Who are the new jihadis? | Olivier Roy | The long read | News | The Guardian


We must understand that terrorism does not arise from the radicalisation of Islam, but from the Islamisation of radicalism.

Khaled Kelkal, France’s first homegrown terrorist, and the Kouachi brothers (Charlie Hebdo, Paris, 2015) share a number of common features: second generation; fairly well integrated at first; period of petty crime; radicalisation in prison; attack and death – weapons in hand – in a standoff with the police.

Another characteristic that all western countries have in common is that radicals are almost all “born-again” Muslims who, after living a highly secular life – frequenting clubs, drinking alcohol, involvement in petty crime – suddenly renew their religious observance, either individually or in the context of a small group. The Abdeslam brothers ran a Brussels bar and went out to nightclubs in the months preceding the Bataclan shooting. Most move into action in the months following their religious “reconversion” or “conversion”, but have usually already exhibited signs of radicalisation.

Most of the new radicals are deeply immersed in youth culture: they go to nightclubs, pick up girls, smoke and drink. Nearly 50% of the jihadis in France, according to my database, have a history of petty crime – mainly drug dealing, but also acts of violence and, less frequently, armed robbery. A similar figure is found in Germany and the United States – including a surprising number of arrests for drunk driving.

Combat sport clubs are more important than mosques in jihadi social life.

Their relationship to the local mosque was ambivalent: either they attended episodically, or they were expelled for having shown disrespect for the local imam. None of them belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, none of them had worked with a Muslim charity, none of them had taken part in proselytising activities, none of them were members of a Palestinian solidarity movement, and lastly, none of them, to my knowledge, took part in the rioting in French suburbs in 2005. They were not first radicalised by a religious movement before turning to terrorism.

No matter what database is taken as a reference, the paucity of religious knowledge among jihadis is glaring. According to leaked Isis records containing details for more than 4,000 foreign recruits, while most of the fighters are well-educated, 70% state that they have only basic knowledge of Islam.

the Islam of the jihadis who claim allegiance to Isis, which first of all revolves around a vision of heroism and modern-day violence.

The Muslim community such terrorists are eager to avenge is almost never specified. It is a non-historical and non-spatial reality. When they rail against western policy in the Middle East, jihadis use the term “crusaders”; they do not refer to the French colonisation of Algeria. Radicals never refer explicitly to the colonial period. They reject or disregard all political and religious movements that have come before them. They do not align themselves with the struggles of their fathers; almost none of them go back to their parents’ countries of origin to wage jihad.

Those who say that they went to Syria because they wanted “to live in a true Islamic society” are typically returnees who deny having participated in violence while there – as if wanting to wage jihad and wanting to live according to Islamic law were incompatible. And they are, in a way, because living in an Islamic society does not interest jihadis: they do not go to the Middle East to live, but to die. That is the paradox: these young radicals are not utopians, they are nihilists.

There is a temptation to see in Islam a radical ideology that mobilises throngs of people in the Muslim world, just as Nazism was able to mobilise large sections of the German population. But the reality is that Isis’s pretension to establish a global caliphate is a delusion – that is why it draws in violent youngsters who have delusions of grandeur.