Friday 10. April 2020
#181 - April 2015


Why are young Muslims leaving Europe to go to war?


European converts and children born here to Muslim immigrants consciously seek to set themselves apart from mainstream society. Islam is “cool”.

On its websites, IS (Islamic State) claims that more than 10,000 young Jihadists from Africa and Europe are fighting in its ranks. The intelligence services of the Member States of the European Union confirm these reports and their governments have issued directives and guidelines to prevent young Muslims, both male and female, from leaving for Syria or Iraq. They are also turning their attention to those returning, given that they are seen as a possible risk to the security of a free and pluralistic European society. Some EU countries are also working on preventive measures to convince young Muslims of the futility of involvement in the fighting ranks of IS.


The motives that prompt them to action may well be that young Muslim men and young veiled Muslim women now reject the European liberal democratic value system; they belong to a new Muslim youth culture; they practice a new form of European anti-Semitism that distinguishes it from the old European anti-Semitism. The Islamic tradition is familiar with hostile stereotypes against the Jews, while the Islamic youth culture is, on the other hand, more an anti-Zionist attitude by virtue of its being first directed against the state of Israel. The representatives of this youth culture are attracted by the near and distant battlefields in Nigeria, Syria and Mali and the hate-filled ideology of IS or Boko Haram.


Through these bloody battles in African and Arab countries, as well as through the Palestinian conflict, these young Muslims are turning into a latent danger. However, a new Islamic youth and protest culture would have existed in Europe even without these conflicts. European converts and the children born here to Muslim immigrants consciously seek to set themselves apart from mainstream society. Islam is “cool”, the Friday sermon in selected mosques is becoming their elixir of long life and the Prophet Muhammad is the absolute model and example. They have chosen the rigidity of political Islam.


Young Muslims in Europe are being thrust into an identity trap. They are no longer part of the Arab-Islamic culture of their parents, nor do they feel accepted by the European society in which they have to shape their future. They follow an interpretation of Islam that provides them with solid support and a secure orientation. They come across like-minded people and form cliques where they find comfort among brothers and sisters and can better cut themselves off from the “others”, the “infidels”. Their parents still called themselves Albanians, Algerians, Moroccans or Tunisians, while the sons and daughters now refer to themselves as Muslims. They have failed in their search for identity and also in finding a job. What is striking in this social and cultural development is that the young people of Turkish origin still find support and a home in the classic mosque associations. They are scarcely represented in the cliques of this Islamic youth culture.


The Jihadist or Salafist recruiters maintain a watchful eye on this group. They are active in the mosques, where young Muslims in search of something meaningful find guidance. The preachers in their preferred mosques do not engage in the complex and polyphonic Islamic tradition. They simplify it by succinctly declaring Islam to be a religion of peace. Or, on the other hand, they reduce Islam to a Jihad, an armed struggle for the truth, for Allah and for Islam. This simplistic access to Islam and the Islamic tradition absolutely forbids any element of doubt, criticism or satire.


The new Islamic youth culture is nourished by preachers who are influenced by the nebulous tradition of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia. Their Islam is interpreted in literal terms and holds itself outside any historical evolution. There is an absolute separation of “clean” and “unclean”, “religious” and “profane”. The Islamic youth culture is living, as it were, the life of Muhammad in Mecca in the period 610 – 622, when he had to lead his followers out of their situation of being martyrs and a persecuted minority and, with the help of the Jihad, get them to Medina and to political power. The Islamic youth culture in Europe is following this model; in other words, shutting themselves off with like-minded Muslims, which means cutting themselves off from the hostile majority and giving legitimacy to the Jihad.


P. Hans Vöcking

Georges Anawati Foundation (GAS)



Translated from the original text in German

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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.