Why are some British Muslims tempted by political violence? Anyone curious should consult Raffaello Pantucci’s sober, informative and nuanced “We Love Death As You Love Life”: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists. Pantucci, who works at the Royal United Services Institute, traces the origins of radical Islamism on these shores.
Extremists in the early 1990s tended to be foreign preachers such as Abu Hamza. They brought Middle Eastern political disputes to the forefront of Muslim discourse at the same time as a singular British Muslim identity was being formed in the cauldron of the Salman Rushdie controversy. Thus a powerful ideology was able to exploit existing cultural alienation or personal grievances.
Although there were attacks by British jihadis before 9/11—notably in Yemen in 1998—Pantucci argues that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq then mobilised those already primed for violence. Pantucci says that a number of British terrorists—including 7/7 bomber Mohammed Sidique Khan—embraced jihadism because unlike their parents’ ritualised, apolitical faith, it “connects the individual to the global” and “offers empowerment.”
Strikingly, this ideology has become detached from its origins within Muslim communities and increasingly appeals to lone-wolf anti-establishment individuals with a cursory interest in Islam. Pantucci’s writing is a touch dry but much of the detail is fascinating. The rise of Islamic State is too recent for him to consider but you can infer that as long as it remains successful, it will retain its appeal among a small, but potentially dangerous, group of British citizens.