For the past decade the issue of radicalization has been grabbing attention of the international media. Global terrorist attacks such as the Boston marathon bombings or the Charlie Hebdo shootings have exposed a negative light on Muslim communities.
Many Europeans are dissatisfied with Muslim response to such attacks and consequently lack of condemnation and rejection unnerves the suggestion that Islam itself may be to blame.
But in reality the role of Islam found within the process of radicalization is lesser than one may expect. So far there has been no research found which supports the theory that any religious ideology may become a major influencing factor. In fact, many of those willing to fight in Syria and Iraq have a limited knowledge of Islam. It is other contributing factors that play a much greater part in one’s journey towards radicalization. The legacy of the War on Terror, the torture and human rights abuses found at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons, the promise of martyrdom and adventure, or the Western double-standards reaching from Palestine to Western Sahara, have all been connected to cases of radicalization.
In order to better understand why and how some people become indoctrinated one needs to accept the fact that the reasons behind radicalization are much more complex. In the case of the Kouachi brothers responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the road to violent jihadi involves a criminal and unstable past. For individuals with a similar background, the use of religious ideology is an escalation of what is an already violent lifestyle. Over the past years, prisons have been viewed as a safe haven for extremist recruitment. France is a prime example as over half of its inmates are Muslim due to the growing poverty and unemployment. This disproportionate figure of young and disadvantaged Muslims being imprisoned in overcrowded and poor conditions does little to discourage radicalization.
However, if you study the case of Mohamed Merah who killed four Jews and three Muslim soldiers in south-western France, the picture appears much more complicated. Despite being under surveillance by French domestic intelligence after being identified in Afghanistan, Merah gave the impression of a well-integrated individual who led a normal life, when in reality he trained with Pakistani Taliban to fight against NATO forces supporting the Kabul government. There is a growing trend in ‘lone wolf’ militants who after being lured into violent Islam become foot soldiers used for carrying out terrorist attacks. In the case of self-radicalized individuals, the Internet is often a major influencing venue. Despite Britain’s best efforts at removing over 30,000 pieces of terrorist material since the start of the year, the struggle against viral extremism is on-going.
While Western efforts have focused on the large numbers of male jihadists travelling to Syria and Iraq, security officials are becoming increasingly concerned about a steady stream of female groups heading the same way. Young and educated Muslim girls brought up in the West are regarded as rewards for fighters who are keen to marry. According to Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at Sweden’s National Defence College, of 85 jihadis who have left from Sweden, around 20 are women. Muslim girls residing in the West are often targeted by recruiters through social media and false friendships as a way to convince them to volunteer in war-torn areas. The promise of an adventure and a contribution towards the holy war is just the kind of jihadi romance propaganda used to recruit women.
So what can be done? Well Britain may have lessons for others. After the shock of 9/11, the UK adopted a two way approach to counter extremism. The first aim was to remove hate preachers, while the second part of the programme, known as “Prevent”, saw assistance given to Muslim leaders to counter radicalization found throughout communities. However, the programme proved to be a total failure with many flaws including misdirection of funds, poor communication and difficulties in identifying those vulnerable to radicalization. Britain’s 2.7 million Muslim population viewed Prevent as nothing more than a police-led spying exercise. Identifying those at risk is extremely difficult, however Germany is succeeding in its family counselling approach. It is often the family members who first notice any signs of radicalization, and so the German Hayat programme offers counselling used to resolve any outstanding issues or leave positive influences on confused individuals. The programme has been recently adopted in Canada, France and Britain.
As an indifferent world looks on, the Syrian nation is dying posing an increasing risk at becoming “Afghanistan on the shores of the Mediterranean” (Abdullah Gul, Turkish President). The international community’s and UN’s security council’s response to tackling humanitarian and moral challenges presented by the Syrian crisis fall nothing short of disappointing.
People need to comprehend the idea that radicalization is not some evil brainwashing, but a gradual process by which people come to freely accept a violent path. There is no psychological explanation to it, as the journey to inhuman terror begins with human error. The best we can do is to promote good values, as well as tackle racism and poverty.