Radicalization of British Muslim Youth

British Muslim youth are more susceptible to radicalization then their non-Muslim counterparts due to socioeconomic adversity

Approximate reading time: 3 minutes

By David. J. Embrey

Terrorism is one of the many threats to states that struggle to defend their citizens. Governments, security services, academia, and the media throughout Europe disregarded the threat of terrorist attacks—up until the attacks on 9/11. Al Qaeda could not have conducted those attacks without a significant contribution from dedicated militants. The Hamburg cell of al Qaeda militants illustrates the significant security issues that have developed in Europe. Since 2001, British efforts to counter extremist ideology includes a mix of engagement, counter- radicalization, and tactical counterterrorism efforts.

Recently, second-generation Muslim citizens committed terrorist attacks in the European Union, specifically the United Kingdom. This begs the question: are Britain’s Muslim youth more susceptible to recruitment and radicalization by violent extremist groups than other citizens? If so, what motivating factors “push” or “pull” this group of people to become radicalized and potentially commit acts of terror?

Various disciplines within the security enterprise understand the Islamic radicalization process differently. Counter-terrorism experts focus on the factors that motivate individuals towards radicalization. An analysis of identity as well as local grievances reveals societal factors that could be framing the worldview of young British Muslim youth, and leading them to social mobilization and possible future conflict. The full analysis can be found in my Research Report submitted to Air University entitled “British Muslim Youth: Identity, Structural Grievances, and the Radicalization Process.”

In summary: The basic human needs/grievance model of social mobilization and conflict best explains the dynamics of the radicalization and mobilization process within British Muslim youth. Discrimination, Islamophobia, loyalty to the Umma, immigration, and transnationalism are entangled with terrorism and the radicalization process. Almost one third of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world live as religious or cultural minorities in non-Muslim states. Nearly 1.8 million Muslims are an integral part of British society. Over 50% of them are British born and the majority of them are British citizens. Within this population, 33% of Muslims are under 16 while only 20.2% of the general British population is in the same age group. Western states, including Britain, are making progress in accepting Muslims as equal citizens. However, racial discrimination and Islamophobia remain major concerns for Muslims in Western nations.

As minorities in a pluralistic and multicultural society like the UK, young British Muslims consistently face racism, discrimination, marginalization, and socio-economic and social-identity challenges; those cognitive and situational factors, researchers argue, lead to radicalization. Local grievances such as low employment rates, lower income, bad housing conditions, and reduced access to education act as potential social mobilizing factors. The propaganda of transnational and local Islamic groups like al Qaeda and Hizb ut-Tahrir operating in the UK use these grievances as recruitment tools. Today, most Muslim immigrants remain pessimistic about their economic futures as a result of failed multicultural and segregationist policies of the British government.

Moving forward, targeted governmental policies should be developed at the national and local levels to tackle Islamophobia, disadvantage, poverty, and deprivation among Muslims and other minority communities in Britain. To counter the extremist messaging, Britain and its Counter-Terrorism Strategy program must continue to support existing groups like Quilliam to expose and counter the false messaging put forth by local and transnational Islamist groups. To assist groups like Quilliam, British leaders must identify, connect, and empower local Muslim leaders to compete with the message of radical extremist groups. To meet this objective, British government must engage in a broad way with the Muslim community to shape a future that reflects the country’s diversity.

David. J. Embrey is an Air Force security forces officer. He is currently a student at the Air Command and Staff College and holds a Master of Science in National Security Studies from American Military University. David has served at the Squadron, Wing, and Numbered AF levels and deployed multiple times to the CENTCOM AOR, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The views expressed in this academic research paper are those of the author and do not Reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense.

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