Monday, November 27, 2006

Alienation, Identification & Ideology.

I have been thinking and reading about what makes a western muslim become a muslim fanatic for a while. My conclusion is that there are at least three crucial steps- Alienation from the society they live in which causes them to define themselves by their religion, a spurious identification with any muslims whom they perceive to be suffering results from this and turns alienation into rage and finally an ideology to harness the resulting emotions. In order to look at the three steps, Alienation, Identification and Ideology, they should be considered separately. Here are my ruminations on the process of alienation. Two other pieces on Identification and Ideology will hopefully be posted later this week.


One of the recurrent themes with respect to westernised Islamist terrorists and their sympathisers is that they never felt themselves to be a part of their host society and that it was not possible to do so. Hassan Butt, a British islamist who rejected even the extremist Shaikh Omar Bakri because he was too moderate, says in a interview with Prospect that:
I experienced it as I was growing up, going into majority white schools and having a problem trying to be a Muslim.
In France jailed islamic radical, 'Ousman', declares
I wanted to conform to the image of the average Frenchman, to be like them, to make myself in their image. But at the same time I had the feeling that this was more or less impossible: ..... Islam was my salvation
Another French Islamist Zacarias Moussaoui testified at his trial:
today. I stand here as a French citizen. I want to make clear that I am not French and have no relation. I’m a sworn enemy of France. So I want to make this in the record that I’m not French, okay? I tell you I am a Muslim, and I have nothing to do with a nation of homosexual Crusaders. And I am not a frog
In all these cases radical Islam is turned to in order to fill a void. The possible causes of this alienation are worth considering. Part of the reason is Islam, a religion which limits social interaction with non muslims. From Britain to Bosnia to India to Malaysia marriages outside the religious community are very much the exception.

The growing influence of the extremists exacerbates this difficulty, the attempt to encourage garments like the burqa and the veil is nominally about modesty but has the inevitable result that social interaction with the wearer is made more difficult. Perhaps this is because Islam encourages adherents to think of themselves as superior to other cultures:
quite a few Muslims who enter the West see no reason for being assimilated. They assume that it is not they who should be guided by the West but they who should guide the West.
However it is not just Islam which causes difficulties, western societies can themselves inhibit integration. Ethnic Turks in Germany cannot easily integrate into a society which largely defines nationality by descent. The modern ethnic based nation state is less welcoming to outsiders than the multi-ethnic dynastic states that were once prevalent throughout Europe. Even in countries where nationality is less ethnically defined such as in Britian there have been attitudes that hindered integration. Politically correct dogma used to be that asking minorities to integrate was racist, during the 1980s a Bradford headmaster, Ray Honeyford, was vilified by much of the left for warning of the dangers of communal separatism that was occurring in his city.

Outside of London many minority communities live parallel existences to the natives even though physically they are intertwined, the riots that occurred in 2000 in Oldham and Burnley are a testament to that, white and asian youths who had grown up within a petrol bomb's throw of each other were virtually strangers. Should anyone have been surprised that the Tube bombers came from Bradford and its environs? If they were familiar with Honeyford's warning of two decades previously then they ought not have been.

Whilst it is important to be truthful about the barriers Western societies put up to those who simply want to belong it should be noted that the West is far more open than the Islamic world and that non muslim minorities appear to find the process far less fraught with difficulty. Societies are not obliged to encourage incomers, but if they do then it is dangerous to allow them to form parallel communities with strong links to dangerous and volatile homelands.

In any case the cause of alienation might simply be the personal failing of the individual involved, as Policy Review notes the aforementioned 'Ousman' complains of the westernisation of his siblings who presumably faced the same barriers which he found insurmountable.

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