“We are missing the leadership in the White House that could see Islamic radicalism on the home front.” A spokesperson of the Republican Party made this statement soon after the California shooting by a young Muslim couple. It could be said that the statement also described well the state of the ongoing presidential election campaign, with Donald Trump calling for banning the entry of Muslims into the US.
The year 2015 has been a bloody and traumatic one, especially for France, starting with the tragedy of Charlie Hebdo and ending with the carnage in Paris in November. “We are at war,” declared the French President Francois Hollande. The aftermath of the Paris attacks could be felt all over Europe. A rise in tensions, fear and suspicion could be seen all over the continent. Waves of uprooted families from Syria and Iraq making their way to Europe further exacerbated the complex situation. Police contingents are conducting raids, subjecting suspects to questioning and putting them in confinement and house arrests. Such extraordinary measures, traditionally loathed in the bastion of freedom and liberty, are gaining acceptability. In this drive, third-generation European Muslims are becoming the victims of stereotyping, with the hostile environment being compounded by the hate campaign of the far-right.
Europe’s current dilemma has acquired a deep connect with war-torn Syria, battered Iraq and now bruised Libya. Extremist movements, hitherto known for their amorphous character, have acquired a territorial configuration. Emergence of the Islamic State (IS) or Daesh, for instance, has underlined that an extremist violent movement can assume a territorial form, and at the same time, blur physical and political boundaries in its outreach and consequences. The activities of extremist movements have not only affected the life of mainstream Muslims, they have also sucked world powers and their regional allies into a vortex. These players are all at cross-purposes, with conflicting approaches to solving the problem. The dilemma resulting from these conflicting approaches is distracting attention from the IS, and giving it a lease of life for want of consensus as to how to deploy energies in the war against it. The IS has been smartly playing world powers against each other. Russia and Turkey are in a stand-off against each other. The US with its allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, is after Bashar al-Assad while Russia and Iran are trying to protect him. Consequently, the effort required to take on the IS is drawing less urgency. Resistance to the IS by resolute Kurdish militias is seen with wariness by Turkey and Iraq as they fear that this could have an adverse impact on the restive Kurd populations in the two countries.
The cause celebre of uncertainty in the war-ravaged areas can be linked to the militaristic misadventures of the Western powers. The US and Britain cannot escape blame for carrying out an unwarranted attack on Iraq on unfounded grounds. This ill-thought invasion, which did not have the sanction of the UN Security Council, not only pulverised the country, it also precipitated the collapse of its institutions. The wanton act has gone unpunished while the hapless population of war-ravaged areas is still being punished for no fault of its own. The policies of neocons bear a huge responsibility for fomenting the current phase of jihadism.
France, with a Muslim population of over five million, is faced with a growing wave of radicalism. The situation in the rest of Europe isn’t too different. Here it is important to understand that the mosque in Europe cannot be singled out as the rallying point for radicalism, where thousands assemble for prayers and to connect with the community. It is futile trying to find the gene of radicalism in mosques alone when the alleys and streets of major urban centres have contributed so much to the alienation and marginalisation of the European Muslim. Perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attack, the Kouachi brothers, were products of a broken home, had lived in an orphanage and were trapped in a criminal lifestyle. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind of the Paris attack, had a worldly lifestyle, and was last seen sipping whisky in Saint Denis, a rundown Parisian suburb. France’s Muslim population makes up eight per cent of the country’s total population, while the Muslim population in French prisons makes up more than 70 per cent of total inmates. The great French principle of Laicite i.e., secularism, as practiced in France, is taking the country nowhere in the wake of the assertiveness of various religious communities. Secular values originally signified the separation of church and state, and emphasised the importance of assimilation to strive for a seamless whole. This premise found little space for multiculturalism in the national discourse. Cultural and religious minorities were required to lose their distinct bonds as part of the assimilation process. Post-colonial France, therefore, was predisposed to policies of assimilation. In theory, the policy did not make any distinction between the interests of varied social groups. When it came to its practice, however, things were a bit different. For instance, Algerian Jews migrating to France got preferential treatment in terms of jobs and housing compared with Muslim settlers.
Stigmatised and often roughed up by the local police, the Muslim youth often resorted to thuggery and street crime. They were torn between criminalised living and the global glamour of being associated with jihadist theatres. On the other hand, the carnage in California zeroes in on the dangers of self-radicalisation amongst educated Muslims. Europe needs to realise that the vast majority of European Muslims only crave for a greater sense of identity. While Britain has had to face problems of radicalisation of some among its Muslim community, the acceptance of multiculturalism in the country has led to a more inclusive system than the one prevalent in, say France, giving stakes and interests to British minorities in electoral politics. One now sees a growing number of Muslims in the British parliament.
The West needs to connect with its Muslim population through the mosque. The imams and the Muslim population at large also need to promote and advocate the values of tolerance and understanding. The Muslim world needs to redouble its efforts to secure its spaces from inimical elements breeding and spawning extremism. Muslim societies must open up through political and social reforms. They need to stop playing proxy wars that have proven to be extremely counter-productive.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 29th, 2015.