Here is a review of one recent important collection.
Islamic Political Radicalism: A European Perspective
Tahir Abbas, ed.
As jihadi ideology shifts from articulating a perpetual conflict against the ‘far enemy’ (read: the United States and its allies) and the ‘near enemy’ (read: the clients of the US) within the Middle East and the wider Muslim world to taking the conflict to the heart of the far enemy in North America and Western Europe, it is certainly time for academics to take stock of what has happened, how it has happened and why. The ‘radicalisation’ debate, as it is called, tries to ask the pertinent question of why some Muslim men, citizens of these ‘Western’ states feel disenchanted, disintegrated and alienated from their immediate communities enough to perpetrate gross acts of violence such as the bombings in Madrid in March 2004 and 7/7 in London. The challenge of such violent radicalism (and it is important to qualify it as such since radicalism traditionally has been a political virtue of the left demanding change) affects security policy as well as the integrity and dignity of Muslim communities. Tahir Abbas, Reader in Sociology at the
The title suggests a concern with the wide spectrum of Muslim radicalism from Islamism to jihadism. One need not be a constructivist to recognise the significance of contextualisation. Thus the studies examine not only internal issues within Muslim communities but also the role of government, Islamophobia (a reality that many have to live and which was succinctly defined in the famous Runnymede Trust report of 1997, even while it is coming under attack from the left in an ironic twist of events akin to the recent onslaught on the notion of multiculturalism), the media and global events. The structure is remarkably coherent: part one sets the scene with key definitions, part two examines the wider European context, part three which comprises the bulk of the volume focuses on Britain, and the final part brings together a number of short reflections of key Muslim political activists in Britain post-7/7. As such, it successfully bridges the requirements of an academically rigorous volume and the exigencies of informing policy debates. Apart from Abbas’s own introduction which is a brief but excellent summary of the concerns and contents of the volume, the other paper that caught the eye of this reviewer was Ismail Patel’s examination of what one means by political radicalism in the scale from ‘moderate’ Islamists to salafi jihadis. His simple equation of political radicalism as responses to foreign policy is too basic; anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism are strong motivations for the development of modern Islamisms. Advocating mono-causal explanations is problematic. Part one still seems somewhat unsatisfactory in that it assumes a widely held notion of what radicalism is. It also requires some disaggregation: there are clearly a number of overlapping but even mutually exclusive types of radical ideology present within Muslim communities and yet are objectified as belonging to a generic overarching rationale for violence that the media (and unfortunately many in the intelligence community) reify and simplify as ‘al-Qaeda’. The radicalisation debate often also strips young Muslim men of any agency and volition: surely people are not ‘radicalised’ but rather choose certain pathways given certain conditions, motivations, frustrations, opportunities and ideologies.
Part two moves to the European context. Silvestri’s survey of the role and perception of the EU is an important contribution (particularly in the context of
Part three is the best contribution of the volume. Abdullah tackles the key grievance of Zionism. Marranci examines the centrality of the frustration in some communities at the lack of social justice, a central concern of Islamism. Hamid weighs into the debate on Hizb ut-Tahrir and argues that it is not the bogeyman that it is made out to be since its ideology remains constant before and after the rise in jihadism (although some recent defectors from HT might well disagree). Two chapters examine that quintessence of Muslim Britain in the imaginary of the media,
In the growing cacophony of voices on Islam, terrorism and politics (in which often Muslim communities ‘need’ to be spoken for), Islamic Political Radicalism is a refreshing change. It represents a genuinely interdisciplinary and communitarian attempt to analyse issues and suggests serious policy implications. Notwithstanding the lacunae and need for greater theoretical clarity mentioned, it is an outstanding contribution to the existing literature and will hopefully be read profitably by academic specialists and those in government concerned with the challenges of ‘political radicalism’.