TIME.com: Generation Jihad

In Time: TIME.com: Generation Jihad — Oct. 03, 2005 — Page 1

Well ‘generation jihad’ is a nice soundbite of course, but the article is not bad.

Posted Monday, Sep. 26, 2005
The last time Myriam Cherif saw her son Peter, 23, was in May 2004, when the two of them stood at the elevator on the fifth floor of the gritty public-housing project where they lived, just north of Paris. Myriam, 48, was born in Tunisia, moved to France when she was 8 and became a French citizen. Peter’s father, who died when the boy was 14, was a Catholic from the French Antilles in the Caribbean. But Peter took a different path. In 2003 he converted to Islam and became a devout Muslim. He took to wearing loose trousers and a long tunic instead of blue jeans and repeatedly told Myriam that she should wear the traditional Muslim head scarf. And then one day last spring, Peter told his mother he was heading off to Syria to study Arabic and the Koran.

Today Peter, one of five French citizens captured by U.S. forces in Iraq, is being held at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, family members say. More than a year since she last heard from her son, Myriam Cherif is still trying to understand how, in the streets and caf�s of Paris, Peter and other young Muslims like him were lured into giving up their lives in the West and pursuing jihad. “They saw aggressive, violent images on the Internet and asked questions about why Muslims were suffering abroad while European countries were doing nothing,” she says. “It’s like they set off a bomb in their heads.”

Generation Jihad suggests there are an awfull lot of them

Call it Generation Jihad–restive, rootless young Muslims who have spent their lives in Europe but now find themselves alienated from their societies and the policies of their governments. While the precise number of European jihadists is impossible to pinpoint, counterterrorism officials believe the pool of radicals is growing. Since 1990, the Muslim population in Europe has expanded from an estimated 10 million to 14 million. (Estimates of the number of Muslims in the U.S. range from 2 million to 7 million.) A 2004 estimate by the intelligence unit of French police found that about 150 of the country’s indexed 1,600 mosques and prayer halls were under the control of extremist elements. A study of 1,160 recent French converts to Islam found that 23% identified themselves as Salafists, members of a sect sometimes associated with violent extremism. In the Netherlands, home to 1 million Muslims, a spokesman for the Dutch intelligence service says it believes as many as 20 different hard-line Islamic groups may be operating in the country–some simply prayer groups adhering to radical interpretations of the Koran, others perhaps organizing and recruiting for violence. In London, authorities say, as many as 3,000 veterans of al-Qaeda training camps over the years were born or based in Britain.

Jihadi’s or non-jihadi’s many of these young muslims have the same frustrations:

Interviews with dozens of Muslims across Western Europe reveal a wide range of explanations for why so many are responding to the call of radical Islam. A common sentiment among members of Generation Jihad is frustration with a perceived scarcity of opportunity and disappointment at public policies that they believe target Muslims unfairly. Some lack a sense of belonging in European societies, which have long struggled to assimilate immigrants from the Islamic world. Many, in particular younger Muslims, suffer disproportionately from Europe’s high-unemployment, slow-growth economies. Some are outraged over the bloodshed in Iraq and the persistent notion–stoked by Osama bin Laden but increasingly accepted among moderates–that the West is waging an assault on Islam.

The rage expressed by members of Generation Jihad has raised concerns among European counterterrorism officials that policies pursued by the U.S. and its allies in response to the Islamic terrorist threat may be further galvanizing radicals. Says a French investigator with a decade of antiterrorism experience: “There’s a spreading atmosphere of indignation among normal Muslims that’s echoing among the younger generation.”

Besides economic deprivation the war in Iraq is also stimulating extremism:

What’s more, TIME’s reporting across Europe shows, the war in Iraq has further radicalized some Muslims, convincing them that the U.S. and Britain are bent on war with Islam and that the only proper response is to fight back. Listen to Uzair, the Savior Sect leader in London: “Muslims are being killed all over the world through the foreign policy of the U.K. and U.S. Many feel they cannot sit around and do nothing about it. What is the difference between a suicide bomber and a B-52? I really feel that war has been declared on Islam.” Iraq, says a senior French security official, “has acted as a formidable booster” for extremist groups

And some quotes of Dutch and Belgian Muslims might be disturbing for some:

In Belgium, a radical Muslim named Karim Hassoun who is head of the Arab-European League, says flatly, “The more body bags of Americans we see coming back from Iraq, the happier we are.” What’s worrisome is how openly such rhetoric is received among ordinary Muslims, many of whom consider themselves moderates. In the Netherlands, where 1 of every 16 Dutch citizens is a Muslim, it’s trendy for kids to hang on their bedroom walls half-burned American flags with Stars of David placed on them, says Mohammed Ridouan Jabri, founder of the eight-month-old Muslim Democratic Party.

Might be true all these frustrations, but as I said, not only the jihadists have these frustrations also the non-jihadists. Radicalization is a (violent) form of activism that requires some form of organization. So the question must also be who is organizing whom and for what cause?

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