The Islamisation of radicalism

By Rachel Bloul

Western societies seem to have discovered with a revulsion mixed with surprise that some of its Muslim youth are not only attracted to, but are participating in, Daesh's terrorism.

They are willing to commit suicide bombings and kill innocent civilians.

Explanations usually borrow from two theories, both of which, I suggest, unduly privilege some supposed difference of Muslims and/or Islam.

One theory blames Islam for its supposedly violent jihad ideology, conveniently forgetting the vast majority of ordinary Muslims aspiring to a peaceful life.

The other, noticing the particular fascination of jihad for young people, including Western converts, blames alienation and the social exclusion created by racism, Islamophobia and the various acts of victimisation of Muslims by the West.

While the marginalisation of Muslim youth in the West might play a role in the radicalisation of would-be jihadists, one should not forget the diverse social origins of the latter.

They are far from being social misfits but they might well be in search of a cause, as Olivier Roy, a Middle East political scientist specialist, wrote in Le Monde.

Roy's theory is that rather than Islam becoming radicalised, it is political radicalisation that has become Islamicised.

He reminds us of the Western history of radical youth, pointing to the terrorism of the 1970s and '80s by the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy.

He points to similarities with Western Jihadists today, both Muslims and converts.

Among those is an abstract idealism, revolted by the social injustices of an iniquitous system, in search of a redemptive ideology.

Earlier Western terrorists gave allegiance to some version of Radical Marxism.

The West does not offer such revolutionary political creeds anymore and, as has often been the case, religious ideologies step in the breach offering visions of a 'better world' and personal redemption through martyrdom.

However, abstract idealism motivated by visions of justice unfortunately often neglects the human costs of 'revolution'.

Whether a generation weaned on violent video games is more susceptible to such appeal is anyone's guess.

Moreover, for a generation brought up within an ideology of rights, jihadist ideologies may offer something more: a way to satisfy a desire for adventure, a way to test oneself and to overcome the paltry conventions of everyday life.

In other words, this is warrior romanticism and its glorification of heroic qualities.

This has happened before in recent Western history.