Why Europe is a breeding ground for ISIS

We shouldn't make the mistake of equating terrorism with religious symbols like minarets.

 |  6-minute read |   17-04-2016
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Last week, Trevor Phillips, former chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, UK, wrote a scathing article in Daily Mail based on a Channel 4 survey on British Muslims. He quoted the survey to say that British Muslims were fast becoming "a nation within a nation" and, worse, an estimated 1,00,000 of them confessed having sympathies for suicide bombers!

The findings come in the wake of another startling revelation - that no less than 800 British Muslims have left the country in the last four years to wage jihad with the Islamic State (ISIS), and another 600 have been caught trying to do so.

This, however, shouldn't delude anyone to believe that it's just Britain's problem. As early as 2013, author Pallavi Aiyar saw the ominous signs across Europe in her book, Punjabi Parmesan: Dispatches from a Europe in Crisis.

Also read - Dear Infidel: The dilemma of British Muslims

As she moved from Beijing to Brussels in 2009, Aiyar found the Muslim immigrants in the West were not just "a drain on the welfare state", but also seemed to have "appropriated and transformed" a large section of major European cities into "culturally unfamiliar and potentially threatening spaces".

This brings us to the question: why has Europe become a breeding ground for ISIS? The answer isn't economic, as many bleeding-heart liberals would want us to believe. For, Muslims lagging behind economically isn't just a European phenomenon.

As early as the 1970s, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew asked historian Bernard Lewis why Muslim minorities in Singapore "keep sinking to the bottom of the pile... despite everything we do to help them." Or, even in India, we have the Sachar Committee report officially exposing what has been known for long - the economic backwardness of Muslims.

Also read - Why are Muslims so backward in India?

There's a historical reason behind the high level of unemployment among Muslim immigrants in Europe. Their forefathers came to the continent when the West needed the manpower from its former colonies and other Third World countries to run its booming post-War economies.

Europeans thought it would be a stop-gap arrangement as these men would return to their respective countries after some time. But this didn't happen. Meanwhile the economy in Europe began to shift from traditional industries, leading to a sharp decline in number of hands required for industries. This hit the immigrants hard, so much so that today unemployment among these people is as high as 40 per cent in some parts of Europe.

Once left behind, these immigrants become an easy target for the radical elements to get lured towards their regressive ideologies. Also, what helps the Islamists is the tendency among the vulnerable, as Ian Buruma illustrates in his 2006 book Murder in Amsterdam, to hang on to their collective identity. This explains not just why these immigrants live together in a few cities in a ghettoised localities (in certain Brussels municipalities like Anderlecht and Shaerbeek, over 90 per cent of schoolchildren are Muslims) but also how Islam, if a recent study is to be believed, mobilises more people in Brussels than the Church.

Being unemployed in an alien territory can be a disconcerting experience. To make things worse, these immigrants are cut-off from their native countries for at least a generation, if not more, thus taking away their respective cultural/national identities. So, the only identity they can access in the West is the Islamic one, made available by Saudi Arabia's Wahabi overreach across the world.

Also read - The Muslim in India is not understood

This, in some way, explains why the supporters of an ISIS-style global jihad might be a minuscule section among European Muslims, but they are overwhelmingly young men born and brought up in the West. Also, they are better educated among the immigrants, those who desperately sought to be a part of the European system but could never truly get in.

Does this mean that India has nothing to worry about the rise of ISIS, even though it has a sizeable population which have not just failed - or has been made to fail by their leaders - to board the country's economic bandwagon but also are considerably dejected about their state of affairs? The problem may not be as acute as in the West, but it remains very much real.

Veteran journalist Hasan Suroor, in his book India's Muslim Spring (2014), recounts how there is a surge among the Muslim youth in India to explore their religious identity. He draws an interesting parallel when he says that unlike today's boys and girls who jostle enthusiastically to observe fast during the Ramzan (incidentally, Suroor uses the Arabic term Ramadan!), his generation "was notorious for avoiding rozas".

hijab_fetish_by_cain_041716102343.jpg The problem occurs when one single identity overwhelms all other identities. 

He also tells how at Ballimaran, in Old Delhi, it is now difficult to find a young Muslim without a beard, or a Muslim woman without hijab, which she wears "often in the face of opposition" from her mother, "who fought against veil."

Also read - Why terrorism doesn't motivate Indian Muslims

There's nothing wrong in searching for one's religious identity; the problem occurs when one single identity overwhelms all other identities.

Thankfully, unlike in the West, the regional/cultural individualities of Indian Muslims remain significantly strong. They may have some grudges against the "system", but they don't feel they are aliens in this country. In fact, most Indian Muslims now settled in the West fondly remember their India connections.

Deep-rootedness and lack of artificially-constructed homogeneity among Muslims, as is the case in the West, make it difficult for the proponents of an ISIS-style jihad to sway mood in India.

What India can also learn from the West is how not to handle the minorities. In the name of multiculturalism, the authorities in Europe encouraged the Islamists to build what Trevor Phillips calls "a nation within a nation". And when the mistake became too obvious to ignore, they overreacted, resulting in a backlash - Switzerland, for instance, banned minarets in 2009, though there were just four such structures in the entire country.

Likewise, France banned the burqa when the total number of women wearing it wasn't more than 350, a fourth of them had been recent converts!

We shouldn't make the mistake of equating terrorism with religious symbols like minarets. By doing that, one puts, even if inadvertently, the entire community in the dock. It's both politically incorrect and morally reprehensible. And, above all, it's the worst way to fight the war against terrorism.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)


Utpal Kumar Utpal Kumar @utpal_kumar1

The writer is Associate Editor, Mail Today.

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