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Reform Magazine | July 15, 2024

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A good question: Why are young people being radicalised? - Reform Magazine

A good question: Why are young people being radicalised?

One question, four answers



Shiraz Maher

‘Isis says: “We offer you an identity, a vision”’

Religion clearly plays a role in radicalisation, but only in some instances. I’ve interviewed 100 individuals who’ve gone to Syria and Iraq from across Europe, and many are religious novices, with no sophisticated understanding of what they’re doing. I have written a book on salafi jihadism and read about all this stuff they’re supposed to believe in, and they don’t know it. When you talk to them about some of the most important scholars in their own world like Abu Qatada, they don’t realise that they are deeply opposed to Isis.

The west doesn’t really know what it stands for; we don’t have anything to offer people to buy into and be part of. By contrast, Islamic State is self-assured; it’s very certain about what it stands for. It offers very powerful things to people who feel increasingly confused about hyphenated identities: “Am I British-Muslim?” “Am I British-Pakistani?” Isis says: we can transcend all of that; we offer you an identity, a vision, something not grounded in geography. We offer you an ideological and intellectual identity. You’re a Muslim; you’re part of the Ummah, part of this global fraternity of the faithful of 1.5 billion people and that’s very, very powerful.

I find five different types of people have gone to Syria and Iraq. At the start of the conflict, 2012 to 2013, people were going out for genuinely humanitarian reasons. They compared themselves to people who fought in the Spanish Civil War. They felt that the Syrian people had been betrayed by the world and someone had to help them. They did not see it as being morally contentious and were genuinely confused that Theresa May called them terrorists.…

Shiraz Maher is a senior researcher at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, King’s College London. This text was taken from a talk given at The Battle of Ideas conference in London, October 2015. Reproduced by permission of The Institute of Ideas


ems_1Erin Marie Saltman

‘The propaganda is about the promise of a better future’

For the last two years the international community has been transfixed on the rise of the terrorist group Daesh, or Islamic State. In the west, there has been a particular focus on the supposedly shocking phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters and female migrants. It is estimated by the Soufan Group that over 5,000 western European citizens have travelled hundreds of miles to join what we know to be a violent and brutal terrorist group.

Yet, despite the intense media focus and public discourse around this trend, there remain many misleading headlines and misunderstandings about processes of radicalisation and prevention.

My work at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) is dedicated to understanding what radicalises individuals into violent organisations. This type of research is used to develop projects for mobilising positive activism to effectively counter hate-based movements, including Daesh but also violent far-right groups.

When we look at Daesh, the question is much broader than “why are young Muslims being radicalised?” In fact, many of the recruits are not young, and there is a large proportion of converts joining, people that have not been raised in Muslim families or communities…

Erin Marie Saltman is a senior researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a counter-extremism thinktank


peter_ridell_1Peter Riddell

‘Many Muslims are bought up amongst rabid anti-westernism’

There is a central idea driving Muslim youth radicalisation: young Muslims travelling this path are following a particular conceptual role model that praises activism for Islam, jihadi militancy and death for the sake of Allah. A number of intersecting elements underlie this core idea.

The first element reinforcing such a model is the influence of radical preachers in some mosques, as revealed in the “Undercover Mosque” documentary on Dispatches on Channel 4 in 2007. The subversive role of such preachers is exacerbated by easy access to radical Islamic websites and social media sites. These create the ingredients for a further key element: a peer group of real-life and virtual radicalised youth which adds fuel to the pressures on young Muslims.

Sadly, parents sometimes also provide a radicalised role model. The father of one of the much discussed 15-year-old “jihadi brides” from Bethnal Green was filmed participating in a protest led by the notorious radical preacher Anjem Choudary. Many young Muslims are brought up in contexts where rabid anti-westernism is a key part of family discourse.

A further radicalised role model for young Muslims is the prophet of Islam himself. Muhammad is a complex character, but during the last 10 years of his life in the city of Medina, Islamic sources, such as Hadith, the prophetic traditions, and Sira – the authoritative biography of Muhammad – record that he developed the doctrine of jihad, plundered trading caravans, sanctioned the beheading of perceived enemies and endorsed forced concubinage. …

Peter Riddell is Vice Principal of Melbourne School of Theology and a professorial research associate in history at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

RH2_1Rania Hafez

‘I worry that we are 
pathologising Islam’

We talk about extremism and radicalisation without really defining those terms, and I worry that we are pathologising Islam. Tony Blair said it is bad that Muslims believe in the Ummah [the global nation of Islam], and that made me feel alarmed. I believe in the Ummah, but it doesn’t mean I’m about to go and kill people in Syria. Many Islamic concepts with a history and philosophy behind them are being bandied about as if they were stages on the conveyor belt to extremism.

I teach at university, and last year I was welcoming my second year cohort when I noticed one of them, an Asian Muslim, had a bushier beard than before. I found myself wondering: Is this a hipster beard, or is it a sign of radicalisation? That I would seriously think that – that concerned me!

Today, I have been speaking at the Battle of Ideas festival, and it’s a long day. I was faced with the question: what should I wear? I had a black trouser suit, very European, or an abaya, which is very comfortable and hides a multitude of sins. I thought: “I can be comfortable all day… but what will people think?” It sounds trivial, but there lots of things that ordinary Muslims do, and we are problematising them. We need to talk more about what we mean by “radical”…

Rania Hafez is a senior lecturer in education studies at the University of Greenwich. This text was taken from a talk at 
The Battle of Ideas conference in London, October 2015. Reproduced by permission of The Institute of Ideas

This is an extract from the February 2016 edition of Reform.

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