51 prescriptions from the past... [I]nterpretations and understandings of issues such as jihad and martyrdom must be located in the context that exists at any given time for their impact to be properly and fully understood.”52 Radical Islam is successful in identifying and reinforcing this context. Activists have proven very good at identifying, reinforcing, and highlighting the personal relevance that notions like jihad and martyrdom can have for individuals. By making them relevant and linking them to issues or personal and common concern, they have managed to create an explosive mix that can be sufficient for some to choose violent action. Within this context, the return of jihad veterans to the United Kingdom has reasonably been a very serious concern. British Muslims returning from jihad fronts in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Chechnya combine religious credentials, since they have proven their determination to die for their faith, the appeal of a fighter, and they have also practical operational experience, often in urban warfare. In other words, they can serve as mentors, role models, or just offer their know-how to aspiring violent extremists. Radicals in general tend to present themselves as positive role models and if upon their return, jihad veterans set an example and become role models for young Muslims, violence may become an easier and more popular choice.53 Given the asymmetry involved (disproportionately limited resources needed to achieve great numbers of casualties), the commercial availability of material needed for attacks, the available know-how, and the recent trend of small, autonomous cells, external support is no longer a prerequisite for violent or terrorist acts. Especially with the increased risk of detection while trying to approach known (to aspiring violent activists as well as the authorities) extremist networks along with the pivotal role the Internet plays, groups can and in many recent cases have indeed chosen to act independently. The marriage of decentralization and increased radicalization among Muslim youth has dramatically changed the threat environment not only in the U.K. but in several European countries. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies have repeatedly warned that “[w]ith the growing breeding ground for radicalization among young Muslims, in combination with the increasing role of the Internet and the apparent ready access to expertise on home-made explosives provided by this medium, the risk that more self-radicalized individuals will materialize is growing. Radicalized individuals with sufficient technical skills should be considered capable of preparing and committing terrorist acts independently or with the help of a virtual network.”54
Ansari, “Attitudes to Jihad, Martyrdom and Terrorism among British Muslims,” 162-163. 53 Akhtar. “’(Re)turn to Religion’ and Radical Islam,” 171. 54 General Intelligence and Security Service, Violent Jihad in the Netherlands, 49.
Despite the observed decentralization and increased autonomous capabilities, we should not conclude that centralized structures are becoming extinct. Due to greater surveillance, new legislation, and the intensified efforts of the authorities, it has become more difficult than it used to be for large organizations to plan or openly support operations without being detected and thus endangering their own survival. But this does not mean that there has been a permanent shift of radical groups' attention away from such activities and it does not mean that they will not use any future gaps in the authorities' attention to resume their activities and further their cause. Therefore, the only safe conclusion from recent cases and research is that hierarchical structures are not a prerequisite anymore for individuals to become radicalized, for groups to become operational, and for attacks to be carried out.
POLICY IMPLICATIONS To identify specific policy recommendations on issues like housing policies, amendments of the recent antiterror legislation, or representative organizations of British Muslims lies beyond the capabilities and scope of this chapter. Any practical recommendations would need the expertise of a number of disciplines and would be very specific to the situation in the U.K. to be of value to a comparative study like the one this project attempts to make. It cannot be denied, though, that the British case has important lessons to offer both in terms of good practices in policy development and implementation, and policy experiments that have not produced the intended results. Therefore, a number of policy implications can be identified within a number of important policy areas that could influence the future evolution of the phenomenon of violent extremism.
UNDERLYING CONTRIBUTING FACTORS Economic, social, and political factors paint a picture of relative deprivation of Britain’s Muslims. When taking into account indicators such as income, employment, social welfare, health and disabilities, women’s participation, household size, housing, education, and others, the situation is quite worrisome. The ‘Muslim penalty’ remains, despite some exceptions and limited positive trends. As it has been mentioned in this report, real and perceived injustices may not only develop into motivations for violent action but they are also used very effectively by extremists as entry points to their target audiences and, consequently, any efforts to effectively address the issue of violent extremism cannot afford to overlook them. It is important to note, however, that special attention needs to be paid to the potential unintended effects of existing policies. ‘Positive’ discrimination and policies addressing exclusively a single community’s needs have proven counterproductive, since they can further
Published on Jul 23, 2010