When, in the early 2000s, American journalist George Packer visited a remote village in the West African country of Ivory Coast, he found something unexpected. Boys as young as 12 carrying AK47 guns were wearing T-shirts with side-by-side photos of George W Bush and Osama Bin Laden; the two protagonists of the war on terror. The young members of the Ivorian insurgency, Packer says, were attracted to power. Some talked about working as jihadists for Bin Laden while others dreamed of working in the US Navy. One of the perverse effects of global media and the internet is that it has profoundly affected the way in which many see themselves and the world around them. Far from reflecting the reality, the internet has provided a skewed image of the world dominated by hero-worship and celebrity culture. In an article for Newsweek, Kurt Eichenwald writes about the rise of European "hipster pop-jihadists" who follow the American rap and hip-hop culture, and have no connection to the old-style Islamist networks. Eichenwald writes that, according to intelligence officials, it is peer pressure and what he calls Rambo-envy that lures these youths into radical Islam. "Here is what needs to be understood about the murderous practitioners of jihadi cool. Based on interviews with European Muslims returning from fighting in Syria, foreign intelligence agencies estimate that about 20 per cent of them were diagnosed with mental illnesses before they left for the Middle East. A large percentage of them have prior records for both petty and serious crimes. And the vast majority of them come out of urban neighbourhoods torn apart by economic hardship." Many European countries' deradicalisation programmes involve Islamic re-education of Muslim youths who know nothing about Islam to begin with. Such misguided efforts fail to recognise that the rise of jihadism among disfranchised European Muslims is more to do with their lived experiences than close adherence to any ideology.
The internet has provided a skewed image of the world dominated by hero-worship and celebrity culture.High unemployment, poor housing, discrimination, prejudice and lack of hope contribute greatly to radicalisation of European Muslims. A 2001 study by Professor Louise Archer showed that religious identity acts as a unifying force, helping young Muslims to reject cultural loss and develop resilience to the stressors of prejudice, discrimination and multiculturalism. To combat the rise of extremism among its Muslim citizens, it is far better for Europe to adopt a strength-based approach rather than a risk-based strategy. The risk-based strategy of increased reporting and surveillance of Muslims has, so far, proved ineffective. A strength-based approach will seek to promote the role of communities and create cultural, social, and religious anchors where young Muslims can build their resilience and feel empowered. There is no doubt that Islamic extremism poses a grave danger to the world but the cause of the problem and the solution to it appear to be less dramatic than many politicians and media commentators would like us to believe. We attribute powers to Isis that they simply do not have and insist on extreme military and surveillance solutions that never work. Eichenwald writes, "the West is facing a threat from its own residents who want to be Rambo; it should resist the temptation to do the same". Debate on this article is now closed.