Jason Burke writes: Lahouaiej-Bouhlel certainly matches the classic profile of French violent Islamic extremist in many ways – though he is a relatively recent arrival rather than born in the country of immigrant parents, as is more usually the case. He was a young, male petty criminal. He was also not devout, all witnesses so far agree. He did not fast during Ramadan, ate pork, drank, and was never seen at any local mosque.
This lack of piety among militants may seem confusing. It is, however, the rule rather than the exception. It was true of the dozen or so French and Belgian young men involved in bombings and shootings earlier this year, and of Mohammed Merah, who committed the first major attack in France in 2012. Other examples beyond France include that of Omar Mateen, who killed 49 in a Florida nightclub last month.
This apparent paradox has prompted a keen debate among experts. The argument has major policy implications. In France, it has been bitter. Olivier Roy, a well-known French scholar currently at the University of Europe in Florence, suggests those drawn into violent activism are already “in nihilist, generational revolt”. This is why so many are criminals, or marginal. Extremist Islam gives them a cause and frames anger and alienation in the way extremist leftwing ideologies did for some in the 1960s and 1970s. The new militants are thus not victims of “brainwashing” by cynical and fanatical recruiters. This is the Islamisation of radicalism, Roy says, not the radicalisation of Islam.
Many disagree. Some say Roy naively ignores the impact of intolerant and reactionary doctrines on Muslim communities in the west. Others suggest he underestimates the historical impact of western colonialism as well as that of more recent western policies in the Middle East. [Continue reading…]