Farhad Khosrokhavar, former Director of Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris, is one of the most distinguished contemporary sociologists. His research focuses on contemporary Islam’s sociology, on Islam’s social and anthropological problems in France, and on philosophy and social sciences.
In Jihadism in Europe, Khosrokhavar uses two categories of data. On the one hand, academic research, and on the other, journalistic reports, biographies, and essays.
A major source for the analysis of jihadism in this book is his previous work on prisons and deprived districts in France.
Moreover, the author was able to choose 105 subjects from the public data available to him. Many of the people interviewed were not jihadists but were more or less sympathetic to them, and most jihadists came from their social milieu, largely from among young people in the poorer districts, of immigrant origin, and with multiple criminal offences to their name.
As far as the structure of the book is concerned, the abundance of key notions and perspectives becomes clear when reading the titles of the book’s chapters:
- The European Societies and Jihadism
- The Birth of the Islamic State and its Impact on European Youth
- Subcultures of Humiliation and Counter-Humiliation
- Jihadi Actors
- The Jihadis and the Family
- The European Nations and Their Jihadis
- The Jihadogenic Urban Structure
- European Jihadi Cells and the motivations behind them
Among the many concepts analyzed in this work, some deserve special attention for those who work in terrorism studies and preventing or countering violent extremism (PVE and CVE).
A particularly rich chapter is: “The Jihadis and the Family”. According to the author, there are four major types of jihadi families that are worth being aware of. They are:
- The Headless Patriarchal Family, where violence can be experienced as a substitute for authority;
- The neo-traditional Family
- The stepfamily and the crisis of authority; and
- The Jihadi Fratriarchy.
By “fratriarchy”, Khosrokhavar means primarily the brothers, but also the cousins or other young men within a family, who often gravitate to an elder brother as a substitute for the authority of the absent father. The structural fact of so many absent fathers in the banlieues is seen in itself as evidence of the subversive influence of Western societies on Muslim populations in Europe.
The father’s abdication removes a potential source of moderation—since the older generation of Muslims in the West is markedly less radical than its children—and leaves the leadership position within families to an older brother who is more likely to be swayed by the currents of his age, and in turn to push his younger relatives toward violent action. Even where older brothers are not themselves radicals, they lack the same moral authority as fathers, making it more difficult for them to prevent their relatives going down the extremist path.
Within a fractious young family, jihad can become the cement that holds them together. The book moves on to illustrate a number of such cases.
A further extremely interesting notion introduced here is the “jihadophile family”. This type of family is characterized by the fact that a large part of the household has joined (or even encouraged the others to join) the Islamic State (IS) or another jihadi organization.
In this case, the generational conflict is non-existent: the family, in particular the father and the mother—sometimes the uncles and aunts, too—have aligned themselves with their children, who usually took the initiative of moving to areas ruled by jihadists, or the family has put their resources at the disposal of their offspring in order to provide them with the means to achieve their goals. The difference with jihadi fratriarchy lies in the fact that in “jihadophile families,” the generation of parents adheres to the vision of the sons, which is not the case in jihadi fratriarchies.
Having to pick among an immense amount of insights, another crucial chapter deals with the “jihadogenic urban structure”, by which the author means those urban settings that have been the places with higher numbers of jihadi agents than other districts, a notion that reminds us of radicalization hubs. In many European countries, stigmatized, disadvantaged districts with a high proportion of ethnic migrants from the Muslim world are hotbeds for radicalization. Economic problems, unemployment, stigmatization, imprisonment, and radicalization—along with deep identity crises—are the hallmarks of this type of urban setting.
Once again, with his works Farhad Khosrokhavar proves to be able to provide readers with new perspectives on European jihadism and radicalization as a multi-faceted social phenomena. The main message of this excellent book, important for the field of terrorism studies and well-beyond, is that European jihadism is fundamentally grounded in its environment, in the contemporary imagination and worldview in Europe, which includes the social, cultural, and economic realities all around us.