Rayhan Ahmed Topader :: ￼As the dust settles on the traumatizing attack in Manchester, we are left grieving and searching for an explanation for this senseless violence. Some will have you believe that Islam is at fault, while their opponents point out that the ideology fuelling these acts of terror is a twisted perversion of the religion. The fact remains that there are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, the overwhelming majority of whom abhor Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and the evil it represents. So what is driving a handful of extremists to commit horrific acts of mass murder in the name of Islam?
Western foreign policy has often been cited as an important driver, but there are countless law-abiding British citizens of all faiths who disagree with recent foreign policy who do not feel compelled to wreak bloody havoc on account of it. One contributing factor might be a concept drawn from the world of cultural psychiatry: Acculturation – the process of balancing two competing cultural influences.
For example, being a second-generation British Pakistani, I have Pakistani cultural influence from my parents, and white British cultural influence from the host nation competing within me. There can be a number of possible outcomes to this process: Deculturation, when a migrant loses all touch with their culture of origin; assimilation, when they retain some loose association with it but fully adopt the culture of the host nation; integration, when they retain strong ties with their culture of origin but are fully functioning members of society; and rejection, when they reject the host-nation culture completely in favor of their culture of origin.
The outcome of the acculturation process can be influenced by a range of factors, among them peer groups, familial relationships, personality, socioeconomics and the degree of acceptance or otherwise from the ethnic majority. The process can be a stressful one: trying to meet the cultural expectations of parents while trying to fit in with peers; dealing with experiences of racism; balancing religious and western values – it poses a challenge for many Muslim youths living in western countries today.
For those who find themselves at odds with the culture of their parents, and yet are met with hostility from the culture of the society they live in, exiting the acculturation paradigm to embrace a third culture that provides them with a sense of belonging may be an appealing option. In this case their minds become fertile ground for radicalization. This is akin to the pathway into gang culture for young people around the world – a sense of alienation from family and society at large delivers them into the hands of older gang leaders. The counterculture for young Muslim men at odds with society nowadays is not gang culture but radical extremist factions that offer self-esteem and identity in exchange for allegiance to a violent and morally bankrupt manifesto. Once they are members of the subversive peer group, alarming ideas and behaviors can become normalized very quickly indeed.
Socioeconomic factors have also been implicated in the process of radicalization (poverty, lack of opportunity, unemployment, poor education), and although this is conceivable, the evidence is limited. Perhaps the low self-esteem brought on by marginalization is the mediator here, traded readily by some disaffected Muslim youths for the perceived sense of purpose and status associated with being an extremist.
As well as drawing recruits into the fold, extremist hate-preachers and the slick Daesh propaganda machine play a significant role in converting the radicalized into actual terrorists. Perhaps those most likely to make the transition from radical to terrorist are the exceedingly vulnerable, who are highly susceptible to an extremist rhetoric, and narcissistic psychopaths, who might revel in the notoriety of being a terrorist.
Although the factors that lead to radicalization are still poorly understood, and are as complex as the acts of terror are devastating, some common themes are evident, and we should respond accordingly. Collective community action has been a prominent feature in anti-gang strategies around the world, and may prove effective in opposing this new type of thuggery, starting with closer ties and cooperation between Muslim and non-Muslim communities and a concerted effort to open a dialogue with at-risk individuals.
Moderate Muslim scholars need to provide the theological ammunition to oppose the vile ideas peddled by extremist recruiters while security forces take action against them. And the media must present a counter-narrative to Daesh propaganda, showing young Muslims they are accepted in the West and can find their sense of belonging here. The next government would do well to shift the focus of the Prevent strategy from community policing (which causes distrust) to community engagement, as well as taking a fresh approach to foreign policy and making efforts to reduce rather than proliferate social inequality for minority groups.
Finally, Muslim parents should be flexible in their demands that their children follow their cultural values and traditions where these are unlikely to lead to a favorable acculturation outcome for them. After all, nothing can be worse for a Muslim immigrant parent who builds a new home in the West, with hopes and dreams for their family, than to see their child become a murderous suicide bomber.
It is right for us to defiantly carry on with our lives after an attack, but too many innocent lives have been lost and we must take action to address the factors that underlie this problem if we are to prevent further suffering. Terrorists seek to divide us; the only way we can defeat this evil is by working together.
Writer and Columnist