Brussels Attacks: Not Islam but Politics

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.

7 thoughts on “Brussels Attacks: Not Islam but Politics

  1. Another excellent article my friend, but whilst the agenda is set by those with ulterior motives and profit-led intentions, this world will continue to turn on the cycle of violence, mistrust, myth and misappropriation. As Bob Marley once famously sang: ‘There’s a natural mystic blowing through the air, if you listen carefully now, you will hear. This could be the first trumpet, might as well be the last. Many more will have to suffer, many more will have to die. Don’t ask me why’

    Keep blogging brother and take care.

  2. Though I share the author’s highlighting of socio-political factors, I am not persuaded by his attempt to completely delink such events from Islam. Muslims are not alone in facing extremely challenging circumstances. The question is how one responds to them. The particular response that many Muslims have adopted cannot be explained without accepting some link with Islamic texts and history. Instead of taking an apologetic stance, it will be more useful to acknowledge that like any other religious tradition Islam too has elements – texts, anecdotes, personalities – that can be drawn upon to create a narrative of violence as a response to the socio-political conditions so eloquently articulated in the blog. In my view, the right course of action is to acknowledge these elements and then help young people historicise them.

    1. Thank you for this constructive comment. However, it is important to examine the evidence of what these attackers say about why they do it. All the sociological, psychological and criminological research confirms that political ideology is the key, which is often quite the opposite of the overarching messages found in populist publications and reports. I am not delinking Islam per se, but the justifications provided by dominant actors as to the reasons for the actions of these young men. In empowering Muslims in relation to Islam, the problem is adequate resourcing and capacity. So many young Muslims miss the opportunity to understand the depth and wisdom of a vast heterogeneous religion that has contributed to so much. Knowing of this and what has happened to Islam and Muslims since the age of Western expansionism can provide another standpoint. Instead, Muslims get a rather narrow perspective on Islam, and what they learn from wider European popular beliefs is that Islam is a problem. Therefore, I agree that Muslim-owned systems, institutions, education, self-awareness, outreach, engagement and participation of young Muslims in Western society can only help. Sadly, they do not always get the chance. In addition, to place any emphasis on the idea that Muslims can merely fix the problems by introducing this wise, benevolent, purposive, open-minded and developmental Islam among their own is to discount the terrible realities facing many Muslim communities in the poorer parts of towns and cities in ‘Old Europe’ (and across the Muslim world). Moreover, there is a pernicious industry that aims to impress upon people who would otherwise know less that it is all about Islam. What you say also fits with the line about why other oppressed, marginalised and disenfranchised people do not blow themselves up. Fortunately, they are always few steps away from doing so. They have a family to think about, have jobs they want, feel they can contribute to society, and they know enough of Islam to know that murdering people like this is simply un-Islamic. When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. When you have something to live for, you have everything to gain.

  3. While I agree with the statement “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 [western] cities turn to extremism”, we need to decouple that discourse from a specific religion. Certainly in North America we have provenly far more young men of Christian background turning to violent extremism than we do Muslim ones. Our discourse might be better served to try to understand why any young man, raised in a religious environment, is more prone to turn toe violent extremism when they feel disconnected from the mechanisms of the own social betterment and representation.

  4. This is a complex multifacetted problem. I notice that – as after the Paris attacks – anti-terrorist demonstrators were chanting ‘liberté’ and commentators are once again describing the terrorists’ project as a form of fascism. In the West there is an intensification of anti-religious posturing. The belief is that ‘our’ superior civilization based on freedom and enlightenment has got to face down the barbarians from outside – an old trope that goes back to the early twentieth century white fear of the asiatic peril. The chauvinistic belief in Enlightenment is a throw back to the Age of Imperialism. The terrorists for their part can better seen as caught up in a death cult than a political movement. Jihadism we know to be a mutant of the fiercely paranoiac Wahhabi cult that the West jerked into worldwide significance in its battle with Soviet Russia. Beneath all this, as Tahir is right to continue to remind us, is the millennia old Christian demonising of Islam. Together these are multifacetted reactions to an epoch of acute stress in which the only certainty is that the world is being compressed into a single space in which competing ideologies and cults will for the foreseeable future continue to clash.We have to strengthen our commonalties as human beings, and though it is a paradox learn to love the terrorist as we do the chauvinist white supremicist within ourselves.

  5. “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.”

    In the UK, it seems that limitations placed by Muslim women are are placed there by archaic, aggrassive and threatening Muslim men: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/leading-womens-rights-organisation-says-muslim-women-blocked-from-seeking-office-by-male-labour-a6857096.html

  6. Good blog, and good discussion. I want to share some articles that may add to the argument of the prof. Abbas, that ‘not religion but sociological, psychological, economic and political issues should be examined well in order to get to the pith of the phenomenon.` And there is growing literature about how education may actually foster extremism in some circumstances, or countries.

    http://chronicle.com/article/Does-Engineering-Education/235800

    http://jcr.sagepub.com/content/59/7/1186.full?keytype=ref&siteid=spjcr&ijkey=BvpetZjSi4Onk

    http://www.e-ir.info/2014/10/28/psychology-not-theology-overcoming-isis-secret-appeal/

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