Seeds of discontent

Seeds of discontent


Written by: Tahir Abbas

One year after the 7/7 terrorist attacks, Tahir Abbas looks at how the marginalisation of Muslims continues to contribute to their radicalisation.

One year has now passed since the tragic events of 7 July 2005 in London. For the first time in European history, ‘home-grown’ suicide bombers were implicated in a number of terrorist attacks on a truly global city. Since then, a range of government and community-led initiatives have emerged but fundamental questions remain. What were the precise factors at play in relation to the event? What does our present thinking tell us about the phenomenon of radicalism? What does one do to prevent terrorism of an Islamic political radical nature happening again?

Without doubt, there are a range of global political and theological factors contributing to the process of radicalisation, but the ways in which radicalism derives from marginalisation will be looked at here. In many parts of Western Europe, Muslim experiences are remarkably similar. There are critical issues of economic, social and political marginalisation, alienation and disfranchisement. Young Muslims live in local economic contexts that necessarily place them at a disadvantage. The seeds of discontent are sown in the everyday realities Muslims face, whether it is the neighbourhood, school, hospital, place of work or in local civic spaces. Muslims who live in the inner cities are severely deprived. As governments move more and more to the Right, they emphasise notions of national belonging and loyalty to a national cultural identity. This is irrespective of the fact that national identity is in a constant state of flux. Certainly, rumblings about Europe as a club of Christian nation-states does not bode well for Europe’s twenty million Muslims or for Turkey as it prepares for entry to the European Union.


Across Europe, there is a genuine problem of persistent and rampant Islamophobia. The negative portrayal of Muslims in the media and political discourses paints all forms of Islam and all Muslims as homogenous, regressive and closed. Provincial and national papers are replete with negative local stories written and presented in an alarmist, sensationalist and reactionary tone. The continuing ‘war on terror’ has placed Muslims in ever more precarious positions.

The June 2006 raid in Forest Gate is an important case in point. A young Bengali Muslim was shot through the shoulder, fortunately not fatally. He was half-naked at the time, getting out of his bed and of the view that he was being burgled at 3am. The Muslim community regards the state as legitimising the severe behaviour of the security services, irrespective of the fact that, of the many hundreds of young Muslims picked up in high-profile raids, only a handful have been convicted.


The idea that British multiculturalism has given too much cultural freedom to Muslims has been circulating since the urban disturbances in the northern former mill towns in 2001. The focus on ‘arranged marriages’, ‘cultural relativism’ and ‘self-segregation’ leads to a blaming of the victim. After 7/7, this blame has been linked to questions of extremism. What such attacks on multiculturalism fail to appreciate is that diverse countries, such as France which has an assimilationist notion of integration and Holland which works towards the complete opposite, have suffered attacks by radical Islamists. The problem is less about integration policy in each national context and more about how disaffected Muslims determine their relations with the rest of the world.

The British model of multiculturalism is probably the most advanced in Europe. Nonetheless, in the inner cites, where most Muslims are still concentrated, there tends to be neglect on the part of the state and the establishment, until something tragic happens. And even then, Muslim minorities and other ethnic groups in the inner cities are effectively competing with each other for limited financial handouts.


In a hostile local, national and international climate, susceptible young Muslim men are easily targeted by radical Islamists, directly or indirectly. The violent radical Islamist ideology appeals because of its political and theological context, however improperly legitimised. It is fuelled by Britain’s foreign policy as well as by Islamophobia at home. As the state continues to strengthen anti-terrorist legislation while fighting Muslim ‘insurgents’ abroad, many more young Muslim men are being radicalised. Unless there are greater efforts to tackle the underlying structural issues, the potential threat of violent Islamic political radicalism will be perpetuated into the future.

Dr Tahir Abbas is senior lecturer in sociology and Director of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Culture, University of Birmingham.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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