Across the world right now, minute by minute news alerts are fixated on the terror attacks in Brussels. At the time of writing, 28 people have tragically lost their lives with countless others seriously injured in hospital. The shock, horror and trauma this will cause Belgium, combined with a global cry against Islamic terrorism, will not be news to many of us who have been exploring these issues for the better part of two decades.
Undoubtedly, there will be a rehearsal of all the main arguments put forward by numerous experts, commentators and opinion formers. Their views will centre on one major concern, Islam. While it is only recently that the public discourse has begun to consider that there are indeed specific local social and urban contexts that need to be better understood in order to appreciate the dynamics behind why young Muslims born in European cities turn to extremism, the vast majority in the public eye still focus on the religion. A mass of official, international organisation and peer-review scholarly research focuses on the view that the causes of radicalisation are not related to Islam as a religion. However, governments, think tanks and various organisations all wish the population to believe otherwise. They attempt to fudge the issue, playing to the tune and reproduce the status quo.
Rather, the explanations for radicalisation are always about politics, the social context and culture. Here, there are issues of a lack of opportunity to integrate, which is, to put it bluntly, about racism. This racism is in education, employment, housing and in matters of health. This is also the lack of opportunity to evolve politically. Elites place far too many actors who do not emerge from the locales most affected by urban deprivation and obsolescence in leadership positions. These leaders pander to the centre and not to the communities that they are elected to represent. Limitations placed before Muslim women to enter the political arena are functions of patriarchy and traditionalism that reinforces a culture of masculinity.
In relation to culture, the demonisation of Islam is as old as the history books. Throughout periods of imperialism, colonialism and in the post-war period, the view that Muslims and Islam are archaic, aggressive and threatening remains in the popular psyche. With the events of 911, this has moved to a new level of misunderstanding and hate. I teach various final level courses to students who are in their very early 20s. They have no living memory of their lives outside of the ‘war on terror culture’. Moreover, one-third of the Muslims across the world, including in Western Europe, North America and Australia, are under the age of 15. They are growing up in a world that is hateful and myopic.
Geopolitics is the driver here. Various Western governments align in maligning Islam. Communities locked out of social mobility and cultural integration at a local and national levels subsequently project themselves at the global level. The solutions are empowerment from below. Moreover, governments must see Muslims as active citizens with a great deal to contribute. Physical investment, combined with research on and development of communities is further needed. Social justice and human rights need to exist for all. Many of us been making these arguments on many occasions, and unless we learn the lessons, we will get the same results.