What is it that makes young Muslims in the West susceptible to radicalism? What is it about the experience of the West’s rising generation of Muslims that leads a small minority to see violence as a solution to their economic and political dilemmas, and suicide as their reward and salvation?
Britain, which will soon mark the anniversary of last year’s bombings in London, provides a test case for seeking answers to these questions. For young British Muslims, our globalized world challenges key beliefs, destabilizing their identity and thus encouraging a defensive response. British citizenship, of course, guarantees freedom of expression and minority rights, and young Muslims take full advantage of this. Yet they are using this freedom to deepen family and cultural ties to the closed world of their inherited Muslim identity, particularly its politics.
In practice, this means that many young Muslims are utterly preoccupied with events in the Arab and Muslim world. They see what we see: a region where autocratic countries seem corrupt and paralyzed. But they also see an unprecedented level of hostility from the West, with regime after regime seeming to be either in peril or facing chaos. Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, and now Iran: all seem to be under attack as part of the “global war on terror.” As a result, the West’s strategic choices appear inherently anti-Islamic to countless of its young Muslims.
This preoccupation with the Middle East is at the heart of young Muslims’ politics in British universities, mosques, and websites. Although most do not support Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, or the al-Saud family, they see hypocrisy in Western criticism of these leaders that is designed to manipulate and marginalize – after all, the West does not really want to push these regimes too far.