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EuroIslam: The Jihad Within?

EuroIslam: The Jihad Within?

Mini Teaser: Islam in Europe is being transformed from diaspora to "universal" forms. The latter portend a rise of radicalism and terrorism within the EU.

by Author(s): Olivier Roy

If there were any question as to whether Middle Eastern-born Muslim radicals could wreak massive destruction in Western countries, it was answered on September 11, 2001. An important related question, however, remains on the table. Could future Islamic terror arise from within Western societies, from Muslim radicals born in the West and thoroughly familiar with its ways? What paths might such radicalization take? To answer this question, we must develop and consult a new sociology--that of EuroIslam.

Diasporic and Universalist Islam

Islam in western Europe is in rapid transition from an imported Islam to forms of European or "universal" Islam. The key difference between the two is this: the former is practiced mostly by immigrants who preserve links with their countries of origin, while the latter is adhered to mostly by European-born Muslims who have ceased looking to the "old country" as a reference point and a storehouse of activists and clerics. The extent of the transition from imported to universal Islam varies greatly from one community to another. It is pronounced in recent generations born in Europe, and it applies more to Arabs than to Turks. Once through its transition, Islam in Europe could assume several different forms. One is integration, by which is meant the development of a distinct European, or French or British, "Muslim church." Another is re-communalization along supranational lines, which is defined in essence by European Muslims' identification with a universal umma, or community of the faithful. It is with this latter phenomenon that radicalism and violence become potentially serious issues.

A necessary condition of radicalization is re-Islamization--that is, the socialization of European-born Muslims to Islamic beliefs, or at least beliefs that are presented as Islamic. But this is not a sufficient condition. Clearly, there are modes of conservative and conformist re-Islamization where the primary concerns of individuals are preserving dignity and achieving recognition and respect. This is the case, for example, for many Muslims from the Indian subcontinent living in Great Britain. Re-Islamization can take on a humanist and even a liberal mode, such as that form advocated by the imam of the Ad-Dawa mosque in Paris.

Nevertheless, re-Islamization can also lead to radicalization, and it can do so, theoretically at least, in two ways. There is, first, diasporic radicalization, defined as that linked to and focused on the country of origin, not the European host society. But radical Muslim groups active in Europe that maintain close links with their countries of origin are never primarily Islamist; they are nationalist and often leftist, like the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK). The Algerian Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), although present in Europe, is no longer involved in militant activity among Algerian-born migrants, and the Turkish Milli Görüs--a European offshoot of the since-banned Refah Party--is, as we shall see, increasingly less involved in Turkish domestic politics even as it remains active among the diaspora.

The second type of radicalization is ideological and takes the form of a transnational Islam divorced from its country of origin. Ideological radicalization typically develops as a result of the alienation of the young, which is common to depressed or socially marginal urban areas. Unmoored from traditional Islam, second- and third-generation jobless males provide fertile ground for recruiters to radical Islam.

Islamic radicalization in Europe since the early 1990s has predominantly taken this second path, oriented toward a supranational community, the Muslim umma. As a constructivist community it is partly imaginary, but once imagined it becomes real in effect--a development much advanced by the advent of the Internet and its associated subculture. Oddly enough, this type of radicalization goes hand in hand with Westernization in France and other European countries. Most radicalized Muslim youth in Europe are Western educated, often in technical or scientific fields. Very few come out of a traditional madrassa, and most experience a period of fully Westernized life, complete with alcohol and girlfriends, before becoming "born-again Muslims" in European mosques or jails. Inversely, conservative groups, whose members practice traditional Islam with strong cultural and linguistic affinities with non-European cultures, can nonetheless develop strong loyalty toward the host European country. Radicalization is thus not directly linked to the level of integration.

Diasporic Radicalism

To understand why transnational, "ideological" Islam is liable to be most dangerous to the security and well-being of European states, it helps to look first at the lesser problem--diasporic radicalization.

A diaspora is formed when a community of migrants maintains close links with its country of origin: continuing to speak the mother tongue; keeping in touch with national events through newspapers and other media; supporting extended family relationships through endogamous practices (the marriage partner is selected from the country of origin, sometimes from the same village); maintaining a juridical link (dual nationality or the nationality of the country of birth); and often preserving the myth of a return to the home country--even if this return is constantly being postponed. The term "diaspora" retains no meaning in reference to those who abandon these behaviors, even if some family and emotional ties remain. Before a Muslim in Europe can become a supranationalized radical, he (or, far less often, she) must lose most if not all connection to the diaspora.

The transition away from the diasporic condition can take three forms. The first of these is assimilation: the loss of all identity-related indicators of existing differences, even if memories or, for those born in the diaspora, awareness of one's origins persist (as, for example, with Italian immigrants to France). In this case, an Arab or Turkish immigrant would blend into a European society and lose all traces of his cultural, linguistic and religious origin. The second form of transition is integration, which is characterized by a reconstituted identity that stresses remaining differences. Thus, one can be simultaneously European and "Arab" without reference to the Arabic language or a particular Arab country; or simply "Muslim", understood as a follower of a religion detached from any specific citizenship. The third form is re-communalization, which combines a physical presence in Europe with a supranational Muslim identity that produces a "virtual ghetto."

Sociologically, west European Muslims are distributed all along this identity scale. Most of the approximately 13 million Muslims living in EU countries are not politically radical. But of those who are, the main pattern in recent years evinces a growing separation of the process of radicalization from the country of origin. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Algerian (FIS), Turkish (Refah/Milli Görüs) and Pakistani Islamic militants concentrated their actions on the country of origin, avoiding confrontations with the authorities of the host European country. They used the diaspora for recruitment and financing, but also as political leverage to influence the host country's policy toward the country of origin--on the same model, more or less, as that of the IRA, the Basque ETA and the PKK. They needed to avoid prosecution and hence kept a low political profile in the host country. A dozen years later, it is clear that this strategy failed.

The FIS provides the best example of that failure. During its meteoric rise beginning in 1989 and culminating in its short-lived victory in the 1991 Algerian elections, the FIS garnered much sympathy from Algerian immigrants in Europe. But its strategy was always centered on the home country: its aim was to mobilize Europe's Muslims in support of the struggle in Algeria. Its networks abjured violence in Europe against Europeans, particularly in France, in order to transform Europe into a base of support for militants on the run and a public relations platform.

For these purposes the FIS mobilized immigrants of North African origin through the Algerian Federation of France. Despite its anti-Western rhetoric, the Federation sought compromise with European authorities in order to isolate the Algerian government. For example, under the aegis of an Italian Catholic community, the Federation was involved in the "San Egidio process", whose objective was to reach an "historical compromise" in Algeria. The FIS was thus an Islamo-nationalist organization whose goal was power in Algeria, not international Islamic revolution; it worked entirely within the framework of the Algerian nation, and rejected the exportation of jihad to Europe or anywhere else.

The FIS' European strategy failed for two reasons. First, a more radical group, the GIA (Groupes Islamiques Armés, or Armed Islamic Groups), entered the political arena of global confrontation and terrorism. Second, European governments (and most of the media and public opinion, as well) aligned themselves with the Algerian government's eradicative stand, refusing to recognize the FIS as a bona fide political player. Ill prepared for clandestine action, the FIS quickly lost the battle at home to the Algerian army and the GIA, and it collapsed in Europe for this and additional reasons. Its members in France felt increasingly less in tune with their native country's politics. Second-generation European Muslims, including those of Algerian descent, were more attracted by the GIA's radical discourse on jihad than by the FIS call to form a political coalition in Algeria. That radical discourse helped European-born Muslims blend with other deracinated radicals to form new transnational Islamist networks.

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