Written by Beatrix Immenkamp,
On 21 November 2017, the European Parliament library hosted a presentation by renowned political scientist Professor Olivier Roy, Joint Chair of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute in Florence, of his most recent book, ‘Jihad and Death – the Global Appeal of Islamic State’. Taking place within the framework of the European Parliament’s implementation of Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the event was hosted by Mairead McGuinness, Vice President responsible for the Article 17 dialogue with churches, religions and philosophical organisations. Dr Beatrix Immenkamp, policy analyst at the European Parliamentary Research Service, acted as discussant.
In her welcome speech, Mairead McGuinness noted that the European Parliament regularly hosts discussions of important books as part of the Article 17 dialogue with churches, religions and philosophical organisations. She added that ‘Jihad and Death’ was not a light topic for a lunchtime discussion, but certainly an important one. Quoting a description of the book as ‘everything you need to know about why ‘Islamic State’ attracts new followers’, Mairead McGuinness welcomed the opportunity to hear about the issues raised by the book. She noted that the ‘Islamic State’ organisation was having an impact in Europe, not least because of the fear raised by terrorist attacks in many Member States.
Olivier Roy underlined the main focus of his book on why young people from Europe had joined the ‘Islamic State’ organisation and had committed terrorist attacks in its name. He explained that the book was based on empirical data going back 22 years, analysing the profiles of 150 young men and women who had been involved in terrorist attacks in France and Belgium since 1995, or who had joined the organisation known as ‘Islamic State’ as foreign fighters. Olivier Roy reported on some key findings of his research into the profiles of these 150 radicals. He noted that throughout the past 22 years, the great majority (60-65 %) were second-generation Muslim migrants, and an ‘astonishing’ 25 % were converts to Islam. Most were radicalised in a small group with tight personal connections, all of the same generation and often from the same family (brothers). According to Olivier Roy’s findings, prison is the most common place for radicalisation to take place, as was the case for 50 % of the French-speaking Belgian radicals. Other main locations for radicalisation included sports clubs, followed by mosques.
Olivier Roy noted that he was struck by jihadi radicals’ fascination with death, which set them apart from earlier terrorist movements. He called it a ‘systematic’ association with death, with terrorists seeking their own death, rather than escape. Olivier Roy reported that he had found no evidence that radicals were activists fighting for a political cause. Instead, he had found nihilists for whom life had no meaning, who rejected their parents’ generation, showed no respect for their cultural heritage, and no commitment to their children. Many had chaotic personal lives, often coming from dysfunctional families.
According to Olivier Roy‘s findings, young radicals are living at the margins of society of the Muslim population in Europe. The large majority of Muslims reject them and their actions.
In Olivier Roy‘s view, policy-makers were making a big mistake in believing that jihadi radicalisation was the result of religious radicalisation. Among the radicals he had studied, he had found no history of continuous religious radicalisation; ‘no “born-again” Salafis turning into radicals’. On the contrary, his research had shown that religious radicalisation took place at the same time or even after the violent radicalisation process. Olivier Roy concluded that policy-makers were mistaken in believing that they could manage terrorism by managing Salafism, which he described as the predominant view today.
Olivier Roy concluded that jihadi radicalism was not sustainable, because it had no mass support or appeal. In his view, radicals were fighting for a ‘virtual Muslim community’ that did not exist. Even though jihad had replaced other ideologies as the ideology that fascinated disenfranchised youth, it had no future, as proven by the fall of the organisation known as the ‘Islamic State’.
Beatrix Immenkamp commented on Professor Roy’s view that so-called ISIS was no more threatening to Europe than other millenarian or terrorist organisations that preceded it, and that had since disappeared, noting that this view seemed reassuring. However, she pointed out that the argument over the root causes of Islamic radicalisation had not been settled. While some experts saw intolerant aspects of Islam, especially the Salafi ideology, as the cause of radicalisation, others took the view that social injustice and the perceived lack of a future, or the opportunity to build one, were at the heart of the violent radicalisation process. Beatrix Immenkamp cited a study into the root causes of radicalisation in the Brussels commune of Molenbeek that seemed to support the view that social deprivation played a very large role in radicalisation, at least in Belgium.
Beatrix Immenkamp argued that regardless of whether one took the view that there was a radicalisation through Islam, or a radicalisation of Islam, the fact remained that contemporary terrorists were framing their violent acts in an Islamic discourse. Therefore, she argued, policy-makers could not really avoid the question of why the interpretation of Islam fashionable among young Muslims in Europe today lent itself to abuse by a violent minority. She deplored the fact that the atrocities committed by a small minority discredited the millions of ordinary, law-abiding and non-violent Muslim citizens living in Europe today. She concluded by saying that European policy-makers should look into ways to ensure that Islam could no longer be so easily co-opted to serve a radical ideology.
A recording of the book presentation is available here.
The financing of the ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (September 2017)
ISIL/Da’esh: From Mosul to Mosul (July 2017)
Religious organisations and conflict resolution (November 2016)
Female radicalisation and violent extremism (April 2016)
Cybersecurity: Jihadism and the internet (May 2015)
Religious fundamentalism and radicalisation (March 2015)
The international coalition to counter ISIL/Da’esh (March 2015)