Amsterdam: Study of Salafi-Jihadis

Amsterdam: Study of Salafi-Jihadis
Radicalizing Muslim youth are not irrational lunatics, say researchers who studied twelve of these youth.  They feel chosen and not understood by the rest of the world, including other Muslims.

They feel chosen, but kicked out by society, the mosque and sometimes even by their own family: the Salafi-Jihadi: who are the 'irrational lunatics' in their self-chosen isolation?

The publication "Salafi-Jiahdis in Amsterdam' was presented today at the new year's reception of Forum, Institute for multicultural development.  Researchers followed twelve radicalizing Moroccan Muslim youth because 'in order to prevent extreme action is it important to know what such youth think and why they think what they think."

Mohammed B., the murder of Theo van Gogh, was a Salafi-Jihadi.  The Hofstad group relied on this thinking: any means is permissible, even violence, in striving for Islamization.  Society has every reason to worry about youth who go towards radicalization and who are seen as 'irrational lunatics'.

The latter is not correct, say the researchers, led by political scientist Jean Tillie of the University of Amsterdam.  "Our study shows that those youth don't act out of irrational, inexplicable religious urges, but out of needs which have to do with personal and social circumstances."

In the past Tillie calculated that 2% of Amsterdam Muslims - about 1,400 youth - are susceptible for radicalization.  In the fieldwork in three Moroccan mosque they meet up with twelve youth (17-22 years old, middle to high educational level), which they followed in the radicalization process.  How they went from 'common troublemakers' with an Amsterdam dialect into religious Muslims who learn Arabic.

The researchers conclude that three motives hold for the Salafi-Jihadis: a need for meaning in life, a need for ties and acceptance and a need for justice.

Often a role in the radicalizing process of young Muslims is assigned to controversial imams in the ultra-orthodox mosques, traveling Salafist Koran teachers or recruiters for radical Islamic groups.

There was no such thing with the 'twelve of Amsterdam'.  They sought, say the researchers, by themselves a religious interpretation that would appeal to them and found pioneers in their group.  They listned to Moustapha who said again and again that "the Salafi Jihadis are the last Muslims who dare say the truth aloud and aren't afraid of ending up in jail or dead".

Radicalizing youth are socially more and more isolated.  They clash with their parents, who are first still proud of the increasing religiosity of their sons.  A religious son won't do crazy things, won't go on the wrong path, and also won't completely Dutchify, they think. But that positive feeling is upset when their son grows a beard and wears a dress.  Parents understand that that reduces the possibility of a good job.

The lack of understanding about religions is mutual. Boys look down on the beliefs of their parents.  They see their parents as habit or culture Muslims who don't follow pure Islam, but their belief mixed with tradition.  According to Islam the Salafi-Jihadis must respect their parents, but in practice they find that difficult.

The researchers saw that the youth, who went to three mosques, had barely any contact with other mosque visitors.  "Older men who complain about the increasing medical expenses," says one of the youth about them.  The difference in religious experience with the elderly, often lower-educated generation, plays a part here too.

When one of the mosques gets a visit from the security service AIVD, who follow the youth, they are called in by the administration and warned.

But the interest of the AIVD, the idea that they're seen as terrorists, fills them with pride, the researchers see.  But it also ensures that the isolation becomes more serious, causes the group to stick together and trust only each other.  They turn away from most Muslims whom they see as being lazy and only believe in what's convenient.  Older friendships disintegrate as the Salafi-Jihadis in their radicalization process radiate  that they're the last Muslims on the right path.

The twelve live in a sub-culture, the way back getting further and further away, see the researchers.  It's becoming more and more difficult to go back when great sacrifices must be made before a certain step, for example, losing many social contacts.

They feel chosen, have their own role-models, differentiate themselves externally with clothing, have their own norms and values, particularly in relation to associating with the opposite sex in this "immoral society'.

They have the idea of being the underdog.  That they, as Salafi-Jihadis, are threatened, not understood by the rest of the world, including other Muslims.  They see this as an ordeal, as their test.  The prophet Mohammad, prophesied 1400 year ago that there would be a small group of 'true Muslims' who would have difficulties and be oppressed.

By thinking of the hardships endured by the prophet and his companions, they put their own problems in perspective.  They are also living examples of Muslims who, according to the radicalizing youth, are on the path of truth.  Those are the Islamic scholars, martyrs who were killed, sit in prison or are on the run. They see Muslims such as Al Zarqawi (the Iraqi leader of al-Qaeda, killed in an American operation) and  Bin-Laden, as heroes, since they've given up worldly life in order to go fight for Islam.

They are deeply touched by the feeling that Muslims are wronged all over the world.  They think that violent actions in defense of Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, Algeria, are allowed.  Just like they approve of the murder of Van Gogh by Mohammed B. The victim insulted the prophet, caused social chaos and broke 'the treaty' with the Netherlands.  The treats says, according to them, that Jihad won't be conducted in countries where Muslims can live safely and not be attacked.

According to the Salafi-Jihadis the world is divided into Muslim and infidels, into dar al-Islam (house of Islam, the area where Muslim rulers reign and where the Sharia - the Islamic law - is in effect) and dar al-Harb (house of war, area where non-Muslim rulers reign).  Also in the Netherlands they sense a deep hate towards Islam, they suspect that infidels want Muslims to modernize their faith and they see that as threatening.  Still they don't conduct Jihad in the Netherlands and think that the ideal society ruled by Sharia is 'just an abstract idea'.

But more than from non-believers or believers of other faiths, the Salafi-Jihadis are annoyed at Muslims who stray: their parents, their former friends, other mosque visitors.  "Cowardly" Muslim who don't understand that the attacks on Americans in Iraq are justified, who only go for the 'easy aspects of Islam' and not for Jihad.  They want to expose them, convince others of 'the true Islam'.

Removing the feeling of injustice by groups of Muslims would help in the struggle against radicalizing youth.  Also it is important to promote the relationship of immigrants with their surroundings, offer Muslim youth democratic alternatives and pay more attention to their question for their identity.  Additionally the researchers warn of isolation.  "That the youth are kicked out of mosques for fear of a bad name and for fear of the AIVD, is from that point of view not a good development.  There must be an attempt to keep the youth as much as possible within society in order to stimulate diversity in opinions and keep the step 'back' as small as possible."

Source: Trouw (Dutch).  See also: study on Salafi-jihadi's in Amsterdam (Dutch)

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