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Europe’s Other Youth: Mapping the phenomenon of young Muslim radicalization I

Over the past couple of decades radicalism and radicalization, especially among a part of Europe’s youth have progressively gained centre stage in European public debate and defined as a problem that requires urgent solutions. Despite the prevalence, intensity and urgency of the debate we believe that two sets of questions remain unanswered:

First, what do we understand by radicalism/radicalization? Why some forms of radicalism (ranging from alternative eating and lifestyle habits to human rights activism and the anti-globalization movement to more violent actions within the occupy and animal rights movements) enjoy little visibility whereas others such as the range of attitudes, lifestyles and behaviours we call Islamic radicalism are immediately recognized as such, demonized and criminalized?  Should we try to see radicalism/radicalization, not necessarily as evidence of lack of ‘loyalty’ but also as an expressive attempt to alert our societies to problems and pointing to potential solutions? Can we develop more nuanced ways of interacting with the radical segments of our youth, creating institutional and cultural means that can allow us to ‘hear’ them and channel the positive and constructive energy of their radicalism away from its violent expressions?

This cluster of research activities seeks to unpack and engage with these broader questions by focusing on the radicalism and radicalization of European Muslim youth (our current focus extends to Sweden, Denmark and the UK) as this has become extremely visible, extensively discussed and has overshadowed other expressions of youth radicalism. The current crises in the Middle East have created extensive sympathy towards the populations affected among a substantial part of Europe’s sizeable Muslim youth and, more importantly, have prompted some to join support but also militant organizations on the ground giving rise to questions, condemnations and an urgent call for responses on the causes, impact and fallout of such radicalization trends. What is more, this confrontation with overt forms of radicalism has contributed to monitoring and often criminalizing broader sets of behaviour (supporting or justifying particular groups or actions but also choosing ‘suspect’ lifestyles) to the point of critics talking about the criminalization of thought and opinion.

The key questions we intend to tackle are:

  • What do we understand by Muslim radicalism? Do we restrict this to people that joining intolerant militant organizations such al-Qaeda or ISIS, do we extend our definitions to encompass those who demand alternative futures (advocating sharia courts in European or Western societies, withdrawing to alternative lifestyles based on temperance, piousness and organizing private and community life along alternative values), or who support the recognition of their ‘difference’?
  • Do our societies perceive their Muslim radicalized or radical youth as more of a problem than other segments of radicalized youth and, if yes, why?
  • What are the official and societal responses to Muslim radicalism/radicalization and what do these suggest about our societies attitudes towards the phenomenon? What debate has informed these and how informed or instinctive have the solutions proposed and implemented been?
  • What are the perceptions of the youth affected of the way their opinions, aspirations and grievances are addressed or confronted by political and more broadly social institutions?