Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Religion, Culture and Radicalization

Zaineb Somra
There is a big difference between radicalization paired with violence and radicalization in general. Being a radical does not necessarily mean that you will have to bear any legal consequences. In a democratic society or country an individual is allowed to live as he wants, but of course within the boundaries of law. Every citizen belonging to a democratic society, has a right of freedom of expression. If a person is of the opinion, that only those Muslims who pray five times a day, are ‘true Muslims, then there is nothing wrong with such a statement or such a belief. As long as such radical thoughts and opinions do not lead to violence. For millions of people around the world, religion plays an important part in their daily lives, but due to such over zealous involvement such persons might sometimes forget the rational line between the moral and immoral, and that is what essentially leads to violence and radicalization. This is exactly what is happening in current day Europe, as well as many other countries, where people are using violence in the name of their religion as an unfortunate outcome.

Several academics, such as Frey (2004) and Gupta (2008) (Volintiru, 2010), have researched on the acts and beliefs of terrorists from a rational perspective. They state that the actions of terrorists are based on the well-being and economic status of their families. But other researchers have come to different conclusions, namely that the process of radicalization, is caused by a combination of several factors. Bakker and Veldhuizen (Veldhuizen ; Bakker, 2007) have divided the most common factors for radicalization, into three different categories. These three categories are, individual, social and external factors. Individual factors are related to psychological health and personal experiences, which play a significant role in the radicalization process. Some people experience a situation where they, including those that they love are being mistreated, marginalized or discriminated against by a dominant group within society, and thus perceive such a group to be their enemies. For example, for many radicalized individuals, the western world is seen as their enemy. As a consequence they believe that by becoming a member of a powerful group that is fighting against such an enemy, one is able to speak out and take revenge. The psychological health of that particular person determines how far he is willing to go, to seek revenge.  Another factor that contributes to the process of radicalization, is social surroundings, where some individuals prioritize their entire life in such a way so as to obtain a particular identity. They are, in other words, willing to accept any consequences, as long as they obtain their end goal and thus see joining the Jihad as one of the ways to achieve these goals. The last category of common factors is, external factors namely, politics, economics and culture. These factors can also play a role and increase the chances of radicalization, especially for vulnerable persons who might be economically, politically or culturally disadvantaged in each of their particular societies.

Picture Courtesy of Finn Church Aid
As was reiterated earlier, there are many existing factors at play, that influences the process of radicalization in general. This happens to be the case with regard to the Muslim community in the Netherlands as well. Many young Muslims in the Netherlands are unemployed and feel discriminated against. In addition, they grow up in a hybrid world of two separate cultures, namely the Dutch culture, which is the dominant and the most accepted culture, in opposition to their minority culture, which is the practiced culture at home and which has been taught and inculcated by their parents. This makes many young Muslims uncertain and confused about their identity in Dutch society, especially because they owe allegiance to two separate cultures both of which have entirely different norms and values and thereby making allegiance to one or the other a very difficult decision. Next to this, many young Muslims feel that they are second-class citizens in Dutch society. Amongst the Muslim population in The Netherlands, it is also striking to note that generally speaking the poverty level is high, whilst the educational level low, which is quite visible through deficiencies prevalent in the spoken language of Dutch. All these problems coupled together leads to frustration and disappointment within Muslim communities in The Netherlands, thereby increasing the chances of radicalization.

Radical groups, give an opportunity to disappointed and disengaged young Muslim- Dutch men, to obtain recognition and a desired identity. Furthermore, exacerbating the problem is that in certain cases, young men learning about the Muslim faith, are not properly educated by good Islamic scholars, which inevitably leads to incomplete and fragmented knowledge about Islam. The opportunity to deepen knowledge and awareness about the true Islamic faith is often scarce or lacking. Radical groups therefore take advantage and influence such individuals easily. They promise paradise in the after life, and such a martyr identity is well respected in radical surroundings.

In sum, it will certainly not be easy to solve the problem of radicalization, simply because of the numerous factors that influence this problem. It is important however, that Dutch society while professing tolerance, genuinely become more accepting of its own citizens who happen to practice the Muslim faith by assisting minorities like its Muslim youth with the problem of their divided identities and uncertain futures. It’s imperative that an atmosphere develops, where Muslim youth receive a fair chance in both social and professional spaces to improve their shortcomings, and hence become more accepted as part of Dutch society. This will help erase doubts and give more clarity on their role and identity in Dutch society and is bound to speed up the integration process, which in turn will decrease the chances of radicalization.  Currently, young Muslims are of the opinion that many people within The Netherlands, despise their religion and culture. This train of thought can only be stopped, if everyone feels at home and accepted in The Netherlands, regardless of his or her religion or background.

Guest Post by Zaineb Somra (Zaineb is a Dutch Scholar at the Hague University of Applied Sciences where she studies Public Management as well as a Member of the Receptor Team. She has also written a related piece in Dutch for the NRC Newspaper on Integration and Freedom of Speech in The Netherlands.  To access the piece follow the link below)

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