Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah

Mar 30, 2006

The spread of Islam around the globe has blurred the connection between a religion, a specific society, and a territory, says Roy. This phenomenon is feeding new forms of radicalism.


JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs. On behalf of the Carnegie Council, I'd like to welcome our members and guests to what I know will be an extremely thought-provoking morning with our very special guest, Olivier Roy.

Ever since the publication of his book The Failure of Political Islam about eight years ago, I have been waiting for Mr. Roy to publish a sequel. Therefore, when I learned that he had written a follow-up to his work and that it had been translated into English, I knew the time had come to invite him to speak at the Carnegie Council and to participate in our series on the Resurgence of Religion in Politics.

Thanks to the assistance of Meredith Howard and to what she says was my persistence, I am delighted to welcome Professor Roy to discuss his most recent book, Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah.

Since 9/11 and the recent bombings in London, Madrid, and elsewhere, the debate on Islam has become more confused than ever. Even so, there are scholars whose work can help us to better understand the politics and sociology of this neo-fundamentalist Islam and the radicalized elements of Muslim communities around the world.

In Globalized Islam Professor Roy draws upon his profound understanding of the interaction between theology and politics and points the debate about the revival of Islam and the attendant global jihad in a new direction. In clarifying this phenomenon, he draws a distinction between two types of Muslims—those whose lives are inextricably attached to Islamic identity, grounded in what they see as the indisputable precepts of their faith; and those whose faith is more an extension of their politics in the secular world.

As a result, Professor Roy has often argued that violent steps taken by Western-based terrorists are not the acts of a militant vanguard within the Muslim community, but rather are the products of a lost generation, unmoored from traditional societies and cultures, who are frustrated by and alienated from a Western society that does not meet their expectations.

No discussion of Islam would be complete without a lecture by Olivier Roy. Why? To begin with, he is enormously knowledgeable on the subject, and it is often said that he is perhaps the most provocative and innovative analyst of Islamism today. But more than that, he is intimately aware of the problems faced by young Muslims, especially those living in Europe, and is able to analyze their behavior in ways that others have not.

In addition to his books The Failure of Political Islam and Globalized Islam, he also co-authored with Mariam Abou Zahab Islamist Networks: The Afghan-Pakistan Connection.

After Mr. Roy's presentation, you will have a better understanding about the way in which the relationship of Muslims to Islam is reshaped by globalization, Westernization, and the impact of living as a minority.

Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to someone I personally have been waiting a very long time to listen to, and by the size of the audience today you have as well, our guest, Olivier Roy. Thank you.


OLIVIER ROY: Thank you very much.

I will concentrate here on the Muslims in Western Europe, but much of what I have to say could apply to other regions in the world.

There are two interesting phenomena about Muslims in the West. First, in the wake of 9/11, many of the Islamic terrorists became born-again Muslims and radical activists in Europe. We are not confronted with people coming from the Middle East to target Europe, but rather Western-educated terrorists. Many of them, like Zacharias Moussaoui, were born in Europe.

But on the other hand, when we were confronted in France with youth riots in November 2005, everybody was expecting an Islamic element in this unrest. Many newspapers, for example, used the expression "the Intifada of the Projects." But, in fact, there was nothing Islamic or Middle Eastern in these riots—no religious slogans; no Palestinian flag, which is quite unusual, because in most leftist demonstrations in France, we see Palestinian flags. There were no flags at all; they didn't even burn one. They preferred to burn cars.

So how do we reconcile these two ideas? On the one hand, we have a process of re-Islamization of the second-generation Muslims in Europe; and, on the other hand, when they go to the streets it is not in the name of Islam but rather a call for better integration. It is out of frustration for not being integrated enough, not being assimilated.

There is a cliché that Islamic fundamentalism is the expression of a traditional culture, of a traditional society, which feels under pressure from globalization and Westernization. We wish to see fundamentalism as a reaction of tradition against modernization and modernity. But, contemporary fundamentalism is not the reaction of a traditional society. On the contrary, it is a consequence of the deculturation of societies and people. Take, for example, Salafism, which we call Wahhabism or fundamentalism.

When we have Salafi preachers coming to the projects in France—and the same is true throughout Western Europe—when they preach to the second-generation Muslims, what do they tell them? "Your grandfather didn't transmit Islam to you," which is true. "You don't speak the language of your grandfather," which, at least in France, is most often true. "You don't know anything about Islam and you don't know the culture of your country of origin and you don't feel at ease in a Western culture. The Islam of your grandfather is not true Islam—it is American Islam, Maraboutic Islam, Sufi Islam. It is some sort of peasant Islam. Now, because you are not under the influence of any culture in the region, you are in a good situation to get true Islam. You don't need to learn religion for ten years. You don't need to go to religious schools. If you just believe, you are saved."

In a way, this is a very Christian approach, saying that you are saved by your faith, and not by your knowledge or studies.

"And you don't need to have elders teaching you or telling you what is good. If you are faithful, you know what is good. If you want to have more knowledge, you have booklets, or you go on the Internet. You have websites and you can, for example, look at the website of Sheikh So-and-So. You can ask him questions in English or in French or in German—you don't need to know Arabic at all—and you get an answer. You can call Fatwa-Online when you want. This site is in English.

You can say, "Okay, I am dating a young girl. Is that halal? What can I do with her before getting married?" and the guys will answer, for free.

So in this sense fundamental Islam is very well adapted to modernity and globalization. Religion and fundamentalism is not embedded into a given culture. It is why many youths are attracted to fundamentalist forms of religion.

But the same is true with Christianity. Who is converting nowadays? We have an interesting case in Kabul which illustrates what I am saying. People are converting. We always think about Muslims converting Christians, but the reverse is true, as shown in Kabul.

But which Christians are converting? The Protestant evangelists. The Catholics are not converting, the Russian Orthodox are not converting, because, usually, Christianity, Catholicism, orthodoxy are embedded into given cultures. You have a religious institution. You have people who know and who don't let the young boys speak about religion like that.

But in evangelicalism you have no real authority and you have all this based on individual faith, salvation, direct access to God. So it works with people who are uprooted, without family or social or cultural bounds.

Yes, Salafism is working among the second-generation Muslims in France, in Europe, but Christianity is as well. I discovered some months ago that we now have something which at first I called a Christian-Muslim church, but the expression is not very accurate. It is a Christian evangelicalist church. The founder is a Nigerian citizen who was a Muslim who had been converted to Christianity by an American missionary in Nigeria. He was sent by his church to Paris to work among second-generation migrants. His congregation is about 300–400 people. He is converting openly; he has booklets, and he is praying in front of the crowd at metro stations.

Religious assertiveness is working against or out of traditional cultures. It is not a matter of a clash of dialogue of cultures and religion. No, because the religions which are now effective are in fact disconnected from traditional cultures, and that is why they are working.

But once we consider that the basis for this radicalism is an uprooting, a deculturation, it doesn't mean that everybody is going to radicalism, extremism. Let's take a look at the vast spectrum of possible choices.

The bulk of the born-again Muslims want to establish something which could be close to a faith community. Even if they are very fundamentalist as far as their creed is concerned, they have acknowledged and internalized secularism. They consider that the faith community is a minority group, living in a society which is not religious-minded, which is very secular, and which could be a threat to their inner beliefs, but they have to deal with this society. What they try to establish is not a church in the sense of an institution—they are not very interested in institutions—but a faith community of people who share the same beliefs and can live together in the purity of their religion.

There are many ways to do that. Some, specifically in the projects, are trying to give a territorial dimension to their faith community. For example, they are living in the same neighborhood, and they wear specific dress—long white shirts, not turbans but a white skullcap. They try to establish social pressure at the local level by, for example, not enforcing the veil—which is difficult in a Western country—but by teasing girls who don't wear the veil, to re-create some sort of Islamized territory at the local level, but without any political thought. They are not interested in establishing an Islamic state.

They are living at two different levels. One is the society, so they have business, they have citizenship; and the other is the virtual ummah, where they want to live as good Muslims. This ummah is totally de-territorialized. They are not particularly interested in Palestine, in jihad.

A movement like the Jamaat Tablighi, which was formed in India in the 1920s, used to establish itinerant preaching teams, for example, going from one place to the other. Explicitly, they mixed people from different regions who don't share the same language—so you have a team where you would find two Bangladeshis, one Pakistani, a British convert, somebody who was born in Morocco—and these guys, for example, go to Germany. They canvas from door to door, targeting nominal Muslims and trying to bring them back to what they see as pure Islam.

As far as violence is concerned, in fact, we have a long list of young boys, and now sometimes girls, who have been involved in radical Islam, alongside al Qaeda. They all share common patterns. These groups are based on local buddies or friends, not gangs, who are living in the same subsidized housing, for example, or went to the same school.

In the poor neighborhoods in the Parisian suburbs, most of these group members used to be drug addicts, to steal cars. Suddenly, a guy in the group becomes born-again and goes to Afghanistan, to Kashmir, to Fallujah, to Chechnya, and comes back with a lot of prestige. Suddenly, the group finds a leader and turns into an al Qaeda cell.

Most of the time in the group there are people who are not Muslims, who are French-French as we say, or Portuguese or Christian Black Africans. What do they do? They convert. They convert to be part of the group.

In every al Qaeda cell, except maybe the Madrid group, we have a significant proportion of converts, sometimes 25 percent.

In the Hofstad group in Holland, the group leader was the son of an American military official and a Dutch woman who had converted to Islam in Pakistan. So we have total de-territorialization. The guy probably had an identity problem. Who is he? Dutch, American, Muslim? He went to Afghanistan. He has been sentenced to fifteen years in jail for his involvement.

The last case is Muriel Degauque, a young Belgian woman who converted. She had a Christian education. She was a drug addict. She married somebody who was born in Morocco. Both became converts and born-again. They left for Fallujah, and they killed themselves by trying to attack an American military unit in Fallujah. They failed. They killed only themselves.

So we see that it is almost impossible to understand this violence as an import of the Middle Eastern problems into the West. On the contrary, it is almost a homegrown phenomenon.

Among all these people who claim to fight for jihad, we do not have one Iraqi, we do not have one Afghan, we do not have one Palestinian. All of them are converts, second-generation, born in North Africa, Pakistan or India. All of the London bombers were born in Great Britain, but three from Pakistani families and one was a Jamaican, a convert.

Among these converts we have a high proportion of people coming from the Caribbean, Jamaicans into Britain, and immigrants from Guadeloupe and Antibes into France.

If we look at the riots, they were not an uprising of the Muslim community, as it has often been described here. For example, the Muslim students did nothing in the universities. The only places where we had riots were in the public housing projects in the suburbs.

The rioters were young males, most but not all of them second-generation immigrants. We have the list of the people who have been arrested and sentenced by the courts. Also we have a significant proportion of people who are not Muslim at all, who have French names, Portuguese names, Italian names—more Portuguese and Spanish, because they are also third-generation immigrants, but also many French names.

The social dimension is very important. What we have now in Western Europe is the "ethnicization" of a social divide. In Great Britain, in Holland, in Belgium, in France, in Germany, for historical reasons, the underclass is recruiting mainly among second-generation migrants. We are confronted with an underclass and, by definition, many of them are the children or grandchildren of the last immigrants, who were mainly Muslims. The labor organization of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s in Europe was mainly made up of workers of Muslim origin.

The big difference between North America and Europe is that Mexico is a Catholic country. If Mexico were a Muslim country, then you would have in some way the same problems, because of the disconnect here between religious assertiveness and ethnic origin. But many second-generation Latinos here are converting also, not to Islam but to Protestantism. Conversion is often linked with uprooting.

So if this is largely an "ethnicization" of a social divide, what about the others? Here there is something which is usually totally ignored by the media, and, unfortunately, also by the politicians. Not all Muslims live in housing projects. Not all Muslims are a part of the underclass.

Some young Muslims are successful. But when they are successful, what do they do? They leave public housing, and move into the cities. When they marry, they don't want to send their children to a school where 90 percent of the students are second-generation immigrants. So what do they do? They send their children to a Catholic private school. Now in the Catholic private schools Muslims are overrepresented.

There is also another reason. The Catholic schools are usually more open to religious signs. This Muslim middle class has the impression that the important thing is to have values, to have morality, and then God, Allah—it doesn't matter too much. So we have an interesting conjunction of conservative, religious-minded people who consider that they share values, even if they don't share the same creed.

Unlike the situation in Great Britain, there is no such push from the Muslims in France to establish Islamic schools. I don't see a trend to expand the only two or three Islamic schools in the country. They say that "We do not have the money." But it is not true, in fact. It is simply that the middle-class Muslims don't want to re-create a religious or ethnic ghetto. They know that if they have an Islamic school, most of the children will come from the second- or third-generation immigrants, and they don't want that. They want their children to have social opportunities and to avoid living in a ghetto.

Some people in the Gulf are ready to give money to Islamic schools. So the process of communitizing or ethnicizing is not coming from inside. It is often brought, not imposed, from outside.

This dominance of social identities over purely religious identities is very clear, for example, in the demonstrations that we are currently seeing in Paris [about job security]. This time it's not a revolt rooted in public housing projects; it's a student revolt. Everybody is there—Muslim, not Muslim; it doesn't matter.

The school dropouts from the projects have a very ambivalent attitude toward these demonstrations. On the one hand, they are happy to have an opportunity to fight with the police, so they are joining the demonstration. But on the other hand, they are jealous of these young people who are protesting because they want jobs. Most of the guys from public housing are school dropouts, and they have bad memories of school, and they tend to hate the middle class, especially white children, who are doing well in the universities.

In fact, it is a triangular demonstration. Sometimes the police side against all demonstrators and against the gangs from the projects. Sometimes the demonstrators and the police unite against the gangs, and sometimes the reverse. Hence, the complexity of the situation and the government's difficulty in dealing with the crisis, because they don't want to unite everybody against them.

The problem is that we tend to consider the issue of Islam in Europe through the losers, the uprooted second generation living in low-income housing. We tend also to over-Islamize social problems.

We don't look at the middle class. Even if the middle class is a minority in statistical terms compared to the underclass, the future is with the middle class. They are the guys who are giving visibility to Islam, but to an Islam which wants to be integrated. The claim is not for some recognition of a minority group, but, on the contrary, the claim is to be recognized as 100 percent citizen and 100 percent Muslim. But that model doesn not fit for all. There are very secularist Muslims who don't want to be recognized as Muslims. They don't care.

But now we have a trend to have Islam accepted as the other faith. It is a call for equality.

The controversy about the Danish cartoons is very interesting. There have been headlines in the newspapers, "The Muslims Go to the Streets to Protest against the Cartoons." But the Muslims didn't go to the streets. There were almost no demonstrations in Europe. We had 7,000 demonstrators in the city of Paris. With 3-to-4 million Muslims in France, 7,000 demonstrators protesting against the cartoons is nothing. They went to the streets in Beirut; they went to the streets in Damascus, in Gaza, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, but not in Europe.

The protest was not about blasphemy. The protest was about the Prophet being equated with a terrorist; hence, the Muslims being equated with terrorism. They called, not for a law on blasphemy, but for equal treatment. They say there are double standards. No mainstream newspaper would have published such cartoons against Jews or Christians. Many newspapers make jokes about Christians every day, but not Le Monde, not Le Figaro. That is exactly what they were protesting. It is a call for dignity, in a sense, and recognition, but not a call for recognizing a minority group.

The call for recognition of Muslims as a religious, cultural, and ethnic minority is coming from abroad. We have pressure from many Arab states to act as patrons, as protectors of the Muslims in Europe, while most Muslims in Europe want to be recognized as European citizens.

In my hometown, there was a problem last year with the celebration at the end of Ramadan. The local official required the Muslims to buy their sheep in one place, to be sure that they went only to the slaughterhouse accredited by the authorities. As a result, the guy who was selling the sheep, who was not Muslim, charged €100 more per sheep.

So 500 Muslim demonstrators took to the streets for €100 and said, "We want our money back." So they are integrated in this sense—they are French now—and they asked the government to pay. That is typically French.

The authorities were a bit embarrassed, so they called for a meeting with all the Muslim associations, the farmers' union, the guys who were selling the sheep, the slaughterhouse officials.

To chair the meeting they brought in the American General Consul from Paris. Most of the Muslims in my town come from America. So the older generation was very happy. The young guys came to the meeting with their French IDs and said, "We don't want to discuss our domestic problems with a foreigner," and the Consul had to leave. After that, they reached an agreement.

But as a consequence, the young Muslim activists, said, "Okay, if we want to be recognized, we have to get into politics." They knocked at the doors of different parties. The only people who would accept them were the Greens, so they joined the Greens. They decided to have a meeting to announce that now they would have a strong Green party in town. They invited one of the leading figures of the Greens, Noël Mamère.

I asked them, "You know who Noël Mamère is?"

They said, "Yes."

"Noël Mamère is the only mayor in France who has celebrated a gay marriage. He is very famous. He is campaigning for gay marriages." I asked the Muslims, "Isn't this a bit embarrassing for you?"

"Oh," they said, "we disagree. In Sharia, there is no gay marriage. But on everything else, we agree with him. So let's put the issue of gay marriages aside and now let's work to create a strong political party in our town."

This is true integration.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: One of the things that strikes me is the contrast between that concluding anecdote and the first part of your remarks, when you talked about the search for identity. If indeed a lot of the Muslim fundamentalism in Europe is a result of the need for young people, particularly second-generation immigrants, to anchor themselves in a sense of identity, is it fair to ask, "What is it about European integration policy that makes the need for the assertion of identity so desperately important?" And could you contrast this with, say, the American experience, where it seems that minorities, including Muslim minorities, seem freer to be themselves, without this desperate pressure to assert a religious identity as distinct from the mainstream consensus?

OLIVIER ROY: It is also linked with the crisis of political identities in Europe, which is nonexistent or exists in a different way in the States.

We have a parallel in terms of a timetable, between the European conscription and labor, Muslim immigration. The European conscription was initiated in the 1950s. The first wave of immigrants came in the late 1950s. The European conscription terminated in the 1980s, at the time when the term "European Union" was coined, and the peak of the immigration and the beginning of what could be called the Islam issue, in Europe was in the 1980s. Why? It was during the 1980s that everybody finally realized that the Muslims were there to stay.

But in America, people know that immigrants have come to stay.

In Europe, everybody—the immigrants, the authorities, public opinion—thought that these guys were just guest workers and that they would leave. In the end, they developed roots. So there is no paradigm for integration.

In the 1980s we suddenly had this assertiveness of Islam as a religion—no more just as immigrants; as a religion—and we had the Maastricht Treaty, which means that from now the nation-state is dead.

We have a state of anxiety among European public opinion. On the one hand, the national identities are fading away from above, through European integration, and nobody knows what Europe means in terms of territory. We are a political entity which was created without a given territory, which is a source of anxiety.

National identities are fading away from above, and they seem to fade away from below also—the impression that Amsterdam is no longer Dutch, that Paris is besieged by housing projects which are becoming more and more Islamic.

Hence, a negative reaction from public opinion and a lack of paradigms to understand what is happening. The mood is very pessimistic in Europe. I am less pessimistic because we have, through this growing Muslim middle class, both new blood and new ideas, but there is a problem of perception.

To conclude, Europe had two policies, roughly speaking, to integrate the migrants: the multiculturalist approach (Northern Europe) and the assimilationist approach (France). Both failed. Both failed for the same reasons. Both suppose that religion is embedded into culture. For multiculturalism, you are a Muslim because you belong to a different culture. For the French approach, it is easy to become French, but once you are French, you are supposed to leave all your religious and cultural background behind.

Neither of the two models was made to cope with the question: What about a religion which is not a culture; what about a pure religion? This is what is going on now. In the second generation, they don't want to be recognized as an ethnic minority; they want to be recognized as citizens with a different faith. That's a big difference.

For public opinion and for authorities, they didn't think that the underclass was the issue. They are still thinking using failed paradigms.

QUESTION: You have spoken about the importance of people joining the middle class as the easiest way to integrate them. But in France you have just had two riots. The way it has been explained to us, the first one was for people from the projects who don't have jobs and who feel they have no opportunities. So what is being done to help them?

The second was the riot of the students, who want to have permanent jobs, in the government and elsewhere. So what is happening?

OLIVIER ROY: The main issue is a lack of flexibility of the labor market in France, and in many European countries. Traditionally, we have a protected labor market, and the people who have no job are on welfare. But the problem is that when we have too many people without jobs, it is very difficult to pay for welfare and the system is in crisis. The first to suffer are the youth, because they cannot enter the labor market.

But the government decided, for good or bad reasons—I would say, for electoral reasons, which amount to bad reasons—to have an increase in jobs for youth in the short term, just before the next election. So they created this pact, which was supposed to provide short-term jobs for youth. But it's not a long-term solution.

The business milieu was not happy. They said, "We want a reshaping of the whole system. We don't want this specific pact for specific categories of the population. In fact, at the end, it's not workable." So the business milieu was supportive, but they are not ready to fight for this reform.

The youth felt targeted as youth. Here the government made its biggest mistake. There is a generation gap, clearly. The fact that my generation, the baby boomers, are in charge, creates a sort of resentment among the younger generation. We have a very long-lasting political elite. Our president was prime minister when Richard Nixon was president of the States [1969-1974].

So the youth have the impression that the space is blocked, and they resort to the traditional French political culture: when you are not happy, you take to the streets.

QUESTION: If I have understood correctly, you mentioned that there are non-Muslim al Qaeda members and only around 25 percent of them converted to Islam.

Number two, we talk about the possibility of Muslims assimilating into Western society. But have we ever questioned the genuineness and the sincerity of the West to engage in dialogue with the Muslim world? We are living in an interconnected world, and we need to share our common grounds to benefit one another. Not everything that the West produces is the best for human beings. On the other hand, some things that the Muslim world produces are good for Westerners.

Number three, we know that Salafi movements occur out of collaboration with the political power, especially in Saudi Arabia. What is your opinion on the Salafi political stand of those governments?

OLIVIER ROY: About al Qaeda, when I said non-Muslims, the non-Muslims are the converts, so they are in fact Muslims.

The London bombers included four guys, three born Muslims and one convert. The Beghal network in France is about the same, with 25 percent of converts among the arrested people. So we can say that the proportion of converts is about 20 percent.

Interestingly enough, al Qaeda is the only radical organization I know of which makes room for converts, which gives responsibility to converts. Usually, in all the Islamic organizations, radical or not, the convert is there to speak to the journalists, but has no responsibility inside the organization; it's just for window dressing. But this is not the case in al Qaeda.

Secondly, the Western Muslim world. I don't buy this term "the West." In France we have many people demonstrating against American influence. Where is the West?

"The Muslim world," also I don't know exactly what that means. If we speak in terms of religion, yes, there are Muslim populations, the Muslim ummah. But to what extent is the relationship with, let's say, the Egyptian government or the Syrian government determined by the fact that "we are non-Muslims"—we don't say we're Christians—"we are non-Muslim, and they are Muslim." We oppose "West" and "Muslim." We use two dissymmetric terms. One refers to secular political culture and the other to a religion.

The Muslim world is so differentiated now. It's more and more difficult to speak about "the Muslim world" except for political reasons.

I am very critical of the story of "the Dialogue of Civilizations," because for me the dialogue is not an answer to the clash, precisely because both ideas share the same premise: "we and they." Religion is linked with the culture, and religion and culture are the same things. All my analysis leads me to conclude that the problem now is the disconnect between religion and culture, and not the expression of religion through different cultures.

Salafism—what we used to call the Islamists, the Muslim Brothers, the Iranian Revolution, the Hezbollah, Hamas—had, and they have, a political agenda of creating an Islamic state. But when they tried to take the state, in fact the state took them.

Hamas now has an Islamist agenda, but it is a nationalist movement. Hamas opposed Arafat, not on Sharia, not on Islam, but about "betraying the national interest of the Palestinian people." So the issue is recognition of Islam; the issue is not Shariah. It is a nationalist issue, which is good and bad news, because there are some things to negotiate. In fact, whatever the historical declaration, everybody is ready to negotiate with Hamas, under some conditions. But nobody is ready to negotiate with bin Laden, for a very simple reason: there is nothing to negotiate with bin Laden.

The new wave of fundamentalism is not motivated by taking power. They don't care about territory. They don't care about nation-states. Hezbollah is from the previous generation. A movement like Hezbollah is not involved in national elections. They have a precise objective, and they don't care about what is going on in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Chechnya. We have no Palestinians involved in international terrorism. They aren't interested. They have something else to care about.

I don't believe in the hidden agenda of the Salafi to create an Islamic state in France. They don't care about politics, or when they do care it is to join the mainstream parties, but not to create a political party.

But surely some governments might have a political agenda, that's true. We need to disconnect our political bilateral relations with Muslim countries from the issue of Islam. Not one of our ministers of interior should go to Al-Azhar, as Mr. Sarkozy did, to ask for a fatwa approving the policy of the French government towards Islam in France. It's a mistake. Of course, the guys in Al-Azhar are very happy to provide the fatwa.

QUESTION: Would you elaborate further on the relationship between Islamic faith and politics. You are talking about a de-territorialized Islam as being the objective of these Westernized second- or third-generation Muslims. But then they join al Qaeda. Why do they move then to terrorism? What is their objective? There is some political objective, behind terrorism. So I don't see very clearly the relationship there.

OLIVIER ROY: They join terrorism because they want action. There is no political agenda with al Qaeda, except destroying the world order. Bin Laden's objective is to have the West collapse. In a sense, it's a political objective. But, first, it will not work, insha'allah; and secondly, he is not taking a political attitude. For example, al Qaeda has no political organization, no front organization, no propaganda. The only propaganda is propaganda by deed, by terrorist action. They are not distributing leaflets in the projects.

Inside the al Qaeda leadership, we have one guy, Zawahiri, who is an intellectual. So there is a tendency in the West to look at Zawahiri to understand the political agenda of al Qaeda.

But the only problem is that the guys who join al Qaeda don't read. They don't care to read. The police never found a book of Zawahiri in the apartment of an al Qaeda member. They found leaflets, websites. The guys are looking at websites. They found weapons, explosives, but never a book on what is an Islamic state, for example. They don't care.

What we are confronted with, especially among the second generation and the converts in the West, is rebels looking for a cause. They go to al Qaeda. Now, if you are a young rebel in a poor neighborhood, where can you go? You can burn a car, kick a policeman, but it's a bit petty. If you want to go for the big time, you go to Fallujah.

We have precisely that case in France. A group of some dozens of very young boys, as young as fourteen, went to Fallujah. We have forty French citizens—most of them second-generation, some converts—who went to Fallujah. Ten died there.

Thirty years ago, these guys would have joined the Maoists, the Trotskyites, the extreme Left. The targets are the same, what they call U.S. imperialism. They have learned to be a bit more sophisticated. But who invented hijacking planes? It was the Baader-Meinhof group during the 1970s. So we have continuity.

One year ago, when Mr. de Villepin was Minister of the Interior, he asked for a working breakfast with some experts like me, and he asked us to give him tips on how to curb Islamic unrest in the housing projects. I said, "One thing we can do is to reroute the Marxist extreme Left to the projects." The head of the police was next to the minister. He was not amused. But it's exactly what Villepin is doing now. He took my idea. He is now giving a new start to the extreme Left and, in a sense, many of the young who are trying to do something might not join al Qaeda but find a better perspective. These guys would have gone anywhere to do something.

We are confronted with youth violence, which is not typically European. Young boys committing suicide by killing other people; it's a pattern that we can find elsewhere. The difference is the tag, the label under which you do something. It's not by chance that many of these terrorists were drug addicts before, going for self-destruction. They don't care about what will happen the day after. They have no plan for building an Islamic society, an Islamic state, with al Qaeda. They just aren't interested.

JOANNE MYERS: Thank you very much for giving us such an insightful analysis.

You may also like

MAY 23, 2024 Podcast

U.S. Election 2024 in a Post-Policy World, with Tom Nichols

"Atlantic" staff writer Tom Nichols returns to "The Doorstep" in its penultimate episode to discuss the lead-up to the 2024 U.S. presidential election.

ChatGPT homepage on a computer screen

MAY 15, 2024 Article

Forecasting Scenarios from the Use of AI in Diplomacy

Read through six scenarios and expert commentaries that explore potential impacts of AI on diplomacy.

MAY 15, 2024 Podcast

Beneficial AI: Moving Beyond Risks, with Raja Chatila

In this episode of the "AIEI" podcast, Senior Fellow Anja Kaspersen engages with Sorbonne University's Raja Chatila, exploring the integration of robotics, AI, and ethics.

Not translated

This content has not yet been translated into your language. You can request a translation by clicking the button below.

Request Translation