Communication

Separate Communities in the Making in Europe in the Absence of Communication

This blog entry is driven form a longer text published earlier by Turkish Political Quarterly (Spring 2022), “The Crisis of Civilisational Paradigm: Co-Radicalisation of Islamist and Populist Groups in Europe.” 

Ayhan Kaya, ─░stanbul Bilgi University, ERC AdG PRIME Youth Project Principal Investigator

September 26, 2022

Since the 1970s, many Muslim-origin immigrants and their descendants have been encouraged to socially, politically, culturally, and even economically, mobilize themselves within their ethno-religious frameworks through constructing isolated communitarian parallel communities to protect themselves against the perils of globalization. The construction of isolated parallel communities has brought about two very important consequences in many European societies. On the one hand, it has reinforced ethno-religious boundaries between majority societies and migrant-origin groups leading to different forms of ethnic competition in the urban space, especially among the working-class segments of local communities. On the other hand, it has strengthened the process of alienation between in-groups and out-groups, leading to the decline of intergroup contact. The decline of intergroup contact provides a fertile ground for the spread of Islamophobic sentiments and Islamist radicalism.

Islamic parallel communities manifest in European countries such as France, Germany, England, Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands (countries with colonial or semi-colonial backgrounds) are not the result of the conservatism of Muslims, but rather their reaction to the structural and political mechanisms of exclusion. In other words, religiosity is too important to be limited to the beliefs of said minorities, because what may lie beneath religiosities are the structural problems of racism, discrimination, Islamophobia, xenophobia, injustice, poverty, and unemployment.

Although it is without doubt that social and class tensions erupt from such structural problems, some state administrations, populist parties, the media, and even intellectuals, intentionally or unintentionally make wrong diagnoses of, and misrepresent, the issue to the public. This kind of complexity, in turn, make it almost impossible to solve structural problems. Is it their cultural differences, their anti-integrationist, reactionary attitudes, and their Islamic identity that consider fighting against Christianity and European civilization a religious duty that takes Muslims to the street? Or are their mass opposition and social movements manifest a resistance against almost two centuries of colonialism, exclusion, racism, xenophobia, and the more recent conditions of poverty? Answers to these two essential questions illuminate how individuals, institutions and the state approach the problem. Those who answer the first question positively find the Islamic, the culturally different, and the ethnically diverse “problematic” by nature. For them, the “Others” are expected to eliminate their differences and become assimilated into the dominant civilization project. Movements such as Pegida, Combat 18, Identity Movement, the Soldiers of Odin, and those who appeal to the Great Replacement discourse are among such actors in Europe. Those who respond positively to the second question are the ones who have made the diagnoses concerning the root-causes of self-isolation of Muslims; that is racism, structural inequalities, injustices, stereotypes, colonialism, orientalism, and deep-rooted institutional and intersectional discrimination. Liberal and critical-minded individuals and groups are such actors in Europe.

As the processes of de-industrialization since the late 1970s and the rise of inequalities in politics, education, labor market, health services and judiciary increasingly alienate Muslims from the majority societies, they have come to hold on to religion, ethnicity, language, and tradition, whatever they believe cannot be taken away from them, even more tightly. Discrimination in everyday life has become common for many Muslim individuals and communities in Europe. FRA Survey on Muslims held in 2017 clearly reveals that Muslims in Europe often suffer discrimination when looking for a job, which hampers their meaningful participation in society.[1] The same survey also found that Muslims’ names, skin color or physical appear­ance prompt discrimination against about half of the respondents when looking for housing, work or receiving healthcare.[2] Populist political parties lately indulge in deliberate misreadings, which result in the syndrome depicting that Muslims are “enemies within” who must be eliminated. Given the problematic representation and statisticalization of immigrants and Muslims in the media and political sphere, the issue runs into a dead end. When all the misinterpretations and misevaluations add up, it is easy to see how smoothly “neighbors next door” can be turned into “enemies within”.

Populist parties and movements often exploit the issues of parallel communities, migration, and Islam. They portray them as a threat to the welfare and the social, cultural, and even ethnic features of a nation. Populist leaders also tend to blame parallel communities of Muslims for some of the major problems in society, such as unemployment, violence, crime, insecurity, drug trafficking and human trafficking. This tendency is reinforced by using a racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic and demeaning rhetoric. The use of words like ‘influx’, ‘invasion’, ‘flood’ and ‘intrusion’ are just a few examples. Many public figures in Europe have spoken of a ‘foreign infiltration’ of immigrants, especially Muslims, in their countries. Some political leaders even predicted the coming of Eurabia. This mythological future continent will replace modern Europe, where children from Norway to Naples will allegedly learn to recite the Quran at school, while their mothers stay at home wearing burqas. Some populist political party leaders such as Éric Zemmour, Marine Le Pen, Thierry Baudet, Alexander Gauland, and Viktor Orbán even talk about the “Great Replacement” conspiracy in Europe. Referring to the growing visibility of Muslims in the European space, some right-wing populist leaders effectively deploy the fear of Islam as a great danger in the foreseeable future. Referring to a white-supremacist slogan coined by a right-wing French writer, Renaud Camus (2011), such right-wing populist leaders simply want to make their followers believe that a global elite is actively replacing Europe’s white population with people of color from non-European countries.[3]

Some right-wing populist politicians began to unmask the immigration of Muslims as an integral part of a deliberate strategy of Islamification.[4] To support such a claim, such politicians may refer to a whole range of Arabists, orientalists, political scientists, journalists, and politicians who may boast a reasonably solid reputation, such as Bat Ye’or, Bernard Lewis, Oriana Fallaci, Samuel Huntington, Hans Jansen, Pim Fortuyn, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Such populist politicians have also openly criticized Islam by aligning themselves with the liberal and civilizational attitude towards certain cultural issues, such as the emancipation of women and homosexuals. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has also deplored that a growing number of political parties in Europe exploit and encourage fear of Islam and organize political campaigns which promote simplistic and negative stereotypes concerning Muslims in Europe, and often equate Islam with extremism and terrorism.[5] It is this political and societal climate that has brought about what we call co-radicalisation of some self-identified Muslim youth and some nativist youth in Europe since September 11, 2001.

Co-Radicalization in the Post-9/11 Period

The cycles of co-radicalization sometimes lead to intractable conflicts and explain the parallel rise of antagonistic violent extremist factions, such as the conflicts between Islamist groups and white supremacists. Such escalation cycles have been anticipated across Europe in the aftermath of 9/11. On the one hand, the wave of terrorist attacks in European cities in the 2010s has created a strong resentment against the liberal refugee policies of some European states. On the other hand, the threatening atmosphere created by far-right extremists against Muslim minorities could explain why youngsters from Muslim backgrounds would increasingly turn to extreme forms of religious ideologies (i.e., Wahhabism and Salafism) and, for some of them, to Islamist terrorist organizations.

Terrorism is no longer a novel phenomenon, nor is it limited to Islamist groups and ideology. However, indeed, Islamist-driven terror attacks have lately been on the rise, along with right-wing terrorism, which had declined significantly from 1995 to 2001. In fact, both right-wing and Islamist terrorist attacks seem to display some correlation and respond to one another more strongly after the 11 September attacks. There might be many reasons behind this correlation, or co-radicalization process, ranging from the growing impact of social media on radicalization and co-radicalization to the changing definition of politics from being about consensus to being about dissensus. In other words, co-radicalization between right-wing and Islamist terrorist groups has become more prevalent after the year 2001 in Europe.

Today, young radical Muslims and other Muslim-origin youngsters are becoming politically mobilized to support causes that have less to do with faith and more to do with communal solidarity. The manifestation of global Muslim solidarity can be described as an identity based on vicarious humiliation. European Muslims develop empathy for Muslim victims elsewhere in the world and convince themselves that their exclusion and their co-religionists have the exact root cause: the Western rejection of Islam, which partly leads to the co-radicalization of some segments of native and Muslim-origin youths. The process of co-radicalization leads some Muslim groups to generate alternative forms of politics based on radicalization, violence, religiosity, and extremism. To that effect, the quest for identity, authenticity, religiosity, and violence should not be reduced to an attempt to essentialize the so-called purity. Rather, it is a form of politics generated by alienated, humiliated, and excluded subjects. In this sense, Islam is no longer simply a religion for those radical individuals. It is also a counter-hegemonic global political movement, which prompts them to defend the rights of their Muslim brothers and sisters across the national boundaries.

Conclusion

The defense of religion, tradition, culture and past by religious, nationalist, nativist, or populist individuals has become a radical stance today. This radical stance can be interpreted as a reactionary form of resistance against the perils of modernization and globalization experienced by both self-identified Muslim youths and native youths who are labeled as far-right extremists in Europe. Both Islamist revival and right-wing populism can be regarded as outcries of those who feel pressurized by the perils of modernization and globalization. Then, one could also assess these protests as struggles for democracy rather than threats to democracy. It seems that radicalization provides such socio-economically, politically, spatially, and nostalgically deprived youths with an opportunity to build an imagined home away from the one that has become indifferent, alienating, and even humiliating. Radicalization then becomes a regime of justification and an alternative form of politics generated by some Muslim youth and native youth to protect themselves from day-to-day discrimination, humiliation, and neglect. They believe that speaking from the margins might be a more efficient strategy to be heard by those in the center who have lost the ability to listen to the peripheral ones. As Robert Young pointed out, it is not that ‘they’ do not know how to speak (politics), “but rather that the dominant would not listen.”[6]

The lack of communication channels between these social groups seems to be exploited by both organized populist and Islamist political formations to attain their own political interests. In order not to let such socio-economic, political, spatial, and nostalgic forms of deprivation of both groups be exploited by such nationalist and religious political organizations, both local and central state actors may consider to invest in the construction of cultural centres, youth centres, popular arts venues and public spaces where these social groups can get together to communicate their everyday life experiences with each other. This is how these social groups can be offered the opportunity to see that socio-economically, politically, psychologically and sometimes spatially are identical, and that there is no need for mutual hatred, rage, anger and fear. It is this act of listening that could partly change the world we all live in.    

Notes

[1] FRA, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2017). Second European Union Minorities.

[2] FRA, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2017). Second European Union Minorities, p.9.

[3] For the Great Replacement conspiracy see Renaud Camus, Le Grand Remplacement (Paris: David Reinharc, 2011).

[4] The term ‘Eurabia’ was first introduced by Bat Ye’Or, whose real name is Gisell Litmann, an Egyptian-born British citizen and key figure in the UK-based Counter-Jihad Movement (CJM), living in Switzerland.

[5] See Resolution 1743 (2010), http://www.assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/Xref-XML2HTML-en.asp?fileid=17880&lang=en [6] Robert J. C. Young. White Mythologies (New York: Routledge, 2004).

Authors:

Published: Sept. 26, 2022, 2:54 p.m.
Edited: Sept. 26, 2022, 2:56 p.m.