fear support what Martha Nussbaum calls ‘”the new religious intolerance” against ordinary Muslims. The ban on headscarves in France, the prohibition of minaret construction in Switzerland, and U.S state legislatures’ anti-Sharia campaigns are just few counterproductive attempts in recent years. As long as policy makers approach the issue to drive domestic votes for their short-term benefit, roots of radicalism remain vibrant.

Radicalization of Muslim youth, thus, is no different than other extreme forms of identity politics. Similar to other fundamentalist mobilizations, puritan Salafi movement constructs a utopian past on the sculpture of the modern self. The element of ‘”discovery” in identity politics is a perfect fit for religious fundamentalism in various forms, perceived as the final resort of expressing discontent against sweeping ‘”filthy” capitalism. In the words of Mike Davis, ‘”In the slums of St. Petersburg, Buenos Aires and even Tokyo, militant workers avidly embraced the new faiths of Darwin, Kropotkin and Marx. Today, on the other hand, populist Islam and Pentecostal Christianity (and in Bombay, the cult of Shivaji) occupy a social space analogous to that of early twentieth-century socialism and anarchism.” As an acute observer of Islamism in the West, Olivier Roy echoes by quoting a foreign fighter in Bosnia ‘”the Muslims are the only ones to fight the system.” Roy adds, ‘”The radicals are often a mix of educated middle-class leaders and working-class dropouts, a pattern reminiscent of most West European radicals of the 1970s and 1980sÖTwenty years ago these men would have joined a radical leftist movement, but such movements have disappeared from the spaces of social exclusion or have become more bourgeois.”

MUSTAFA GURBUZ is a policy fellow at Center for Global Policy at George Mason University and a research fellow at Rethink Institute in Washington, DC. He is the author of Transforming Ethnic Conflict: Rival Kurdish Movements in Turkey (Forthcoming, Amsterdam University Press) and taught courses on revolutionary movements and political violence at the University of Connecticut and the University of South Florida.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Hatred of Muslims has “no place in Germany” says German Chancellor Angela Merkel”

6 Responses

  1. How wise and considerate of Merkel…

    Yet, when her coalition partner comes up with silly ideas, like ‘immigrants will be required to speak only german in their own home!’, you hear no word from her.

    She even allowed the nonsensical ‘german road toll for foreigners!’ to become a law.

    I’m afraid the article is right. The fixation politicians have with quickly gaining a few votes by bashing muslims and immigrants in general will only make things much, much worse.

    But what else should they talk about? Afterall, they are busy destroying social services and showering their rich cronies with money. Better people are mad at foreigners than realizing what is really going on…

    • “She even allowed the nonsensical ‘german road toll for foreigners!’ to become a law. “

      Not true. Such a law would be incompatible with EU law. There is currently only one toll enforced and that is for heavy trucks, and it is of course non-discriminatory.

      The CSU slogans you are referring to have been widely ridiculed in Germany. Merkel really didn’t have to add anything when a hyper-nationalist politician firmly plants his foot into his mouth like that.

      What is driving the ugly resurgence of nationalistic and anti-foreign sentiments is the increased influx of refugees. I don’t see these flames fanned by any mainstream parties, only the new and questionable AfD is acting ambivalent.

      • Oh sure, the endless CSU tirades against ‘criminal refugees who only want to abuse our social welfare’ have had NO impact whatsoever….

        By the way, they are making the road toll in a law. Hopefully, the EU will stop it.

  2. The right-wing critique of capitalism, throughout history, is not an attack on the grotesque inequality and injustice that unregulated capitalist economies naturally create. It is a complaint that the unequal rewards did not come to the “patriots”, the “pure”, the Good Americans, Germans, et al. In Europe it was always anger that the Jews, having been segregated from the old agrarian economy by that self-same bigotry, got in first on urban capitalism which turned out to be the wave of the future, and the bigots refused to accept their own idiocy as the culprit and turned to fascism as a holistic cure.

    The hallmark of this false critique is that the ideology usually divides the rich into two categories:

    1. the patriots, who not only are of the dominant ethnic group but have fortunes based on activities seen as virtuous and empowering for the nation: formerly landowning, later heavy industry, and war materiel.
    2. the “parasites”, which usually is identical with “Jews”; they are seen as urban, decadent, and immoral. Banking, law, the entertainment industry. But now it can include blacks who make “too much” money playing football or rapping.

    I should not have to explain why this division is bull****. Recall how many manufacturers like GE and GM were selling iffy mortgage-based bonds in 2007? It’s become a bizarre game of cultural stereotypes, manly versus gay, port versus heartland, “risk-taker” vs rentier, which obscures the real decadence of aging capitalism and especially the war of the rich against all of us.

    So the question the author must follow is why these disgruntled immigrants embrace right-wing exclusionary, anti-egalitarian revolution instead of the Marxism of their predecessors.

    I would argue that what’s changed is the old faith that technology would produce enough wealth to end poverty if only it could be redistributed. The old fascists only flourished where despair wiped out this faith and made dominant ethnicities lust to push the Others out of the lifeboat. In our times, the capitalists have worked tirelessly to wipe out this faith everywhere. So Islamists, Tea Partiers, libertarians, ethnic cleansers and tribalists all over the world share the premise that the “deserving” rich must be allowed to pollute and rape so that the class below them, the patriots, can have their former affluence restored as their loyal henchmen. As for the Others, the subhumans who are to blame for all economic problems? Disenfranchisement, deportation… maybe even a restored slavery?

  3. The problem of extremism we are experiencing is not “mass immigration”, immigration has been happening since the dawn of mankind. The problem we are experiencing is a direct result of lack of respect and tolerance substituted by ignorance. The problem we are experiencing is the direct result of poor consciousness and awareness of selective “information” being conveyed to us through various mainstream media sources.

    It’s not just Muslim extremism that’s the problem, but Christian and Jewish extremism too. Also neo-Nazi extremism that the USA and EU are making use of in Ukraine. It’s unbelievable that a man who was instrumental in the War of Aggression against Iraq was appointed as UN Middle East Peace Envoy! In his “peace envoy” role he’s been banging the war drum for British/US/NATO bombing of Syria. Who does this man actually serve? The Americans, the British, Israel, or the UN? …all of the above? ….or just himself? If Blair’s crimes were committed by Putin or Assad, the ‘international community’ would be: a.) Counting the dead (e.g. Syria) b.) Comparing him to Hitler and demanding he be marched to the Hague to face charges of high war crimes! But when Blair and Bush do it, not a peep from anyone (apart from us angry citizens, George Galloway and a handful of independent journalist – e.g. John Pilger) Clearly the Western Elite have a different rule book to the rest of us. Shame on our media for not doing their job and reporting on the hypocrisy and double-standards.

    There’s a new mainstream anti-Muslim racism that is built on fears for the survival of Western values. That’s the product of a nervous society in which social betterment is becoming increasingly difficult and in which there is a sense of omnipresent competition and struggle. The emotions generated by this are often not directed at a system, but at those who are different, at foreigners. This is also launched from the political arena and absorbed at grassroots level. Only recently, the conservative and other parties party suggested that immigrants should speak English at home. Labour controlled Newham council has removed Urdu and other language newspapers from all its libraries. The Mayor of Newham believed that we should speak, write and think in English instead of Urdu.

    Muslims are facing the worst job discrimination of any minority group in Britain, according to new research which found that they had the lowest chance of being in work or in a managerial role. Muslim men were up to 76 per cent less likely to have a job of any kind compared to white, male British Christians of the same age and with the same qualifications. And Muslim women were up to 65 per cent less likely to be employed than white Christian counterparts. Muslims were the most disadvantaged in terms of employment prospects out of 14 ethno-religious groupings in the UK, researchers Dr Nabil Khattab and Professor Ron Johnston found using data from the Office for National Statistics’ Labour Force Survey of more than half a million people. Skin colour made little difference to the figures.

    Dr Nabil Khattab, of Bristol University, said the situation was “likely to stem from placing Muslims collectively at the lowest stratum within the country’s racial or ethno-cultural system due to growing Islamophobia and hostility against them. “They are perceived as disloyal and as a threat rather than just as a disadvantaged minority,” he added. “Within this climate, many employers will be discouraged from employing qualified Muslims, especially if there are others from their own groups or others from less threatening groups who can fill these jobs.” Dr Khattab said the “penalties” for being Muslim got worse when applying for better-paid managerial or professional jobs. “If this persists, it could have long-term implications for the cohesion of the UK’s multi-ethnic, multicultural society. The exclusion of well-qualified black and Muslim individuals could undermine their willingness to integrate in the wider society,” he said.

    Although theoretically we live in a secular state, only church bells are allowed to ring out; the muezzin is not even permitted to issue a call to prayer on Fridays or public holidays. Muslim burials without a coffin are prohibited in lot of cemeteries The mandatory use of coffins dates from the seventeenth century, when it was introduced as a way of preventing the burial of a person who only appeared to be dead, by storing the body in a coffin for 48 hours. Muslims are not represented on the majority of broadcasting councils, although they also pay fees for public-service broadcasting.

    Britain, and the USA, children have no real value. Former secretary of state Madeline “it was worth it” Albright admitted on 60 Minutes that the Clinton administration had killed over 500,000 CHILDREN with bombings and sanctions. No one batted an eyelash. No one cried out for punishment. The Taliban kills 150 or so people, and the world condemns them, as it should. But
    the US kills over 500,000 children and the world calls the USA the beacon of democracy, the shining light on the hill? How can people think with the bells of cognitive dissonance ringing so loudly in their heads? Britain, and the USA, children have no real value. Former secretary of state Madeline “it was worth it” Albright admitted on 60 Minutes that the Clinton administration had killed over 500,000 CHILDREN with bombings and sanctions.

    The Taliban kills 150 or so people, and the world condemns them, as it should. But the US kills over 500,000 children and the world calls the USA/UK the beacon of democracy, the shining light on the hill? How can people think with the bells of cognitive dissonance ringing so loudly in their heads?

    The West has never been at ease with Islam since the Crusades. It is unfortunate that huge oil supplies lie under the Arabian Deserts. It is the West that stirred the trouble that led to 9/11. That attack was a desperate act of by men prepared to lose their life. We need to get to grips on who is the terrorist? On 24 November 1963, Lyndon Johnson said, “the battle against communism… must be joined… with strength and determination. Some three million lives were lost in the consequential battles. The US had to pull out due to Public Opinion. Communism lived on. So who was the terrorist?

    The British establishment is wrong in thinking that Imams are to blame for extremism. Imams are not solution to the problem for extremism. Extremism is nothing to do with Imams. Extremism is not created from abroad, it is coming from within. Britain fails to help Muslim communities feel part of British society. Race trouble is being predicted by the Daily Express, because of an ethnic boom in UK major cities. Muslim communities need imams for the solutions of their needs and demands in their own native languages. Muslim parents would like to see their children well versed in Standard English and to go for higher studies and research to serve humanity. The fact is that majority of Muslim children leave schools with low grades because monolingual teachers are not capable to teach Standard English to bilingual Muslim children. A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny global village. He/she does not want to become notoriously monolingual Brit.

    Terrorism and sexual grooming is nothing to do with Masajid, Imams and Muslim schools. Those Muslim youths who have been involved in terrorism and sexual grooming are the product of western education system which makes a man stupid, selfish and corrupt. They find themselves cut off from their cultural heritage, literature and poetry. They suffer from identity crises and I blame British schooling.

    No one has any problem when: Jews keep beards and wear their traditional caps Christian priests and nuns wear their religious outfits Buddhist monks wear orange robes Sikhs keep beards and wear turbans Indian aunties wear Sarees (cross streets and hang out in Wal-Mart) Yeah but if any Muslim male keeps beard or if any Muslim girl wears hijab then everyone has problem. It’s Freedom when you go naked but it’s extremism when you wear hijab – just plain hypocrisy! Looking at the case of France, a major secular nation, I believe it is also not allowing women freedom by not letting her to wear her choice of clothing as it supposedly “clashes with French secular values”.

    Stop treating foreigners like garbage and they will stop ruining your precious country. Why did you let them in in the first place if you didn’t want them here? They left everything in their countries because of your promises. Are you so anxious to please that you can’t say “no”? I would love to see you go to a foreign land where you don’t have any friends, you don’t even know anyone and you don’t speak the language, and start from scratch. I would just LOVE to watch you do that. Let them integrate and stop segregating them. What I want is people being nice to each other. I don’t care about race.

    Speaking English does not promote integration into British, American and Australian societies, and broaden opportunities. English speaking Muslim youths are angry, frustrated and extremist, thanks to state schools with monolingual non-Muslim teachers and English language. English language is not only a lingua franca but also lingua frankensteinia. Human right are also covers linguistic right. Cultural and linguistic genocide are very common. British schooling is murdering community languages like Arabic, Urdu and others. English is today the world killer language. Linguistic genocide is a crime against humanity and British schooling is guilty of committing this crime. Language is not just a language. It defines one’s culture, identity and
    consciousness. It defines how we think, communicate and express ourselves. The fact is the most South Asian Muslims have come to know Islam by way of Urdu, the children’s alienation from the language that connects them the heritage of their parents and grandparents is disturbing. As a matter of fact, one has to get to know his mother tongue well if one is to master any other language.

    The shocking level of targeting of the Muslim community of Birmingham is indicative of the normalisation of the dehumanisation of the Muslims of Britain. Under the pretext of “extremism”, criminal undemocratic and unethical abuse of public institutions and the Muslims of the UK can occur without much accountability. This pervasive attitude, especially amongst officials like Michael Gove needs to change. Our schools are truly trying to develop our children to do well at schools so later in life they are able to stand on their own two feet, but if we stop our schools from doing this than our country will have up rise of unemployment, benefit issues, crime levels high, I think its time for you apologize and allow practitioners to do their job right.

  4. Religion in general had served as organizing principle against totalitarianism in the 20th century.

    It was the efforts of the Vatican and the Solidarity movement in Poland that led to the demise of the communist government in Warsaw and eventually the Soviet Union and her satellites. At the same time the Islamic fundamentalists formed armed units in Afghanistan to fight against the Marxist regime and later also fought the Red Army.

    The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria was the seminal force against the Assad regime in 1982 when it revolted in Hama – leaving 30,000 killed. The current rebellion in Syria can be traced to that event. The Muslim Brotherhood in the late 1980s were also the force that organized the armed conflict against IDF occupation that led to the 2005 Gaza disengagement.

    The Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s was largely fueled by the totalitarian repression of SAVAK – the Iranian secret police, which led to the downfall of the U.S.-backed government there in 1979 and indirectly led to the rise of Hezbollah in south Lebanon during the 1980s to counter the occupation of the Israel Defense Forces. In Iraq, the Shia clerics were the loudest voice of dissent against the Baathists. Arab or Islamic-dominated countries such as Jordan and Morocco, which were democratic and had no foreign occupiers, did not have the problem of extensive Islamic radicalism.

    Zionism’s terror gang leaders in the 1940s were largely drawn from those Jews who fled Nazi occupation in Eastern Europe – these included Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.

    Religion acted as a unifying force to counter Marxism, Baathism and foreign occupation in the 20th century – without totalitarian and anti-democratic repressive forces, it is unlikely these religion-based movement would have achieved the popularity and organizational levels to achieve what they did.

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