In a speech he gave on Monday, Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, outlined his government’s five-year strategy for tackling extremism. He noted:
For all our successes as [a] multi-racial, multi-faith democracy, we have to confront a tragic truth that there are people born and raised in this country who don’t really identify with Britain – and who feel little or no attachment to other people here. Indeed, there is a danger in some of our communities that you can go your whole life and have little to do with people from other faiths and backgrounds.
So when groups like ISIL seek to rally our young people to their poisonous cause, it can offer them a sense of belonging that they can lack here at home, leaving them more susceptible to radicalisation and even violence against other British people to whom they feel no real allegiance.
In Britain or any other democracy where there are citizens who lack a sense of belonging, to view this as a condition conducive to the growth of extremism is to underestimate the significance of the problem.
This isn’t just a security problem — it is a failure of democracy.
Where there is a commonly held sense that everyone’s life matters and that equality trumps privilege, there is little risk that individuals will lack the feeling of belonging.
But those who feel they don’t belong, commonly experience a state which fails to represent their interests and a society in which they are treated like outsiders. They often live in neighborhoods where agents of the state (police and other security services) are experienced as intrusive forces which thus commonly meet resistance.
By Cameron’s reckoning, the handful of individuals who end up joining ISIS, never became sufficiently anchored in British culture, but as Tam Hussein describes it in a fascinating essay from which I quote below, these are young people who are culturally adrift in a different way — products just as much of Western mass culture as they are of an extremist ideology.
At Syria Comment, Hussein tells the story of Fatlum Shalaku who came from a Kosovo Albanian family, grew up in London and earlier this year, two weeks after cancelling a holiday in Spain, went instead to Iraq where he died as a suicide bomber during ISIS’s assault on Ramadi.
Hussein grew up in the same part of London — Ladbroke Grove — where Shalaku, “Jihadi John,” and several other ISIS recruits came from. He says:
It is clear that neither foreign policy nor ideology are solely responsible for motivating European youth to go on Jihad. My essay argues that the reason many of these men went to Syria and join specifically ISIS is due to the subtle interplay between religion, foreign policy and gang culture and modernism.
A term that crops up repeatedly in this detailed report is roadman, for which the Urban Dictionary offers this definition:
British word for a young male (14-21). Typically wears a 5-Panel cap and doesn’t give a fuck. Always out with his mates who are normally roadmen as well. Academic knowledge is usually low but street credibility and knowledge is above average.
These young men, in typical post-modern style comfortably mixed iconic images of Jihadica with Call of Duty. Sitting in an Italian cafe, Ali, a student who grew up in and around Ladbroke Grove told me even more bluntly what he thought the problem was; “There’s more to it, you have a high percentage of Roadmans who don’t know anything about the faith and they discover Anwar Awlaki on Youtube and it’s a disaster. On top of that everything they watch from Lord of the Rings to 300, to Saving Private Ryan to Black Hawk Down everything about the Western culture celebrates heroism and self sacrifice. Some of their fathers also fought in Afghanistan, they have a fighting mentality because of the streets and once you put religion into it; which says helping the weak and oppressed is good, you got a Jihadi Roadman. It’s so predictable. Notice that most of these Roadmans joined ISIS; the rest with any sense of the faith didn’t.”
Fatlum’s friend Mohammed Nasser was a case in point; going through his twitter feed you notice that Grand Theft Auto Five is mentioned in the same breath as martyrdom, even though GTA is probably the most antithetical to the Islamic moral ethic. On his twitter feed. He flitted from talking about his friends, to messaging Pro-ISIS disseminators like Shamiwitness and talking to the brother of Iftekhar Jaman, the Portsmouth ISIS Jihadi. The connections they were making, the culture they were creating was one particular to their generation. They had their own terminology, they wore their Salafi-Jihadism on their robes, blended it with rebellious Roadmannism, garnished it with a bit of Anwar Awlaki, Quran, Sunnah and a bit of thug life. They could yearn desperately for forgiveness and paradise, and in their youthful ardour want a sense of belonging and adventure. West-side hyperbole turned into “the land of the Muslims have to be defended.” The new generation Jihadi Roadmans short circuited the Salafi-jihadi tradition for just Team Muslim-no matter what; the response was not un-similar to the American patriot who cried Team America: no matter what. These men no doubt sincere in intention had become a law unto themselves and could wreak havoc and go against well established Islamic principles. These men joined ISIS. [All the links in this passage have been added by me for the benefit of readers. PW]
Read Tam Hussein’s complete essay here.