How to make enemies: A transatlantic perspective on the radicalization process and integration issues

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There is a broad assumption on both sides of the Atlantic that the people who pose the highest threat to homeland security are immigrants and their children (irrespective of their legal status), and, more precisely, Muslim foreigners and Muslim nationals. The category of foreign-born inhabitants groups together legal and illegal foreign Muslims, perceived as alien to their host countries and thus suspected of being potentially radicalized and unwilling to integrate. The category of domestically born citizens is obviously the most troubling in terms of internal security, as illustrated by the profiles of those who committed the Madrid and London bombings or were convicted on terrorism conspiracy charges in the United States. The existence of those "homegrown" terrorists is commonly understood as the result of a new integration conundrum: being born and raised in Europe or in the United States does not prevent radicalization, either when young Muslims suffer from exclusion or when they seem perfectly well integrated. Although the Muslim "enemy within" is the most prominent symbolic figure, the dynamics of scapegoating include other categories of the "enemy," such as the Albanians in Greece, the Chinese and Roma in Italy, and the undocumented immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexican border. The "enemy within" also includes people who look like Muslims: Sikhs and non-Muslim Arabs, for example. Finally, it includes young rioters (either foreign- or domestically born teenagers) who are involved in civil unrest, as illustrated by the situation in some French suburbs in 2005 and 2007. The common feature of the different categories of the "enemy within" is the perception among the broader public of their constituting a threat to national security. This notion thus encompasses a large range of issues: from terrorism to civil unrest, to various aspects of the debate about multiculturalism (as illustrated by the head scarf affair). This conception of security also includes different areas, such as economic interests (job security threatened by illegal immigration), social cohesion (immigrants as a burden for European and U.S. welfare systems), conformity to law (immigration as a vector of delinquency and urban violence), or national identity (immigration as a factor of cultural, linguistic, and ethno-religious heterogeneity). The securitization of immigration issues, which predated 9/11 in the United States and 9/11 and 7/7 in Europe, has framed the perception of various "others" as well as public policies related to the integration of minority groups. In this context, the threat of "homegrown" Islamist terrorism has been strengthened by the increasing Islamophobia that preceded the terrorist attacks, by the profile of those who actually committed these attacks in the United States and Europe, and by media coverage and official reports. In Great Britain, for example, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith declared that the Security Service estimated that the number of people in the United Kingdom believed to be operating as terrorists increased from 1,600 in 2006 to 2,000 in 2007. In 2007, Dutch authorities reported an increasing number of Dutch nationals and residents willing to participate in jihad inside and outside Europe. This purported trend toward radicalization, however, has to be put in perspective. First, terrorist recruitment represents the ultimate stage of the radicalization process, involving only a tiny minority of Muslims. In Europe, where the total Muslim population is estimated to be fifteen million, fewer than 10,000 militants are considered to be a potential threat by the security services. This equates to less than 0.07 percent of the Muslim community.1 Second, the assumption that Islamic radicalism is the major threat in Europe is, to some extent, misleading. Europol reported in 2007 that of the 583 foiled, failed, or successfully executed attacks, 532 were claimed or attributed to separatist groups (such as the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna [ETA] and Irish Republican Army [IRA]), 21 to left-wing groups, and only 4 to Islamist groups. The number of arrested suspects for separatist terrorism (548) more than doubled in comparison to 2006, while the number of those arrested for Islamist terrorism (201) decreased.2 In the United States, the annual number of deaths from sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) is reported to be greater than the total number of deaths caused by all terrorist acts combined.3 Certainly, a very small group of terrorists can kill thousands of people - as illustrated by 9/11 and the bombings in Europe. However, Islamist extremists (including those who grew up in Europe) tend to carry out more attacks outside of Europe than in Europe. In 2004, for example, only 3 attacks - out of the 187 attributed to jihadis associated with al-Qaeda - took place in western Europe (1.6 percent of the total compared to almost 50 percent carried out in Central and South Asia, and 39 percent in the Middle East and Gulf Region).4 What is at stake is a better understanding of the radicalization process in order to evaluate the respective impact of different factors, including socioeconomic deprivation, political disaffection, the role of religion, a sense of alienation, and the identity crisis correlated to personal factors. The question we need to address in relation to the securitization of immigration and integration issues is "what drives young Muslims to support terrorism?" In answering this question, I argue that the seeds of this process lie, in part, in prevailing policies. Furthermore, the current securitization of integration policies is not only detrimental to the integration of minorities (both Muslim and non-Muslim), but it also makes European and U.S. societies more vulnerable to terrorism and other forms of insecurity by fueling exclusion, frustration, resentment, and, ultimately, radicalization. In the long run, both Europe and the United States may achieve a tragic self-fulfilling prophecy, as current securitization policies encourage discourses and practices that actually increase the number of "homegrown" enemies. In the next section of this chapter, I examine the root causes of terrorism by focusing on the securitization process. The spectrum of possible causes is extremely broad, but I specifically deal with the emergence of a permissive environment of terrorism in the United States and Europe. I argue that the "war on terror" abroad has provided certain militant groups with the ammunition they need to promote their message, helping them to recruit new militants.5 I then deal with the impact of counterterrorist measures on the political factors of radicalization by analyzing how many of the measures taken in the aftermath of 9/11 have undermined such measures' own security objectives by increasing suspicion toward young Muslims who (already and subsequently) feel alienated. Focusing on cultural and religious components, I place special emphasis on the interaction between the threat of a "clash of civilizations" and the actual "clash of perceptions."6 The fight against terrorism has fueled both Islamophobia and the radicalization of jihadist activists who exploit the feeling that Islam is under attack. Finally, I argue that terrorist radicalization is less related to socioeconomic and religious factors than is commonly claimed. What really matters is the sense of frustration and resentment expressed by young Muslims - fueled by the counterproductive outcomes of the fight against terrorism. All these interlocking processes have created a permissive environment of terrorism in the United States and Europe. Evaluating the respective impact of each of them can provide a better understanding of the broad patterns of radicalization, and can therefore help in the development of alternative policies and modes of integration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationManaging Ethnic Diversity after 9/11
Subtitle of host publicationIntegration, Security, and Civil Liberties in Transatlantic Perspective
PublisherRutgers University Press
Number of pages23
ISBN (Print)9780813547169
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)


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