Denmark: Radicalization not linked to integration, Somalis most radicalized

Denmark: Radicalization not linked to integration, Somalis most radicalized

The problem with the news reports on this new study is that they don't actually say what 'radicalization' means.  As the study I bring at the bottom shows, there is disagreement on that point as well.


An as yet unpublished report shows surprisingly that the radicalisation of young Muslims has nothing to do with integration.

A new report from Roskilde and Aarhus Universities gives some surprising insights into the issue of radicalisation – particularly that it has very little, if nothing, to do with integration.

Radicalised young men tend to be well-integrated and able to speak the language of their adopted countries.

"They become radicalised from their own perception of what happens around the world," says Shahamak Rezaei, Associate Professor at the Institute of Social and Globalisation Affairs at Roskilde University, one of the authors of the report.

(more + interview with Shahamak Rezaei)


The report, titled "The house of war - Islamic radicalization in Denmark" (Krigens Hus – islamisk radikalisering i Danmark), was prepared by Shahamak Rezaei and Marco Goli, Associate Professor at Metropolitan University College,

The study was financed by the Center for Studies of Islamism and Radicalisation (CIR) at Aarhus University, and is the first extensive mapping of radicalization in Denmark, based on interview with 1,113 Muslims aged 15-30 from 12 different countries.

The answers show that the majority - 76.5% - are either not radicalized at all, or radicalized to a very small degree.  17.8% sympathize with radical Islamism, but don't support it directly, compared with 5.6% who do.

Asked if the numbers are surprising, Shahamak Rezaei answers: "Of course they are.   But you can also look at it the other way and say that 5-6% radicalized maybe isn't so much.  94% are in any case not radicalized.  On the other hand, just a single radicalized person can be a serious threat.  The great challenge is without a doubt, that the authorities will attempt to ensure that the relatively big group of sympathizers do not become really radicalized."

The study draws a detailed profile of the people who can be seen as radicalized.  Contrary to the popular belief, it's not the un-integrated youth who are most extreme, on the contrary.

"It's not lack of knowledge or individual resources which causes them to choose as they do.  The most radicalized are well-educated, speak Danish well, watch Danish TV, work and earn money," says Shahamk Rezaei and adds that it shoots down the idea that integration is the way to stop radicalization.

For experts in radicalization this is a well-known fact, and many of them have criticized the government's action plan against radicalization, which is based on a series of initiatives seeking better integration.

It wasn't possible to get a comment from integration minister Birthe Rønn Hornbech (Liberal Party), but the party's integartion spokesperson, Karsten Lauritzen, is almost certain that the government will now give the action plan another look.  not least since two Danish-Soamlis were apparently involved in terrorism-related activities recently.

"it shows that there's an angle which we haven't had much focus on - namely, the certain communities need special focus.  So I'm certain that the strategy will be looked at again, and it will also be looked at how some of the initiatives come together," says Karsten Lauritzen.

Meta Fuglsang, integration spokesperson for the Socialist People's Party, thinks there should be something more.  "The government has a way to talk and make policies, which are excluding and put a lot of emphasis on external, measurable things.  It naturally causes a counter-reaction.  So the government has a responsibility.  Not just when it comes to radicalization, but in connection to all forms of opposition in society."


The study shows that radicalization in Denmark is particularly wide-spread among the Somalis. 

"It shows that there's a clear over-representation of radical youth with Somali background," says Shahamak Rezaei, and stresses that this doesn't mean that all the Somalis in Denmark are radicalized.

Anthropologist Annette Haaber Ihle, who has researched Islamic movements in Africa and Islamic schools in Denmark, isn't surprised by the Somali over-represention

"This doesn't surprise me, because Somali youth feel, and are factually, on the sidelines in Danish society," she says.

Annette Haaber Ihle points out that Somalis are an example of a ethnic group in Denmark, which is the least linked to the job-market and are the poorest.  "Many of the Somalis are otherwise quite well-education.  There's it's very frustrating that they can't get a job.  It also fits poorly with the fact that they often have both high ambitions and high self-esteem," she explains.

Another expalnation why the Somalis are especially radicalized can be found in their religiosity, according to Annette Haaber Ihle.  While Somalis are traditionally Sufi, which is based on an individual and ritually dependent relationship to God, Islamism, which is based on the original text and scraps rituals, is gaining ground in Somalia.

"In particular, many young Muslims see Islamism as the most modern form.  If you don't understand it, then you don't understand that so many turn to Islamism and fundamentalism either," says Annette Haaber Ihle and adds that the Islamist and fundamentalist communities give the youth the recognition they lack in Danish society.

Nauja Kleist, Ph.D. in sociology and senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), also researched Somali communities in Denmark.  She also points to the experience of lacking recognition as a possible explanation of why Somalis are over-represented among those radicalized.  "In a part of the Somali community in Denmark there's a perception of not being accepted and recognized by Danish society.  This precisely can be an aspect in a radicaliztion process."


Another study which was recently published by the Center for Studies of Islamism and Radicalisation is titled "Radicalization among Young Muslims in Aarhus" by Lene Kühle and Lasse Lindekilde.  The study is available for download (here, in PDF)

I skimmed the report, and thought there were two interesting points at the end, which I bring below (bold is mine):
1. The radical activist community is made up of Arabs, Somalis and converts. 
2. They get to the conclusion that support for terrorist/Islamist groups such as Hamas and al-Shabaab should not be seen as signs of radicalization, as many outside the radical community support them and see them as freedom fighters.

Among Danish authorities radicalization is understood as a broad phenomenon, includ-ing leftwing extremism, rightwing extremism as well religious extremism, including militant Islamism. Emphasis in the government action plan is, however, on Islamist radicalization and this is also the focus of this report. The report is based on a qualitative study, informed by interviews and participant observation, in a youth Muslim milieu in Aarhus – what we have called, in lack of a better name, the Islamic Arabic-Somali-Convert activist milieu (ASC milieu).


The report concludes that used rigidly the definitions of radicalization provided by the Danish Police Intelligence Service and the Danish government are not very fruitful. Using these definitions, most if not all of the interviewees in the ASC milieu as well as many other people, Muslims or non-Muslims, who can hardly be termed radicals according to most standards, are in fact categorized as 'radicalized'. The definition overlooks impor-tant distinctions which are crucial for research as well as for policies in the area. The definitions of radicalization given by Danish authorities highlight two fundamental elements of radicalism, namely, the participation in or support of the use of violence, including forms of terrorism, and undemocratic behavior or aims. In regards to the support of violence, including terrorism, this report has shown that some kind of support for organizations that appear on international lists of terrorist organizations, such as Hamas and Al-Shabaab, is common, also outside the ASC milieu. The support for such organizations is generally not due to a general accept of the use of violence, but comes from a belief that these movements are engaged in more or less legitimate resistance and freedom fights. The fact that this kind of support is relatively widely shared by Muslims in general and as a matter of fact also is common on the non-religious political left, calls for reflection on the fruitfulness of this defining property of radicalization. It is important to underline here that the report does not find any ground for believing that there is a link, or a general spill-over, between support for an organization like Hamas and support for Al Qaeda- inspired terrorism in the West. Such support can therefore hardly be regarded as an as-pect of a general position of extremism.

A similar conclusion is reached regarding the aspect of undemocratic behavior and the lack of support for democracy included in definitions of radicalization. In the Muslim milieu studied in this report there are diverging views on the compatibility of Islam and democracy. Some believe that there is no contradiction between the two, while others think that Muslims should not engage in democracy as Muslims should only submit to the authority of God. Yet others believe that one should generally abstain from voting in democratic elections, but that voting can be legitimate if it is in the interest of Danish Muslims. The background for such reflections on democracy is the belief that Muslims should preferable live in an Islamic state. This is of great importance to some of our interviewees, but in no cases does this view lead to the perception that democracy accordingly should be fought. Even though many of the interviewees believed that the establishment of an Islamic state is a desirable goal, no one saw it as realistic or desirable to establish an Islamic state in Denmark, as they shared the view that an Islamic state can only be built on the voluntary commitment of the population.

Based on our research, the report recommends distinguishing between undemocratic behavior (lack of participation in and support of democracy) and anti-democratic behavior (active fight against democracy), and that only anti-democratic behavior should be made a part of the definition of radicalization. Thus, the report concludes that the concept of radicalization, as defined by Danish authorities, is not geared to capture, delimit and localize radicalization as it includes a lot of people who hold views and opinions vis-à-vis foreign organizations and participation in democracy, which can hardly be viewed as a threat against Danish society.

Sources: Politiken (English), Kristeligt Dagblad 1, 2 (Danish)

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