In an article published by the Brookings Institute titled “Islam, Jihadism, and Depoliticzation in France and Germany”, author Anouar Boukhars argues that growing Islamic extremism in Germany and France is caused by the depoliticization of Muslims and the failure of political Islam to organize.
The idea of a “Muslim siege,” stemming from the belief that all Muslims are challenging European’s assimilation policies, is driven primarily by islamaphobia, fear, and populism. Boukhars concludes by arguing that the absolute assimilation of Muslims in France and Germany must stop, and integration with political representation must be promoted.
Author Boukhars explains French anxiety over Muslim culture. He reminds the reader that this anxiety is “not a new phenomenon’ (Boukhars, 298). Instead, this anxiety has at least existed since the 1995 bombings of the Paris metro, and was only furthered with the 9/11 attacks and the terrorist attacks on Madrid and England’s pubic transit (Boukhars, 299). This anxiety has created xenophobia, and Muslim communities are stereotypically seen (by European citizens) as communalistic and anti-government. This is termed as “symbolic ghettoization” and Boukhars says the French see Muslim youth as “scum that must be simply rubbed out” (Boukhars, 299).
This mindset grows from events like the 2005 riots in Paris. Boukhars points out the riots were indeed comprised of Muslims, but instead of chanting scripture or other familiar jihad intifada they chanted “liberte, egalite, fraternite” (Boukhars, 299). France’s biggest political Muslim group, the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF), is not doing its job of uniting Muslims across France politically. Instead, youth see the UOIF’s image as polluted, since it has constructed deals with the Ministry of the Interior, and failed to loudly voice critical opinions on important Muslim issues (Boukhars, 300). Anger with already established Islamist groups, Boukhars argues, is evidence of political frustration with the usual mouthpieces.
Boukhars identifies three different salafi groups in France, their stances on French integration, and their attractiveness to Muslims in France. The Salafist (generally a Sunni Muslim) puts emphasis on the piousness of ancestors and follows the Quran in both “action and deed…” (Boukahrs, 300). The three types of salafism in France are broken down into predicative, political, and jihadist.
Predicative salafism is a return to political Islam, a rebirth, and is a-political. Predicative salafism seeks a transnational (global) Muslim identity, founded in individualization. This is the biggest of the three Muslim groups in France, and is non-violent and leadership-less.
The second group is Jihadi-Silafism. This group is revolutionary, moderately violent, and comprised of youth. The identity is transnational, and they view democracy and the west as “racist and discriminatory” (Boukhars, 306). Many in this group are converts frustrated with the imperialist tendencies of western nations. Another tendency of jihadist salafism, Boukhars identifies, is how quick the switch into jihadist tendencies occurs: “not caused by a long process of indoctrination or maturation, but by political marginialization” (Boukhars, 300).
Boukhars summarizes his argument thus far by stating that all three types of salafism “distinguish themselves by their defiance of a political order that is incapable of accommodating…” (Boukhars, 300).
70% of Germans feel they are likely to suffer form a terrorist attack. Germans generally fear a wave of re-Islamized Muslims with no sense of German community or loyalty. Germans view Mosques as being places of growing terrorism. Boukhars makes a distinction between converting to Islam and actually joining a terrorist organization, and suggests Germans often associate conversion to Islam as conversion to terrorism.
Younger converts are more susceptible to this jihadism against western governments. And further, the targets of terrorism in Germany are often militaristic targets, not Christian landmarks. Germany is different from France in that the majority of its Muslim population is from Turkey (not Algeria like France) and is somewhat accepting of secularism. Seeing this, Germany is in less immediate danger than France.
In Germany “there is a disturbing belief that good Muslims are the ones who do not practice their religion and suppress their Muslim identity” (Boukhars, 311). Often times all Muslims are grouped together and equal suspicion is placed on moderate as well as radical groups. This causes disdain with local government; it will do nothing to eliminate threats from radical groups, but instead deliver “nonviolent Islamists into the hands of the radicals” (Boukhars, 312).
To conclude, Boukhars suggests the solution lies in giving Muslims in France and Germany more of a political voice to fill a dangerous void which violence fills. France and Germany must let go of their “absolute assimilationism” and return to integration with “freedom of faith and of conscience” (Boukhars, 313). This political voice will help prevent economic, social, and educational marginalization of Muslim peoples. Instead of taming Islam, putting an end to Islamophobia would further the democratic societies of France and Germany.
Boukhars article has several strengths, but also contains big oversights. The battling of Muslim stereotypes is important. It is expected that citizens of a democratic nation can practice religion freely; this allows for healthy separation of Church and State. Boukhars is correct in identifying the problem as absolute secularism, especially in Germany. Part of assimilation is the acceptance of religious diversity, i.e. we are all allowed to freely practice our beliefs. Being fearful of de-territorialized Muslims with transnational identities, and allowing that fear to drive harsh assimilation policies, is counterproductive to unification in both Germany and France. Driving moderates into the radical arena, stemming from fear of moderates turning into radicals, is a cyclical process that almost guarantees radicalization.
Boukhars is also correct in identifying the failure of organized political Islam as a contributing factor in radicalization. Whatever the reasons, radical groups in France and Germany are unhappy with their mouthpieces. Unhappiness resulting from non-representation is evident, as communities turn to isolation and apolitical tendencies. It is very observant of Boukhars to notice this and cite it as an example of dissatisfaction.
Apolitical tendencies seem to be a precursor among youth for terrorism. The quick transition of moderate to radical is also a great observation, as it helps us realize the severity of the problem.
I think the biggest weakness of Boukhars assertions is that German/French fear is placed directly on Muslims within their country. While that fear is grown by events within and outside of a home country, I think the resulting action from that fear is not necessarily placed on Muslims within the country.
Homegrown terrorism is rare, and Germany and France’s fear is not of their fellow Muslim citizens, but sources outside of Europe entirely, like Al Qaeda. And thus, sadly, moderate Muslims feel the effects of security at home. The resulting “taming” that in-country Muslims feel is not a result of discrimination, but excessive security precautions. Muslims in France and Germany feel isolated and cast out of politics, but the casting out is not out of government fear and demonization, but excessive security.
Additionally, Boukhars fails to criticize the local elements of Islam. Radical elements exist in every religion, and other groups have managed to organize and unite in the face of government opposition. People who share similar ideological beliefs eventually unite when facing government opposition. Why is it that Muslims in France and Germany turn to radicalization instead of uniting politically? Why would someone frustrated with politics in France join the Predicative Salafism movement within Islam and turn apolitical? There has to be a deeper problem than just political dissatisfaction; in France Muslims are avoiding political involvement when given a choice.
Boukhars assumes that Muslim identity rests more in politics than it does in transnational identity. It is not political dissatisfaction, but dissatisfaction with democracy and colonialism. This has less to do with national politics as much as it has to do with global governance. Boukhars dances around this idea but then suggests the solution rests in allowing for increased honest political representation. But Muslims care more about global equality, thus the solution lies in global politics.
National security is important at both a national and international level, as governments main purpose is to protect its citizens. National identity lies within the diverse spread of society. Separation of church and state is imperative for healthy religion. Repression of Islamic representation is a bad thing, certainly, but when followers of salafism turn to violent radicalization, measures must be taken to protect natural born citizens. Assimilation is important, but not absolute secularism, not to the point of creating civil religion.
Several of Boukhars points are verifiable and accurate, but I disagree with his end assertion: that better political representation will quell radicalization. Diversity must be the point for unity in a community, not conflict. This is certainly a very important issue that impacts all Muslims, moderate and radical alike, as well as ordinary citizens.
A vacuum exists, certainly, but unlike Boukhars, I think the vacuum exists outside of national politics. Serious European conversation needs to be had, conversation that leads to a united solution for Muslims and democratic nations, a solution that is in the best interest for the security and rights of all.
Published on BlogCritics as well. Article can be found here.
Boukhars, A. (2009). Islam, jihadism, and DE politicization in France and Germany. International Political Science Review, 30(3), 297-317.