In yesterday's New York Times, French scholar Olivier Roy slapped around those who have interpreted the bombings in London, Madrid and elsewhere as retaliation for conflicts in the Middle East.
While not denying that Middle Eastern conflicts have a powerful impact on Muslim public opinion worldwide, Roy actually bothers to look at the chronology of the attacks, and at the makeup of the groups carrying them out. He writes:
From the beginning, Al Qaeda's fighters were global jihadists, and their favored battlegrounds have been outside the Middle East: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya and Kashmir. For them, every conflict is simply a part of the Western encroachment on the Muslim ummah, the worldwide community of believers.
Second, if the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine are at the core of the radicalization, why are there virtually no Afghans, Iraqis or Palestinians among the terrorists? Rather, the bombers are mostly from the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Egypt and Pakistan—or they are Western-born converts to Islam.
Then the nub paragraphs:
"Born again" or converts, they are rebels looking for a cause. They find it in the dream of a virtual, universal ummah, the same way the ultraleftists of the 1970s (the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Italian Red Brigades) cast their terrorist actions in the name of the "world proletariat" and "Revolution" without really caring about what would happen after.
It is also interesting to note that none of the Islamic terrorists captured so far had been active in any legitimate antiwar movements or even in organized political support for the people they claim to be fighting for. They don't distribute leaflets or collect money for hospitals and schools. They do not have a rational strategy to push for the interests of the Iraqi or Palestinian people.
And then the conclusion, which suggests that the real problem–at least regarding the Islamists living in the West–is one of being caught between two worlds while belonging to neither; of being incapable of accepting the impact of globalization–though, paradoxically, Al-Qaeda and its sister groups are in every way a product of globalization and the networks it has thrown up.
The Western-based Islamic terrorists are not the militant vanguard of the Muslim community; they are a lost generation, unmoored from traditional societies and cultures, frustrated by a Western society that does not meet their expectations.
And their vision of a global ummah is both a mirror of and a form of revenge against the globalization that has made them what they are.
Perhaps the most significant message Roy offers here is that while violent Islamist groups are very much a product of a Muslim interaction with the West, they are not inherent to Islam. The implicit moral of the story, and one the French have been trying to achieve for some time, is that the way to reduce violence is through a better social integration of Muslim communities.
Perhaps, but where the Jacobin centralized state in France has come up short is in determining whether integration is at all desirable for certain Muslim communities. The rejection of the European Constitution recently partly suggested that, at least from the European side, there is considerable doubt.