This essay forms part of our series on multiculturalism.
This essay argues that a religiosity-violent radicalisation link is demonstrable when contextualised within the growing ‘Islamisation’ of identity; for young British Muslims, ‘religiosity’ increasingly entails a public, politicised pan-Islamic expression of collective distinctiveness. Though no more privately religious than foreign-born parents, the increasingly Islamo-centric identity of British-born Muslims feeds separation from wider society and sometimes perpetuates Jihadist frame-alignment, legitimising violence against non-Muslims. This Islamisation-violent radicalisation-religious distinctiveness relationship was also fuelled by state-sanctioned multiculturalism, leading the British government to recently reject the policy. Resultantly, I contextualise a religiosity-violence link within identity politics and multicultural marginalisation, justifying the government’s paradigm shift.
There is ample reason to examine the religiosity-violence link amongst young Muslims; political violence is disproportionately committed by young adults. Indeed, 13% of 16-24 year old British Muslims ‘admire’ Al Qaeda, compared to 7% of Muslims overall; whilst most are British-born, only 44% of 16-24 year old Muslims feel Britain is ‘my country’. Hence, I argue that lack of belonging correlates with violence-radicalisation potential and ‘Islamisation’ of identity amongst young British Muslims. Firstly, I analyse the ‘religious engagement’ strategy, which aims to defuse Jihadism by empowering non-violent (but often radical) Islamic groups. Subsequently, I argue that this stance obfuscates the Islamisation-violence link, utilising social movement theory to demonstrate the Islamisation-Jihadist correlation through frame alignment and socialisation and its links to state-promoted communal compartmentalisation.
Religious Engagement: Thwarting Jihadism through Islam
‘The more a Muslim understands their faith, the more peaceful they will be. An empty tin makes the most noise’.
This quote suggests that inculcating greater knowledge of a ‘true’, non-violent Islam amongst religious-seeking young British Muslims will decrease violent radicalisation. Though overall more supportive of Jihadist violence, young British Muslims prayed less regularly than their parents, whilst 38% of young British Muslims who supported Al Qaeda prayed ‘never’ or ‘occasionally’. Many members of violent organisations were religious neophytes, making them susceptible to extremist, inaccurate perversions of Islam. Resultantly, this interpretation delineates any religiosity-violence link, stressing religious education and Islamic-communal framing.
This approach underlies the government’s ‘Preventing Extremism Together’ taskforce, which sought to defuse violent Jihadism by co-opting Islamic ‘community’ organisations. Resultantly, the Metropolitan Police engaged extremist Salafist groups. Similarly, Spalek advocates a reductionist strategy of treating counter-terrorism as distinct from integration or de-radicalisation policy, citing the success of the Islamist-radical Muslim Association of Britain in expelling Jihadist cleric Abu Hamza from Finsbury Park Mosque in 2005. Islamism can supposedly provide a non-violent outlet for ‘angry young men who feel moved to violence’; radicals can relate to Jihadists, turning them to non-violent extremism. This exemplifies the ‘disengagement’ strategy; turning individuals toward non-violence, though they may retain radical views.
Hence, ‘religious engagement’ rejects a radicalism-violence link; non-violent Islamic-communal associations of any stripe are encouraged to root out Jihadists. Young Muslims are engaged through an Islamic prism to counter violence. This approach is mired in ‘multiculturalism’, a social-policy which compartmentalises citizens into ethno-religious ‘boxes’ towards whom policy is tailored through engagement with ‘community leaders’. However, I utilise social movement theory to argue that multiculturalism and religious engagement facilitated the emergence of an isolationist, politicised, identity-based religiosity amongst young British Muslims, bearing implications for violent radicalisation.
Contextualising Islamisation, Violence and Religiosity
Social movement theory postulates that individuals become prone to new worldviews after experiencing ‘cognitive opening’, a process often facilitated by perceived grievances. This can lead to ‘religious seeking’; embittered Muslims rationalise grievances through Islam. Crucially, this sometimes promotes ‘frame alignment’; radical outlooks of extremist-Islamist groups merge with the individual’s perspectives, sharing religious-based narratives. This culminates with ‘socialisation’ into Jihadist collective rationale. Contrary to the ‘religious engagement’ doctrine, religiosity, radicalisation and violence are dialectic, not delineated; radical religious beliefs, fused with extremist, Islamic-framed political outlooks, serve as pre-requisites for Jihadist violence.
Grievances and cognitive-opening opportunities are widespread amongst young British-born Muslims: compartmentalised by multiculturalism as the ‘Muslim community’, they are distinct from mainstream, secular society yet cannot relate to traditionally-founded perspectives of foreign-born parents. Lacking a rooted identity and often impoverished, they represent the archetypal ‘marginal man’, resulting in religious-seeking and increased identification with pan-global Islamic consciousness. Resultantly, British-born Muslims feel threatened by distant foreign policy: 70% of British Muslims believe the ‘War on Terror’ is an anti-Islamic campaign. Young British Muslims increasingly express their identity through religion, publically stressing differences from non-Muslim Britons by adopting Islamic attire. Thus, ‘growing religiosity’ amongst British Muslims can be termed ‘identity Islam’; an increasingly salient collective, politicised, religious outlook, with dangerous ramifications for violent radicalisation due to its self-isolating nature.
Rationalising grievances through an isolationist, Islamo-centric prism facilitates frame alignment between young Muslims and Jihadists; both groups contextualise grievances through Islam. Similarly, the emphasis that ‘identity Islam’ places on a ‘need to be different’ fuels Jihadism; violent radicalisation feeds off this ‘us and them’ climate. Political violence is exacerbated when a commonly-held social identity feels threatened by another group. Resultantly, multiculturalism, with its emphasis on difference, promotes isolation and Islamisation. Delineating Muslims into a homogenous, besieged ‘community’ creates group cohesion between religious-seeking Muslims and Jihadists, aiding socialisation. Countering Jihadism with a communal-Islamic tailored narrative perpetuates Jihadist frame alignment and a grievance-enhancing Islamised message of distinctiveness.
Government counter-terrorism guidelines rightly note that those most vulnerable to violent radicalisation are those who feel a conflict between ‘being British’ and their own cultural identity. Perversely, the state co-operated with Islamist movements, aiding Jihadist socialisation-inducing radical groups. Non-violent Islamist groups, or ‘gateway organisations’, embrace values incompatible with democracy, straddling ‘frame alignment’ and ‘socialisation’. Substantial ideological and frame overlap exists between Jihadists and Islamists, legitimising violent approaches to religious-seekers. Islamist movements and violent radicals are part of the same ‘scene’, with violent groups often poaching recruits from non-violent Islamist organisations. Hence, utilising radicals as a counter-weight to Jihadists is deeply flawed. In funding both moderate and radical Islamist groups, religious engagement feeds the religiosity-violence link. Far from constituting the solutions to Jihadism, religious engagement and multiculturalism facilitate its growth, as they both fail to recognise the identity Islam-violent radicalisation link.
Social movement theory demonstrates worrying trends regarding the Islamisation-violence link. Most second-generation British Muslims do not become Jihadists or Islamists. However, growing collective Islamisation and religious-framing of social-political grievances facilitates frame alignment, rationalisation of violence and socialisation into Jihadism. Whilst a religiosity-violence link exists, ‘growing religiosity’ amongst younger Muslims is not ‘religious’ in a pious, private sense. Similarly, counter-terrorism cannot be separated from counter-radicalisation or pro-integrationist policy; violent radicalisation of young British Muslims represents radical extremes of quasi-linear processes of religious-framed grievance-rationalisation and identity politics grounded in communal isolation, which is exacerbated by multiculturalism. Thus, engaging second-generation Muslims through Islamic prisms exacerbates feelings of separateness, breeding Islamisation and sometimes Jihadism.
Future studies should refrain from referring to a ‘religiosity-violence link’; this misleadingly implicates individual religious piety. Instead, research should refer to the ‘Islamisation’ of young British Muslim identity. Engaging young Muslims through Islamo-centric groups must end; government policy should enable de-radicalisation, facilitating the rejection of anti-establishment, confrontational views, not purely disengagement. Resultantly, counter-terror policy must extend beyond policing; addressing questions of identity, belonging and social cohesion. De-radicalisation strategy should enable Muslims to ‘feel’ more British and attached to state-society institutions as citizens, not a distinct community. Prime Minister David Cameron rightly linked de-radicalisation, counter-terrorism and the need to promote a cohesive, united, British identity. Because the state is heavily implicated in fostering Islamisation, this paradigm shift is necessary and its effects should be scrutinised in future research.
 I define ‘radicalisation’ as ‘the process by which individuals (adopt)…extreme views’ antithetical towards social-political norms. ‘Violent radicalisation’ entails violent implementation of radicalism; see Parent (2011).
 Bronitsky (2010), p29.
 I use ‘violent radicalisation’ and ‘Jihadism’ interchangeably.
 ‘Multiculturalism’ is a contested term; I utilise the holistic definition of ‘the process whereby the distinctive identities of cultural groups within society are maintained’, see BBC News (2011).
 Parent (2011), p24.
 Brigs (2006), p46.
 Growth for Knowledge (2006), p6.
 Brigs (2006), p61.
 Field (2010).
 Mirza (2007), p62.
 Nawaz (2008), p6.
 Brigs (2006), p25.
 Salafism is ‘an ideological orientation that seeks to purge Islam of all outside influences’; see Neumann (2006).
 Spalek (2008), p258.
 Islamism is defined as a political ideology seeking a societal-governmental shift towards strict Islamic doctrines; see Growth for Knowledge (2006).
 Brigs (2006) p51.
 Choudhury (2007).
 Parent (2011), p11.
 Mirza (2007), p20.
 Malik (2010).
 Wiktorowicz (2004), p1.
 Parent (2011), p13.
 Neumann (2007), p16.
 Wiktorowicz (2004), p18.
 Ahmed (2005), p35.
 Bronitsky (2010), p28.
 Woodward (2006).
 BBC News (2002).
 Mirza (2007), p5.
 Ahmed (2005), p36.
 Ceric (2006), p27.
 Mirza (2007), p6.
 Rogers (2007), p255.
 Neumann (2007), p42.
 Mirza (2007), p6.
 Home Affairs Committee (2012).
 Neumann (2007), p31.
 Neumann (2007), p32.
 There is no constant trigger for violent radicalisation, see Neumann (2008), p3. Instead, this essay has sought to denote macro trends.
 Parent (2011), p11.
 BBC News (2011).
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Rob holds a degree in Politics and Modern History from the University of Manchester and an MA in Terrorism, Security and Society from the Department of War Studies, King's College London. He lives in Jerusalem, Israel, where he works as an Israel Research Fellow, a fellowship scheme awarded to exemplary researchers in Israel Studies. His main research interests are Israeli security, politics and the Israel-Palestine conflict. You can follow Rob on Twitter @RobPinfold