The West is home to many young Muslims balancing between traditional Islamic culture and the secularized multicultural societies they live in. They are effectively “hybrids”, shaped by two often contrasting forces which structure their identity.
The balancing act can be difficult for some of these young people. They are often not understood by school teachers, by older adults with Western roots in wider society, by local imams, and even by their “old-fashioned” families. They feel they can only face these very personal and common problems by talking with their friends or classmates or with peers who experience the same sensations, the same vulnerabilities, and the same identity and cultural problems.
In particular, some second and third generation Muslims are not taught the modus operandi to “belong” to the society in which they were born and grew up. Consequently, it is difficult for them to feel British, Italian, Spanish, Belgian or, more generally, Western in a way that would not clash with their cultural heritage.
Moreover, there are no clear guides that can help them in this path of “socialization” and building an identity. This uncertainty, this incapacity, this lack of knowledge and this state of “not belonging” can turn into anger, frustration, petty crimes and marginality for many young Muslims. This in turn makes them easily susceptible and vulnerable to extremist ideology and radicalization.
In fact, it is very important to understand that the identity crisis is a crucial element of young Muslims’ attempts to “belong” to society in their own way, inasmuch as it involves the will to distinguish oneself through an assertive identity, detached from the more passive positions of previous generations and, consequently, from the traditional family identity.
Similarly, it is interesting to underline that many of those who join the radicalisation process are often secular and worldly. One could say that they are “bad Muslims”, obviously removed from the Islamic precepts that command their cultures of origin. For example, Quintan Wiktorowicz explains that many members of al-Muhajiroun in the UK were not particularly religious and had not received any religious education before joining the group. They were essentially far from being religious and did not see any ideological reference in traditional faith, let alone an anchor on which to structure one’s identity.
Another example is the case of Anas el-Abboudi, a young man of Moroccan origins who lived with a well-integrated family in a small town near Brescia, in Italy. He did not have any ideological knowledge of religion and he was frustrated by his Italian and Moroccan double identity. He did not find the right way to express himself and to “belong” to society. He converted to radical Islam and started on his path to becoming a jihadist. These were his words after radicalization: “Before I never laughed because the society had ruined me. Now I just have to do the ablutions, the washing and I feel free, I spiritually fly”. Here is where the identity is rebuilt! There are many examples like this.
In seeking an identity, many individuals turn to religion. In certain circumstances, religion itself can guide young Muslim people towards an Islamic “counter-culture”, through which they embrace a radical interpretation of Islam such as Salafism or Jihadism. According to Oliver Roy, Western Islamic terrorists are generally members of a generation frustrated by Western society, which does not fulfill their hopes or provide a positive outlook on the future. Furthermore, their view of the global ummah (community of believers) leads to thoughts about revenge against globalization, which is held responsible for their current condition of marginalization, frustration and vulnerability. Indeed, for these radical young vulnerable Muslims, Western values have corrupted the entire global ummah.
In this situation, the answer to chaos and corruption is Islamic radicalism, the necessary instrument for personal redemption and, at the same time, for the redemption of the whole ummah. Islamic radicalism is nothing less than the reference model for building a new identity based on a deviant interpretation of Islamic law and a totally new world view which looks satisfying, rich in stimuli, and, above all, morally right.
In conclusion, according to various scholars such as Munira, Ja’far Zein or Ramakrishna, we can affirm that the issue of identity occupies a central position in the process of radicalization. In most cases, it has been noted that in this process of radicalization, young Muslims are generally unable to identify themselves with the “typical profile” or average person in the Western society in which they live. In fact, the lack of strong reference points, the absence of guides that could indicate the appropriate way forward, and the vulnerability generated by failed social integration are all factors which bring young Western Muslims “in search of an identity” to seek out a new and appropriate way of being. In sum, Islamic radicalism and jihadism have a very powerful draw – they finally confer a sense of “belonging”.
 Wiktorowicz Q., (2013), joining the Cause: al-Muhajiroun and Radical Islam, Department of International Studies, Rhodes College. Here: http://insct.syr.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Wiktorowicz.Joiningthe-Cause.pdf and Bergoglio Errico F., (2018), Il processo di radicalizzazione jihadista: dalla definizione alla narrativa, Centro di Ricerca per la Sicurezza e il Terrorismo, Roma. Here: http://crstitaly.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Il-processo-di-radicalizzazione-jihadista_Bergoglio.pdf
 Vidino L., (2014), Il jihadismo autoctono in Italia. Nascita, sviluppo e dinamiche della radicalizzazione, Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale, Milano.
 Roy O., (2006) Terrorism and Deculturation, in Richardson L., (ed), The Roots of Terrorism, New York, Routledge
 Mirza Munira, Senthilkumaran, Abi and Ja’far Zein, (2007), Living apart together, British Muslims and the Paradox of Multiculturalism, Policy Exchange.
 Ramakrishna K., (11 February 2016) Understanding youth in the age of ISIS: a psychosocial analysis, in EInternational Relations. Here: http://www.e-ir.info/2016/02/11/understanding-youthradicalization-in-the-age-of-isis-a-psychosocial-analysis/
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