“In negotiating these binary divides, Somalis are not alone. Radicalization is a phenomenon that has affected all Muslim communities. Key triggers include marginalization, stigmatization, lack of integration and poor school performance, and the pervasiveness of internet radicalization, especially propaganda videos on Facebook and YouTube.”
In Somalia, al-Shabaab and other jihad groups are quite active. Are Somalis marginalized and stigmatized there also, in Somalia itself? Or might it not actually always be Western non-Muslims’ fault that Muslims turn to jihad? This Haaretz article is a particularly egregious example of how the establishment media always blames non-Muslims for violence by Muslims, and with apparently unconscious ethnocentrism and paternalism, assumes that if non-Muslims would change their behavior toward Muslims, drop the “Islamophobia” and shower them with cash, the jihad will end. This is, in fact, a basic premise of the foreign policies of most Western countries.
“Black, Muslim and Unwelcome: Is Europe Facing a Somali ‘Jihad Generation’ Crisis?,” by Ismail Einashe and Katrine Fangen, Haaretz, March 22, 2018:
Assailed by negative media stereotypes, racism, low academic achievement and social exclusion, the Somali community is one of Europe’s most vilified migrant groups. That vulnerability makes them a perfect target for Islamist terror recruiters
One Saturday evening in December 2015, Muhiddin Mire, 30, randomly slashed the throat of a stranger at Leytonstone tube station in East London, claiming it was “revenge” for Syria.
Days before, the British parliament had voted to join the air strikes against so-called Islamic State (IS) there. Shocked onlookers heard him shout: “This is for my Syrian brothers, I’m going to spill your blood.”
Mire was a Somali-born British citizen whose family had arrived as refugees to Britain in the 1990s. He was a former Uber driver, who had a known history of mental health problems.
A year later another young man of Somali origins, and Norwegian national, Zakaria Bulhan, 19, randomly attacked strangers in London’s Russell Square, killing an American tourist and injuring five others.
In August last year, Belgian soldiers shot dead a Belgian-Somali man, after he attempted to attack them with a knife shouting, “Allah Akhbar”.
All three terrorists share a Somali connection. Of course these incidents are rare, and represent a small fraction of the population of young European Somalis.
Nonetheless, in recent years there has been a spate of attacks involving young Europeans of Somali origin, putting this community, who constitute one of the largest refugee Muslim communities in Europe, firmly in the spotlight.
For the past few years we have been researching this generation of young Somalis in Europe, many of whom have disengaged from the varied indigenous Islam of their parents’ generation, and began a distinct journey to diaspora Somali Islam, connecting the young Somali in Helsinki, Oslo and London.
We have also investigated why a small number of them – a so-called “generation jihad” – have adopted a far less tolerant and more radical Salafi form of Islam, entirely alien to their parents’ generation, and culture, and sometimes, functioning as a stepping stone to violence….
Since 9/11, there has been a fraught conversation in Europe around issues of “shared values,” citizenship and belonging around people of a Muslim background. The “war on terror” led to a binary divide in Europe between good vs bad migrant, and moderate vs radical Muslim.
And second-generation Somalis found themselves to be on the wrong sides of these binaries – in particular, second-generation Somalis.
In negotiating these binary divides, Somalis are not alone. Radicalization is a phenomenon that has affected all Muslim communities.
Key triggers include marginalization, stigmatization, lack of integration and poor school performance, and the pervasiveness of internet radicalization, especially propaganda videos on Facebook and YouTube.
But what does set Somalis apart is that their native country is home to al-Shabaab, arguably Africa’s most potent terrorist group. For the last few years a number of young ethnic Somalis have embraced jihad; some have returned to Europe; a number have died in fighting for al-Shabaab in Somalia.
Another experience that also sets Somalis apart from other Muslims in Europe is that they are a refugee community whose members are visibly Muslim and black, and already amongst the most vilified migrant communities in Europe.
From Norway, UK, Finland to the Netherlands a negative collective perception precedes Somalis. Somalis are framed as a troublesome group at the intersection of European fears over immigration and security, and young second-generation Somalis are coming of age in this atmosphere of fear and suspicion against them.
Somali lives in Europe are often already framed through a problematizing lens. As researchers we have encountered questions from journalists, politicians and social services such as, “What is it about Somalis?”
European newspapers are peppered with negative collective stereotypes of Somalis. They are represented as “violent criminals,” “oppressed veil-clad women,” “benefit cheats” and “terrorists.”
It hasn’t helped that despite the relatively few incidents, jihadi extremists from the Somali community ‘win’ a high profile. The “Terror Twins“, two gifted young Somali girls born in Manchester whose brother joined ISIS in Syria and whom he secretly recruited to join, were the subject of intense media coverage and speculation.
To understand the specific triggers that have driven Europeans of Somali origin to terrorism, it’s worth examining some of the key features of their biographies. Here, we present two profiles, based on interviews we carried out.
Mohamed was 8 years old when he arrived as a refugee from Mogadishu to a housing project in north London. Enrolled at a public school, he was immediately the target of bullies, teased for his poor English, and got into fights. By the time he left for high school, he had toughened up and began to take on the bullies.
Soon enough he won “respect” by joining a gang. Tutored by older Somali youth he began to sell cannabis before moving on to harder drugs such as crack and cocaine. He began carrying a knife to defend himself – gang turf wars are not uncommon. One day in the autumn of 2013 he was attacked by rival gang and repeatedly stabbed.
When he came out of hospital he took his spot again, but began to change his tone and attitude. He became tired of the constant run-ins with police, guilty for causing his mother pain, and one day he met a friend, Ahmed, a Somali boy with a similar history who told him he had found a new path through Islam. Ahmed convinced Mohamed to attend a small Islamic prayer circle ran by a neighborhood imam. That imam was not connected to the local Somali-oriented mosque but was instead a Salafi preacher known to the UK security services.
Mohamed dropped his old life. He became an informal preacher on the streets of London. He stopped the occasional beer, cannabis joints and young women. He handed out leaflets chastising British and Western foreign policy in the Muslim world. He gradually became more restless and angry critical of his fellow Brits.
Mohammed’s new identity was a form of protection against British society where he didn’t feel accepted; he chose instead to assert his Islamic identity. He began to consider how he could help his fellow Muslims abroad. He wanted to study the Quran in Egypt, but he thought it preferable to go to Somalia or Syria, where he could freely practice his newfound hardline Islamic identity. But Mohamed has never left London; he is still here, working as an Islamic teacher.
Like Mohamed, Ibrahim, who is composite character based on several different interviews, also had challenges integrating. Ibrahim was born to Somali parents in the Netherlands who decided to move their family to Leicester in England at the age of 12. He struggled to fit in. He was Dutch and Somali, a confusing mix for local kids and he had to learn English.
During his teens he did not care much about his Muslim identity, but he became friends with other young Muslims and that piqued his interest. He started to attend a prayer group and became part of an online Islamist community. Soon enough he became involved with a radical group, and was monitored by the security services.
He traveled to Kenya, and then onto Somalia with several friends. His cover was his ambition to work as a humanitarian volunteer but his mission was to join al-Shabaab, which has close links with Al-Qaeda. Suddenly he disappeared; his parents made enquiries, and he eventually turned up in neighboring Kenya.
He failed to be recruited by al-Shabaab and returned to the UK, where he was questioned by the security services and released. He has now come to regret his journey and is making efforts to get a job.
Are Somalis more prone than other immigrant Muslim groups towards radicalization? In many cases jihadi recruiters are aware of Somali youth’s fragile sense of integration and tend to target this weak spot.
As recent arrivals to Europe, their stories are different to postcolonial Muslim migrants who arrived after 1945, or to Moroccans and Turks who came as Europe’s “guest workers” in the 1970s.
Another complication for Somalis is that they are black – and have faced racism within and outside the Muslim community. Most mosques tend to be run by Muslims of Indian sub-continent or Middle Eastern background, but when Somalis began to arrive in large numbers in the 1990s, they faced a double block to integration and communal life….