You hear a lot of breathless talk about “Eurabia” these days. I confess, I can’t take it seriously—and here’s why.
From 2008 to 2010, I conducted research for the UK’s Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism into radicalization among Muslims in Britain. After 25 in-depth interviews with ex-extremists and days talking to people in mosques, community centers, and homes, I concluded that “pessimism about radicalization in Britain is not supported by the interviews.”
I argued that radicalization was a tormented performance of identity by individuals caught in the trap that had been set by two historically contingent developments.
First, radicalization was given its chance by the “environment of vulnerability” in which many young British Muslims have lived, especially since the early 1980s, and by the consequent “crisis-feeling” many have experienced.
Second, there was an extended and entirely catastrophic political and intellectual failure to contest the Islamist framework and cognitive praxis that subsequently exploited that vulnerability. Young, idealistic, and searching individuals—in some ways, the best of their generation—were essentially left as defenseless prey to Islamists on the prowl. Idealistic or dislocated (or both), naive or adventurous (or both), many of these individuals were drawn into the “Islamist encounter” and, unsurprisingly, some then took the “Islamist detour”—radicalization.
I urged optimism on the UK government. With enough resources, political will, and skilful counter-framing by local activists, both of these problems—the environment of vulnerability and the failure to effectively contest the framework and activism of Islamists on the prowl—are reparable. I argued that a “silent revolution” was under way—a tremendous rise in political and cultural participation among second- and third-generation Muslims—and this would form a favourable terrain on which a future counter-radicalizing practice could flourish.
Without wanting to brag, my small piece of research is feeling pretty vindicated today. Two recent publications have set out a very similar story.
First, a brilliant new book by ex-extremist Maajid Nawaz, Radical: My Journey From Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening, tells the story of the exploitation by Islamist recruiters of the anger and alienation that were rooted in his early experiences of racism. As he put it in an earlier version of his story, when he encountered the fierce certainties and the identity-pride and the organizational élan of the Islamists of the group Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Liberation Party), “the fire within me finally found its oxygen.” Looking back, he says his “premature politicized mind was ripe to receive an ideology that advocated a … solution to the problems I had grown up with.” That fire and that solution took Nawaz right into an Egyptian prison cell. Ironically, it was there that he found the space to read his way out of extremism. On his return to the UK, he founded the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremist think tank.
Second, a major report, Understanding Society, has been published by the prestigious Institute for Social and Economic Research. After consulting 40,000 UK households, the authors found that British Muslims feel more strongly about their British identities than their non-Muslim counterparts. Indeed, “those of Pakistani origin scored highest in the research and Bengalis and Indians shared the second place in their sense of belonging to Britain.”
Photo Credit: Danny Robinson