“The risk of a new wave of attacks in Europe is significant” | International

In France alone, until 2022, some 150 jihadists who have already served their sentences will be released from prison, although their potential danger remains enormous. They are part of what the Islamic specialist Hakim El Karoui and the historian Benjamin Hodayé call the “Syrian generation” in the book just published in France. The militants of the jihad. Portrait of a generation. In it they analyze the profiles of 1,460 jihadists from France, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Germany, of the European countries most affected by this phenomenon (Spain was the next on their list). They are men, but also women who, between 2010 and 2019, became radicalized to such an extent that they wanted – not all of them succeeded – to join the Islamic State or carry out attacks in their countries of origin. They investigate the roots of this extremist drift in some young people born almost all in one Europe – jihadism is a “national problem”, European, they underline in an interview in Paris – whose values ​​they reject to such an extent that they wanted to end them.

The question is fundamental because, although Europe is now in a “latent or crossroads” phase towards a new form of extremist threat, yet to be fully defined, “the threat has not disappeared”, as demonstrated by the attacks at the end of the 2020 in France. “There is a very significant risk of a new wave” of terrorism, El Karoui warns in an interview in Paris together with Hodayé with media journalists who are part of the LENA group. Knowing what caused the previous waves can help slow down or even prevent new surges. Although it is very difficult.

The Karoui and Hodayé trace who are those jihadists marked by the emergence of the Islamic State and its promise of a caliphate, of a different “state and society project” that was a key element and of its “great capacity to attract both men and women. women ”, this also unusual. What has surprised them the most, they say, is the “incredible homogeneity” of the “Syrian generation”, despite their different nationalities.

“The jihadist phenomenon in Europe is part of a context of precariousness, territorial separation, discrimination and existential anguish of a generation in search of references,” they explain. But it would be a mistake to fall into determinism. “There is such homogeneity that we could say that Muslim youth from suburban poor neighborhoods, of a certain age and of a certain socioeconomic level, are all potentially jihadists. But if we reverse determinism, we see that extremely few become jihadists, ”less than 0.5% of the estimated six million Muslims living in France.

The figure is still worrying enough for more prevention efforts to be made. In this debate, social issues are often raised, such as the lack of inclusion programs in peripheral neighborhoods where immigrants historically congregate – “too much migratory concentration blocks integration, and we know it,” they recall – and advocates for more legislation, as does the French president, Emmanuel Macron, with his bill against “Islamist separatism” currently under debate in the National Assembly. But for El Karoui and Hodayé, more attention should be paid to another key element that they believe is often underestimated: “The importance of the religious phenomenon and the importance of Salafism” for the jihadists.

“One of the main mistakes has been not to consider that jihadism is a problem of religion,” underlines El Karoui, who bets on the term “Salafo-jihadism” and who considers it essential that Muslims get involved in the fight against these drifts of those who are, remember, the first victims.

“The fact that half of the jihadists have gone through Salafism and that those who have not have often been recruited by those who did go through Salafism shows the not only religious but also ideological dimension. We are talking about a global project, but based on a certain reading of Islam and the confrontation in general with the West and in particular with the societies in which these young people live ”, El Karoui points out. For this reason, he insists, “you have to use the religious argument, because the indoctrination arguments are religious, so you have to oppose other religious ones as well.”

The French Government is currently promoting a “charter of democratic principles” that imams who want to preach in the country must accept in the future. An interesting and positive idea for the majority of European Muslims, but one that “will not have any impact on young people tempted by radicalization,” El Karoui warns. “Republican Islam is not attractive to them, because it does not respond to the same demands, to the same questions. It does not have any dimension of identity claim with the intention of rupture or confrontation. So that is not Islam that is going to be attractive to them. ” What might interest them, he continues, is to make them see that there is “another reading” of the same religious texts that they have interpreted in an extremist way. “It is a true ideological fight that must be carried out where these young people go, where they learn about Islam. And it is not in the mosque, it is above all in social networks and in close socialization, with friends ”, he adds.