De-Radicalising the Muslim Diaspora in the West
By Taj Hashmi
December 07, 2014
SEVERAL Bangladeshi-British youths have recently been indicted in Britain for their alleged links with the ISIS. Twenty-year-old Mahdi Hassan — whose parents had migrated from Bangladesh — was one of the six former students of a private British school to have joined the ISIS, and the fourth one to be killed recently while fighting at Kobane, Syria. While a microscopic minority of Muslim immigrants gets jihadi indoctrination before moving to the West, the bulk of the radicalised sections among them get exposure to the ideology of jihad after moving to their adopted homelands in Europe and North America. The overwhelming majority of them were born in the adopted homelands of their parents and grandparents. A growing number of young members of the Muslim Diaspora in the West are waging their jihads against their adopted homelands or joining jihadist outfits abroad.
One may impute the radicalisation of Muslim youths to their sense of alienation due to subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination by the host countries, which is due to racism and the growing surge of Islamophobia in the West. One may also attribute Muslim youth radicalisation to their parents’ identity crisis, or fear of losing out their religion and culture to the overwhelming secular culture and education system in the West. This is reflected in the proliferation of mosques, mosque-based schools (which mostly nurture ultra-orthodox and anti-Western ideologies), and the growing number of Hijab-wearing women and bearded young men in the Muslim ghettos in Western Europe. Although Muslims in North America are not ghettoised, nevertheless they are not fully integrated into the main stream of the population.
Twenty million Muslims live in the EU, more than two million in the US, 1.5 million in Canada and thousands in Australia and New Zealand. More than 2,500 of them have so far gone to join the jihadists in Syria. Recently, out of the estimated 300 American jihadists in Syria, one was killed fighting for ISIS.
However, only a few thousand terrorists have so far emerged out of 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. The number of radicalised Muslim youths in the Diaspora is not that alarming either. Then again, you don’t need thousands of them to destabilise a country. Only 19 terrorists wreaked havoc on September 11, 2001. Interestingly, the prejudice against non-White immigrants in the West cannot be the only explanation of Muslim alienation and radicalisation. Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian and other non-White Diasporas in the West do not join militant terrorist groups to fight the West.
As mentioned above, Muslim alienation is partially spontaneous and partially attributable to racism, Islamophobia, Muslim parents’ (and children’s) identity crisis, and their twisted understanding of Islam. Thanks to the teachings of the average clerics, Muslims everywhere grow up believing in the inherent superiority of Islam over all other religions. Pseudo-clerics or technocrats-turned-clerics (I have classified them as techno-clerics in my latest book) have been mainly responsible for radicalising Muslim youths. Interestingly, masterminds of Islamist terrorism, from Bin Laden to al-Zawahiri, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, Ramzi Yousuf and Anwar Awlaki, among others, were technocrats, not Islamic scholars.
Contrary to the popular perceptions of Islam in the West and among the vast majority of Muslims everywhere, the Quran does not promote the supremacy of Islam or Muslims. It does not promise paradise only to good Muslims but to good Christians, Jews and others as well [2:62]. It forbids mindless killing of human beings (and animals), and suicide. Interestingly, as we find in the Quran, Allah allows Muslims, Christians, Jews and others to wage their jihad to protect their properties, honour, and “monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, where the name of God is honoured most [22:39-40].”
Considering this, attributing terrorism to the teachings of the Quran becomes most unimaginative. As Gladstone was wrong that, “So long as there is this book [The Quran], there would be no peace in this world,” so are Franklin Graham, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, General [ret.] Boykin, Bill Maher and others who portray the Muslims as followers of an evil religion. Western promotion of Muslim despots, its unconditional support for Israel, and the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan may be important factors behind Muslim alienation. But only a tiny minority of Muslims is alienated, radicalised and obsessively hateful of the West for certain other reasons. The alienation is not always ideology-driven, but is reflective of the alienated one’s identity crisis. As British author Kenan Malik believes:
Many second-generation British Muslims now find themselves detached from both the religious traditions of their parents, which they often reject, and the wider secular society that insists on viewing them simply as Muslims. A few are drawn inevitably to extremist Islamist groups where they discover a sense of identity and of belonging. It is this that has made them open to radicalisation.
However, the apparently unstoppable surge of Islamist militancy is going to dissipate soon. As radical leftism and the Red Menace of the Cold War years petered out even before the end of the Cold War, so did al-Qaeda. It fizzled out as the most formidable threat to human civilisation while Osama bin Laden was still alive. The ISIS can’t have a different destiny either. I agree with Asef Bayat that we are already on the threshold of “Post-Islamism.” And terrorism as a method of resistance has already died out outside the Muslim World.
Nevertheless, even after the disappearance of all Islamist terror outfits in the world, there will be alienated Muslims in the West. As Muslim parents, elders and clerics/techno-clerics are collectively responsible for this alienation, so is the prevalent identity crisis among Muslim youths. It is difficult to delegitimise Islamic supremacist ideology of the “born-again-Muslims” as un-Islamic. Popular Islam is more overpowering than what is written in the Quran. Democracy, education and empowerment of women are no longer effective antidotes to Islamist militancy. Around 3,000 Muslims have so far joined the ISIS fighters in Syria from the newly democratised Tunisia; and several hundred educated/empowered Muslim women from Europe, US and Canada have joined ISIS fighters, mostly as “jihadi-brides.”
Nobody can de-radicalise young Muslims overnight by engaging some Islamic scholars to teach them Islamic ethics. Most Islamic scholars again, believe in the supremacy of Islam and Muslims. They hardly teach Islam through the Quran. In sum, Muslim radicalisation in the West is not a religious but a political problem. And a political problem needs a political solution, which includes initiating a meaningful dialogue between leaders of the host nations and Muslim Diaspora.
Taj Hashmi teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee. Sage has recently published his Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.