As after all jihadist attacks, the Charlie massacre has been followed by calls for Europe’s Muslim “community” to denounce terrorism and work against the influence of radical ideology in its midst. As French scholar Olivier Roy argues, however, these invocations of a Muslim collective are misguided. Islamic radicalism in France isn’t an extreme position on some sort of spectrum; it’s a youth movement, with all the disaffection from parental example that implies. Roy:
Radicalized young people, who rely heavily on an imagined Muslim politics (the Ummah of earlier times) are deliberately at odds with the Islam of their parents, as well as Muslim culture overall.They invent an Islam which opposes itself to the West. They come from the periphery of the Muslim word. They are moved to action by the displays of violence in the media of Western culture. They embody a generational rupture (parents now call the police when their children leave for Syria), and they are not involved with the local religious community and the neighborhood mosques.These young people practice self-radicalization on the Internet, searching for a global jihad. They are not interested in the tangible concerns of the Muslim world, such as Palestine. In short, they are not seeking the Islamization of the society in which they live but the realization of their sick fantasy of heroism (“We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad,” claimed some of the killers at Charlie Hebdo).
Not only do people misunderstand how little these radicals may have to do with a wider “Muslim community”, they’re wrong to think such an establishment exists:
The Muslims of France have never had the desire to put in place representative institutions or even, at the very least, a Muslim lobby. There are no signs pointing toward the beginning of the establishment of a Muslim political party. The candidates of the political sphere who are of Muslim origin are spread out across the French political spectrum (and include the extreme right). There is no “Muslim vote.”There is no network of denominational Muslim schools (less than 10 in France), no mobilization in the street (no demonstrations around a Muslim cause has attracted more than a few thousand people) and almost no grand mosques (which are almost always financed from outside funding). There are only a handful of small local mosques.If there is an effort at community, it comes from above, from the state, not the citizens. The purported organized representation of the French Council of the Muslim Faith at the Grand Mosque of Paris is held at arm’s length by the French government and by foreign governments alike. And it has no local legitimacy. In short, the Muslim “community” suffers from a very Gallic individualism and remains recalcitrant. That is the good news.
Yes, it’s important to understand how extremists travel to Europe from the Middle East and back, and which security measures could stop them. It’s no less important, when appealing for action from ordinary citizens, to understand exactly who they are and what they can and cannot do. France will need both kinds of intelligence going forward; let’s hope the latter doesn’t get lost in a fight about blaming or protecting a mischaracterized population for a mischaracterized phenomenon.