The rabbit hole into radicalization is the subtle process some Muslims find themselves falling into as resentment toward society turns into alienation, and alienation to radicalization.
Let’s start at the beginning.
At the tail end of the 20th Century, Islamic populations began losing an intimate understanding of their faith. They also lacked stimulation (and thus curiosity) to ask complex and meaningful questions. As 9/11 reshaped the modern world, so did it reshape themes of identity and belonging for many Muslims.
As the years progressed, we began asking questions on what it meant to be a Muslim. Some of us flocked to social media, others toward activism, or scholarship and so forth. A significant frustration in the inquiry into faith was that we didn’t always have the answers at hand. Many of those answers took time to evolve or be brought to surface in any tangible way that would make sense or be useful in our day-to-day lives.
In the meantime, global politics took up a quicker pace as war and ideological conflicts pressed us for answers faster than we could process the questions. The combination of political quagmires merging with philosophical questions cornered many Muslims into embracing identity politics that puts outward manifestation of identity before the inner private journey that faith offers.
We didn’t know what it meant to be a Muslim in the 21st Century, so we wore the label “Muslim” more stridently while we dug deeper into searching for answers.
The perfect storm of political struggles, foreign wars, domestic policy, culture wars and inadequate resources or ideas to challenge each front, have all been contributing factors. Radicalization is a process. Religion plays a defining role but not an exclusive role in that process. The ‘perfect storm’ of factors, however, leads many to embrace faith more deeply. Here faith is seen as the marker that sets an individual apart from the chaos of the 21st Century, while also serving as a tool to reject the modern world and the trappings of the ego which people of faith typically steadfastly reject. Some of us want to live our life exactly according to the laws in the Quran, while others embrace sharia and hadith. Some feel a personal religious obligation to cover our hair. Some want to ask bold and beautiful questions. The spectrum of how Muslims have begun expressing what it means to be Muslim varies.
Many of us feel frustrated between being treated like savages, tokenized, or even romanticized despite the tough conversations we still need to have amongst ourselves.
Most feel frustrated.
Many feel alienated.
Some become radicalized.
The radicalized few are pushed (or gravitate) toward extreme opposition to Western society in all forms. When we pair frustration and alienation with the vacuum of brilliant ideas and exquisite conversations that is still lacking due to increased censorship on free discussion, it creates a space for propagandists and ideological extremists to fill the gap.
The transition from ideological radicalism to violent radicalism is not so complicated. Once you are radicalized, you can easily decide to take the law into your own hands and ‘correct’ society through your own actions or that of a group who is aligned with you.