The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

Tough on the causes of terrorism?

Posted by rantingkraut on August 10, 2006

On Monday (7 August 2006) the BBC gave quite a high profile to a speech by Tarique Ghaffur at the National Black Police Association’s conference in Manchester. In it, Ghaffur called for an investigation into racial profiling. This is a question which may well deserve some attention.

More inappropriate where his remarks on what he seemed to think were the causes of terrorism and Islamist radicalism. In a passage highlighted on BBC online, we are told that Islamists are victims[1]:

Young people have developed a strong sense of connection with Islam. The cumulative effect of Islamophobia, both internationally and nationally, linked to social exclusion, has created a generation of angry young people who are vulnerable to exploitation.
(Source)

Islamophobia – fear of Islam- is not altogether incomprehensible given that terrorism against civilians has been almost monopolized by activists from this religion. It is not clear though, why anger at this should motivate adherence to radical Islam. If you dislike the fact that others fear you by association, why join a community which defines itself through the threats it issues to mainstream society?

It is even less clear why social exclusion should produce such a reaction. Conservative Muslim communities appear to make every conceivable effort to dissociate themselves from mainstream society. What other ethnic group is there, that has made comparable efforts at setting themselves apart from the rest of society as ostentatiously and as publicly?

Those who distance themselves in this way are exercising a legitimate lifestyle choice. However, by choosing to live in a parallel and largely distinct society they implicitly opt out of the informal networks which form part of the largely secular modern society which surrounds them. The decision not to integrate and instead to become part of a parallel society comes at a cost. That cost is exclusion from the mainstream which those who made that choice eschew in the first place. If social exclusion is disliked, the answer should lie in integration and assimilation, not further withdrawal into a closed hostile community.

If Islamist radicalisation is an irrational response, it may still be that the respondents are vulnerable to exploitation. In the context of Islamist radicalism that concept is hardly appropriate though: exploitation as a social phenomenon is a Marxist concept. It occurs when workers do not obtain the full value of their labour because part of it is appropriated by the owner of the means of production. For this to apply to the current situation, young Muslim radicals would have to create something of value which is subsequently appropriated by their Islamist leaders. This could happen of course and Ghaffur’s comments could simply be a roundabout way of saying that angry young Muslims tend to get employed by ‘extremist organisations’ which also make a profit.

A more plausible explanation may be that Ghaffur has simply not considered the definitions of the key concepts in his argument very carefully. He may be using Islamophobic for any form of dislike or scepticism vis a vis Islam; he may be using exploitation as a general reference for using someone for a purpose that is of no benefit to him. This interpretation would point to a rather casual neo-socialist view of events: Islamist radicals are seen as victims of social problems which somehow force them to submit to radical Islamist leaders. None of this would change what was said above about the fundamentally irrational nature of this reaction: if you dislike being disliked because of your religion, taking a more threatening attitude is hardly going to endear you to anyone.

It would be difficult to test Ghaffur’s hypothesis empirically but it is possible to highlight some of its implications. The claim that Islamist radicalisation is an inevitable reaction to Islamophobia and social exclusion immediately implies that those prone to showing such a reaction are incapable of making or unwilling to make rational political decisions. To the extent that these irrational reactions occur in Muslim communities but not among other minorities facing similar problems it would imply that Muslims tend to be uniquely incapable of taking part in the kind of rational debate that should drive a modern democracy.

The tendency towards theocratic radicalisation would also call into doubt Muslim’s ability to ever integrate into a society which is not dominated by them. This could of course provide a rationale for Islamist radicalisation if it is expected that society will eventually be dominated by Islam and that nothing else is worth aiming for. This leaves us with two possible conclusions from Ghaffur’s analysis: Islamist radicals are either irrational or aiming for a takeover of society. Integration into the existing mainstream of society would appear impossible in either case.

It is not a foregone conclusion though that Ghaffur is correct. He may not even be trying. It could be that he is simply delivering his piece of superficial socio-deterministic discourse which will play its part in justifying yet more government intervention in the interest of identity politics. In that case he may simply be unaware of where his argument would lead, once it is taken literally and carried to its logical conclusion.

[1] The quoted passage is by and large representative of the overall tone of the speech (available here). The first part of the speech (pp. 1-4) reviews the history of racial conflict and associated police reform in the UK. Thereafter, Ghaffur elaborates on the Muslim communities’ collective situation as a cause for radical Islamism and emphasises the danger of ‘Islamophobia’ and racial profiling in the wake of terrorist attacks (pp.5-7). In the last part of his speech, he extensively praises himself and the NBPA before demanding race based admission quotas for the police force (pp.7-11). By and large, his speech relies on a rehearsal of standard neo-socialist orthodoxy, with a rather careless use of terminology throughout.

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