Five days before the March 22 attacks in Brussels, French political philosopher Olivier Roy told the AAPA that Islamic State is reaching its territorial limits and French jihadists are more a product of a generational revolt than a political struggle.

Roy, a professor at the European University Institute in Florence, spoke to 25 AAPA members during a lengthy Q&A session on March 17 at Bloomberg’s Paris headquarters.

Well known both in and outside of his native France, the expert in political Islam took issue with another school of analysis that argues that jihadists like those who killed 130 people in Paris last November are a product of alienated communities created after the breakdown of France’s colonial empire in North Africa and radicalized by unfavorable socio-economic circumstances.O Roy 2 DSC_6317

“If it were racism and social exclusion that pushed people towards jihadism, we would have tens of thousands of jihadists instead of a few hundred today,” said Roy, who argued that the attacks by militants in Paris reflected “not the radicalization of Islam but the Islamization of radicality”.

Like some other analysts who dispute his analysis of the origins of jihadism in Europe, Roy said Islamic State’s territorial ambitions are on the wane. “They don’t know how to build a society. Young people don’t go there to build. Daesh’s caliphate has reached its limits,” he said, referring to territory controlled by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

He likened militants in Libya who have sworn allegiance to Islamic State to franchise holders with local, not global interests.

Roy said French jihadists commonly live much like their peers before they embrace violence and rarely have a strong Islamic upbringing. Many descend into petty crime before they convert to Islam and quickly embrace jihad as a way to break from their parents, convinced that when they die they will go to paradise. “This is a generational phenomenon,” he said. “None of them has a long-term religious trajectory.”

French jihadists rarely emerge from political movements, he said. “There is no pro-Daesh social movement, no graffiti. Daesh is not the vanguard of the masses that will affect the general population.”

European youths drawn to Islamic State today could, a generation earlier, have been attracted to violent militant groups in Europe like the Baader-Meinhof group, a left-wing group active in West Germany from 1970-98, Roy said. “Jihad has replaced the revolution,” he said.

Roy called the barbarity of Islamic State quintessentially modern, saying Islamic State had embraced “the esthetics of violence”.

Asked how France could counteract the appeal of Islamic State to youth, Roy agreed with many other experts who say authorities could temper their secular zeal and allow more space for a French form of Islam to emerge.

“Every society is based on different values,” Roy said. “We have to leave a space for religion. If you evict religion, that space will be occupied by radicals.”

-Nelson Graves

Link to the Irish Times article:
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