Assimilation is a fault line in the war on radical Islam and the West must treat it as such. However, assimilation is too often confused with integration. Mistakenly choosing the latter will undermine our efforts and even facilitate the messaging of Islamists and their non-Muslim “useful idiots” who bend over backwards to avoid indicting the ideology.
“Integration” seems to be the key word when discussing how to stop Islamist radicalization among Muslims in the West, both those born here and especially those who moved here. The Merriam-Webster definition of “integration” is to “end the segregation of and bring into equal membership in society of an organization.”
When you suggest that Islamism is caused by a lack of integration, you’re arguing that Muslims are segregated in the West and are not equal members of society, neither of which are true. The term is beneficial to Islamists because it avoids placing blame on the ideology and thus absolving clerics of the need to confront it.
In this context, the term’s implication that extremism is a response to the West’s gross mistreatment of Muslims advances the Islamists’ preaching against the West and its secular-democratic systems. The message is magnified by left-wingers who embrace the Marxist “class struggle” view of terrorism that depicts Islamist extremists as misguided social justice warriors against imperialism and capitalism.
Assimilation is the appropriate terminology that must be used, as Merriam-Webster defines it as “to absorb into the cultural tradition of a population or group.” Another definition is “to take into the mind and thoroughly understand.”
If Islamism is facilitated by a lack of integration, then society’s inequalities is to be blame—but if Islamism is facilitated by a lack of assimilation, then the ideological/cultural differences are to blame.
The evidence strongly points towards a lack of assimilation as a common denominator amongst the jihadists, not forms of inequality like poverty, lack of education, unemployment, etc. To whatever degree segregation is a factor (as mentioned in the definition of integration), that segregation is a choice of the individual.
Examples include moving to location like those in Europe that are hostile to outside authority or building privately-owned enclaves like Jamaat ul-Fuqra has done in the United States.
Former CIA case officer and forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman studied the biographies of 400 Al-Qaeda member and found that most came from the middle or upper class, went to college, came from strong families, were professionals, were married and had children. Few exhibited signs of mental illness.
“These are the best and brightest of their societies in many ways,” Sageman said.
However, despite being integrated, about 80% “were, in some way, totally excluded from the society they lived in.”
The common objective in joining Al-Qaeda was not to pursue some progressive civil rights struggle, but “the creation of a pure Islamist state, which would create the conditions for the reestablishment of such a community, where justice and fairness would reign…”
This is what other studies focusing on other Islamist radicals show.
A study by Queen Mary University of London in 2014 involved interviewing 600 Muslims in the U.K. with Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds and asked for their opinions on 16 different terrorist tactics — a wise method that gets to the broader issue of terrorism rather than membership in a single group.
The researchers found that supporters of Islamist terrorism are more likely to be highly educated and financially secure. No correlation with poverty, a lack of education, mental instability (specifically anxiety or depression) or even being a foreigner.
Interestingly, extremism was less common among immigrants and those that speak a foreign language at home.
A 2016 study based on interviews with 40 foreign fighters who joined jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria and 100 people involved in the process (like online supporters and family members of the recruits) found, “the correlation between marginalization or lack of integration and radicalization are not as robust as commonly assumed.”
The link between a lack of assimilation and Islamist radicalization is so strong that President Obama acknowledged it, as did the Moroccan Muslim mayor of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, who cursed opponents of assimilation on live television.
In 2001, British Prime Minister David Cameron said, “Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream….We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values.”
The Founding Fathers warned us, right from the beginning, about the link between a lack of assimilation and ideological/cultural threats to the stability and security of the United States. Their comments on immigration were full of warnings about unchecked immigration that undermines the country’s cohesion:
“To admit foreigners indiscriminately to the rights of citizens the moment they put foot in our country would be nothing less than to admit the Grecian horse into the citadel of our liberty and sovereignty,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in 1802.
President George Washington likewise said:
“The policy or advantage of [immigration] taking place in a body (I mean the settling of them in a body) may be much question, for by so doing, they retain the language, habits, and principles (good or bad) which they bring with them.
Whereas by an intermixture with our people, they, or their descendants, get assimilated to our customs, measures, and laws: in a word, soon become one people.”
To wage jihad on Western secular-democracies, you must see yourself as at odds with it, which means you are unassimilated into those societies. The jihadist is likely to be integrated—treated as an equal by society—but he will not be assimilated. He has chosen to adopt an Islamist ideology that is inherently against assimilation and for subversion.
You can only beat an ideology with another ideology. To defeat Islamism, we must promote assimilation into our secular-democratic societies.