The Islamist Ghost Haunting Europe

The Islamist Ghost Haunting Europe

Michael Radu writing for the Foreign Policy Research Institute:

The Islamist ghost haunting Europe today is not accidental, nor is its timing due to some plot hatched by a clique of terrorists from a Pakistani or North African hideout. To the contrary, it is largely the result of cultural and economic developments long in the making both in Europe and in the Muslim world. These trends are heading in opposite directions, and it is this fact that makes the threat so serious—far more than legal and intelligence errors or misguided social policies.

The most important discordance between trends in Europe and the Muslim world is identity. Europe, as a whole, is going through a clear identity crisis at both national and individual levels. Politically, the nation-state—which Europe invented and which largely explains both its past political, cultural, military, and technological triumphs as well as the totalitarian disasters of the twentieth century—is under persistent attack. It is threatened from above by supranational, largely unelected elite and bureaucratic forces, primarily the European Union and its associated institutions; and from below by the rise of regionalism and micro-nationalisms (Basque, Catalan, Flemish, Scottish, etc.). In addition, it is also threatened by a general loss of national culture and traditions in favor of an undefined "multiculturalism." Multiculturalism, however, is not a policy, a doctrine, or an ideology. Brussels is quite effective in diluting national identities, but what has it to offer in exchange? "Tolerance"? "Europeanness"? Obviously, it is impoverished, which is why its Constitutional Treaty was rejected by both the least nationally conscious Europeans and the most—the Dutch and the French. Do not even ask the Poles, Balts, or Romanians what they think of "post-nationalism."

When legislation passed by national, elected parliaments on issues of major importance—membership in the military, counterterrorism, immigration, or asylum, to name just a few—is overridden by Brussels or by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, or is harshly treated as a "gross violation" by self-appointed NGOs, the sense of lost control over the nation's life and identity is increased. Hence, there is an insufficiently articulated disappointment with the political system as a whole and the rise of anti-system populists, ranging from quasi-anarchic skinheads to xenophobic parties à la Le Pen's Front National.

European youth suffer from loss of identity, combined with widespread tolerance of deviant behavior. They see the legalization of drugs and prostitution, the continual lowering of jail sentences for various crimes, and the educational system's frowning upon or outright rejection of national cultural identity. Many of them are losing all moral and cultural standards, and live in a chaotic, no-responsibility world. And here is the key difference between native Europeans and Muslim immigrants of the second or third generation: While both groups suffer the same loss of identity and aim, the former have no obvious exit, since both Christianity and mass ideologies are largely dead in Europe, while the latter do—and it is Islam, especially in its most simplistic, and poisonous, forms. It is hard to avoid drawing comparisons between British and German "skinheads" — who are opposed to an undefined "system" and are quick to blame their own problems on an undefined "other," and to borrow the slogans of fascist or Nazi ideologies they know nothing about. Similarly, there are young Muslims in Europe who cannot read or understand the Quran but accept in its entirety—the Salafi interpretation of it—because it gives them an identity and a goal: to fight the infidel "other." Doing so conveniently gives them a reason to reject a system they cannot or will not adapt to, and offers even the most ordinary petty criminal, be he a Muslim from birth or a convert, the opportunity to feel part of a large, indeed global, struggle—something that many psychologists would agree serves to create unconditional loyalty.

At the same time that Europe is suffering an extreme loss of national identity the Islamic world, aware of its general backwardness but in denial of the local roots of that backwardness, seeks scapegoats abroad, and solutions in a return to the mythical "pure" Islam of the Prophet's times. While these factors are obvious in the case of Muslims born in Europe, they are even more acutely felt by Third World immigrants. For the latter, the identity vacuum of Europe's metropolises adds to the double cultural shock of entry from a rural into a post-industrial world and from a conservative and structured moral universe into postmodern moral relativism and anarchic individualism.

To this, one has to add the impact of the political culture from the countries of origin, often imported wholesale to Europe and reinforced by the common pattern of marriage with partners from the original countries. This explains the disproportionate representation of individuals of Algerian, Pakistani, Moroccan, and Syrian background in Islamist activities—just as it partially explains the disproportionately low participation of Turks, Albanians, or Bosniaks in such activities. The former are products of radical or fast radicalizing Islamist environments, the latter of less radical or partially secularized Muslim societies. While this is just one element in the mixture of factors explaining the distribution of Islamism in Europe, it is an important one.

Europe, however, has by now created its own peculiar Islamic environment, in which Muslim immigrants' ethnic and national identities are tending to be submerged into an increasingly homogenous "Muslim" whole, especially among the second and the growing third generation of immigrants. The best example of this is the joint presence of Algerian and Moroccan radicals in Islamist cells in Spain, of Pakistani and Algerian cooperation in Britain, and Pakistan-originated Tablighi recruitment among France's Maghrebi immigrants. The neo-Wahhabi groups financed from, if not by, the nouveaux riches Gulf States are a different but not unrelated story.


Source: FPRI (English)

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