Understanding the reasons behind radicalisation is essential to de- veloping a clear view of terrorism. In his latest book, Le djihad et la mort, Olivier Roy offers his perspective on the subject. A scholar of political science and Islam at the European University Institute in Florence, Roy attempts to explain why people are enticed into joining Islamic State (IS). He begins with an assumption: we shouldn’t speak about the radicalisation of Islam, but rather the Islamization of radicalism. 

Roy’s well-reasoned book asks a very poignant question: what if our current understanding of why IS terrorists conduct their massacres is wrong? We’ve been pointing to Salafism as the root of the radicalisation of many young people, but Roy disagrees. The number of Salafis that actually become terrorists, he argues, is quite small. The real gateway to radicalisation is social dissent and the constant alienation of certain European Muslims. Roy writes that there are European metropolitan areas that house second- and third- generation Muslims whose social and professional expectations are virtually non-existent, and these areas become the breeding grounds for terrorism. Frustrated and locked away in ghettoes, young men embrace a utopian form of Islam, narrated with emphasis and wilful malice by IS terrorists. In other words, the caliphate simply gives hope to those who have no hope, and it does so for purely political purposes. Roy reminds us that IS does not necessarily sup- port Muslims, considering the number who died in recent attacks like the one in Nice.  Islamic State uses the pretext of Salafism to entice lost youth into its embrace and then exploits them in order to put its terrifying plan into action. This perspective opens up different scenarios for debate. The first is that terrorism can partly be blamed on the segregated environments imposed by European society. An example? The Parisian suburbs, where this phenomenon is all the more apparent thanks to the presence of the Boulevard Périphérique. The second is the fight against terrorism, which in addition to its intelligence aspects must also be promoted within the entire moderate Muslim community while eschewing any populist tendencies. Ultimately, the message is that until our society becomes more inclusive, terrorist actions spawned by the Islamization of radicalism will continue. 

The urge for revenge is what drives the young terrorists, according to Roy. Revenge against a society that doesn’t understand them and doesn’t want to include them. In this context, an important role could and should be played by current Islamic leaders but also by setting a course for a gradual Westernisation of Islam. The objective would be twofold: to reduce the number of attacks and to put an end to Islamic State’s attractiveness in Europe. For Roy, de-radicalisation programmes are a waste of time because those who want to blow themselves up (with revenge in mind) simply find that IS provides them with an adequate pretext. And conversely, IS exploits weak and controllable minds (which are not yet deeply involved with Islam) in order to gain more power.

For Roy, the purpose of IS, therefore, is not to export a religious war to Europe. It’s more about not losing its Middle Eastern territories. Not realising this, especially years after the first attacks, might lead to an extension of the emergency period on the European continent. Our misapprehension of the problem also means we will allow the Islamization of radicalism to continue