Fouad Alasiri, urban planner
Islamic radicalization is an extremely pressing issue in Europe today and is the root cause of most terrorism-related incidents on the continent. Terrorist attacks are primarily carried out in cities, and researchers are studying the effects of Islamic radicalism on the urban and social fabrics of these cities and whether there is a link between migration and terrorism.
In 2019, approximately 119 terrorist attacks were carried out across Europe — 64 of which occured in the UK, 29 in Italy and 26 in France, Greece, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. According to a report issued in 2018 by GLOBSEC Policy Institute, a think tank which studies defense and security issues, around 87% of jihadis were male and 13% were female. The majority were young with an average age of 30.3 years old, 40% were unemployed and only 9% completed their high school education.
The report also revealed that 26% of the polled jihadis were introduced to the ideology through family or friends, 14% through online portals, 23% by personal conviction, 10% in prisons and 8% through radical recruiters. However, the most interesting statistic in the report was that 50% of polled jihadis had spent at least half of their lives in Europe — 72% were EU citizens and 8% were dual nationals. In fact, around 21.8 million European citizens held a second, non-EU nationality.
It is important to note that extremism is something that cannot be numerically measured, while the occurrence of terrorist attacks can, which is why researchers focus on these parameters. While causation between immigration and terrorist attacks cannot be proved, researchers have found a clear correlation.
The report found that 46% of Muslim immigrants who came to Europe did so between 2010 to 2016. These immigrants came from Arab countries, as well as Iran, Somalia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria. These people were largely judged by their religion (Muslim) rather than their ethnicity or nationality. American social scientist Dr. Akbar Ahmed confirmed this when he said: “After 9/11, the common factor that defined Muslims in the US and Europe was that they were seen simply as Muslim — that is, defined by religion and no longer by their nation of origin, ethnicity, sect, class or profession.”
Segregation: Choice or Effect?
This change in personal identification may have produced a deep, unspoken segregation between European Muslims and non-Muslims. It is unclear whether segregation happened because of Muslim radicalization or if Muslims radicalized as a result of this segregation — a classic case of which came first, the chicken or the egg. However, it is very possible that European Muslims, who felt purely defined by their faith, could have retreated into their separate communities and made less of an effort to assimilate into a society that they believe had shunned them and their religion.
Statistics show that a large percentage of foreigners from the Middle East, North Africa and South and East Asia have failed to integrate into European society, even after decades of living in Europe. A report published in 2015 by Eurostat revealed that only 65% of Londoners agree that non-European immigrants have successfully integrated, 52% of Barcelona residents, 46% of Rome residents and 52% of Parisians. The data shows that population homogeneity in European cities and metropolitan areas could be drastically improved.
It is important to note that immigration statistics vary from one city to another. For example, between 2009 and 2014, Rome had the highest net immigration population among European cities (around 70,000 per year). Milano came in second with around 42,800 per year, and Berlin came in third with around 38,000 per year. (Net immigration is the difference between the number of immigrants arriving and leaving.)
Second Generation Resentment
Non-integrated immigrants often live in isolation in host societies, with limited access to proper education, jobs and other opportunities. While the first generation may not have an issue with this because they consider it a step up from the standard of living in their home countries, the second generation often grows up with resentment towards the host country because they do not feel welcomed by society.
This explains why so many European citizens join terrorist groups like ISIS or Al-Qaeda. According to a report issued in 2016 by the International Center for Counterterrorism in the Hague, around 4,294 EU citizens (mostly second generation) joined ISIS and 30% have returned to their home countries in Europe.
Radical right wing parties in Europe have fought against any kind of immigration, which they believe poses a “danger” to native Europeans. As a result, immigration has become an important issue in any election. These groups adhere to an ethnocentric ideology, which is naturally opposed to multiculturalism — an ideology supported by Green, leftist, Social Democrat, Post-Communist and liberal parties.
Despite ethnocentric tendencies, there is support for immigration, particularly from capitalists who seek to make profits by paying lower wages to foreigners who are more willing to take on menial jobs. There is also a strong moral commitment from European society, particularly humanitarian organizations, to help immigrants.
Policy Effects on Urban Fabric
EU immigration policies have changed over time depending on which political party is in power. In turn, these policies have trickled down to city councils and urban legislation. For example, urban legislators have come under pressure to increase subsidization of housing projects for immigrants who cannot afford to live in more integrated neighborhoods.
This has created spatial segregation in the urban fabric of society, creating social problems. As a result, there is a stark juxtaposition between high and low-income neighborhoods. The weak social fabric of such low income neighborhoods provides a fertile environment for radical Islamist groups to flourish. This segregation creates an “us versus them” mentality and increases tension in urban neighborhoods and public realms.
It also creates an additional burden to amend legislation which aims to reduce religious visibility, which comes at a financial cost to local authorities. Apart from segregation, low-income neighborhoods have less access to public services such as education and healthcare.
In Greece, it has been suggested to house immigrants in abandoned small factories, but this will create slum-like environments and permanent camps with large concentrations of low-income dwellers. Naturally, this weakens their chances of ever integrating into the host society. As a result, many have advocated for better urban policies that meet the needs of immigrants, hoping that this would increase their chances of integration.
Some cities with decreasing populations have actually tried to attract immigrants, while others have done the opposite. Cities that have welcomed immigrants have been able to revive some dead commercial streets because they can operate businesses such as grocery stores at a low operating cost. It is important that cities reevaluate their legislation towards immigrants to help achieve urban equality and better integration into society.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.