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The jihadogenous urban structure

These individuals feel coerced by the predicament of being neither French nor Arab, neither Pakistani nor English... they bear the stigma of double ‘non-identity’.

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lead The boys from the “hood” or banlieue film, La Haine.(1995).

By jihadogenous urban structure I mean an urban setting that is the venue for jihadist callings, at a much higher rate than in the other districts of the city.

In Europe, one of the significant and even essential factors of jihadist radicalization is the city. Not any city. But a type of district within the city that we may call the jihadogenous urban structure.

In almost all European countries there are neighborhoods where the number of young people leaving for Syria (foreign fighters) as well as the number of followers of internal jihadism (homegrown jihadists) are much higher than the national average. The trial of the survivors of twenty young people who joined Syria between 2013 and 2015 from the southern French town of Lunel is a case that is replicated in other European countries in more or less similar forms. In Lunel, it is the social housing district of Abrivados, in which a significant number of young people were indoctrinated by the extremist Islamic holy war ideology.

Jihadist concentration in some neighborhoods may be due to two distinct types of effects:

- because, within these neighbourhoods, young people have known each other through formal or informal networks, friends, or members of the same family and their ties; the district may be that of the middle classes, without any apparent sign of disadvantage among candidates for the holy war; this type of neighborhood and the calling of the middle classes towards Jihadism are largely in a minority in Europe.

-  because of the specificity of the urban structure: the concentration of young people of similar ethnic origin (in France, North Africa, Great Britain, Pakistan and Bangladesh, in Belgium, Morocco ...) in areas with the following characteristics: stigmatization and anger among a part of the population; ghettoisation and the development of an underground economy (which attracts a part of the youth and predisposes them towards any form of transgression in contrast to the norms in force); a much higher unemployment rate than the national rate (in Lunel, around 20% and double this rate for young people of immigrant origin); a very high school drop-out rate; a delinquency rate well above the national average; a feeling of high stigmatization among young boys, mostly of immigrant origin; a fragmented family structure: decapitated patriarchal families, single-parenthood and family instability, with the development of violence within the family and the children's homes (the Merah and Nemmouche families in France shared these characteristics); a strong sense of stigma, largely based on everyday life experience, amplified by the "aggressive" behavior of excluded youth who feel themselves victims of society; the isolation of the neighborhood which is more or less separated from the city for objective reasons (the absence of subway or bus lines) and partly imaginary (a line of mental demarcation often separates the stigmatized neighbourhood from other areas awakens in these young people the feeling of a dichotomous humanity where communication between the two is impossible).

Cultural inferiority

This type of urban structure shapes the identity of those who are socially excluded, and culturally stigmatized. They internalize social exclusion and make it an identity principle as well as a way of life. In turn, victimization accentuates exclusion and becomes an aggravating factor insofar as the individual separates himself from society and no longer tries to enter it through normal channels.

In the majority of cases, this type of individual is of immigrant origin with a background that makes him a social reject or someone who suffers from "relative deprivation" (especially in the Scandinavian countries) or poverty and is at the same time treated as culturally inferior. They are often economically marginalized, and they internalize this predicament and define themselves in an antagonistic manner towards society. To ensure their social promotion they become deviant, members of gangs or more or less outlaw groups. In France, most of these districts are in the suburbs and are called “(poor) suburbs” (banlieues). Sometimes, the segregated district is not outside the city but part of it (like the “Northern districts” that are part of the city of Marseille or Neuhof, part of Strasbourg).

The suburban structure or that of isolated, poor and "segregated" neighborhoods within the big city (as in Waltham Forest in London) or in the small town where exclusion and stigmatization are even more accentuated (Lunel) in many cases promotes jihadism. This model is not only French. It is less common, it is true, in Germany (one finds it in the Lohberg district of the city of Dinslaken), Sweden (Malmö in his district of Rosengärd ...), Belgium (Molenbeek and Vilvoorde ...), Denmark (in Copenhagen the district of Mjolnenparken and Norrebro...), in Holland (in Amsterdam, Omertoomseveld district ...) ...

Non-citizenship

In everyday language a whole vocabulary is found in Europe to emphasize the non-citizenship of these sons or grandsons of immigrants (girls and granddaughters are perceived differently and generally behave differently): they are modestly called in Sweden "non-ethnically Swedish" individuals, much like the "French on paper" in France, "Passdeutschen" in Germany (those who have a German passport – but are not genuine Germans) and even more pejorative in England the "Pakis" (of Pakistani or more largely Southeast Asian origin, with a strong depreciative nuance), in Denmark the "Perker" (with the same pejorative as the Paki in English), "Arab", "Bougnoul", "Bicot", "Beur”, pejorative expressions in France...

Mirror game

These individuals feel coerced by the predicament of being neither French nor Arab, neither Pakistani nor English... they bear the stigma of double “non-identity” (in France they are “dirty Arabs”, in Algeria, they become “dirty, arrogant Frenchmen”). They find a substitute identity in Islam, and by espousing it they put an end to their dual non-identity.

In response, they develop characteristics that accentuate their non-citizenship through aggression, a gesture perceived as threatening by others, ways of being that are considered provocative. In terms of language they develop their own slang about the locals they do not belong to as "babtou" (the white), "gaouri" in France ... Racism and counter-racism inextricably mix in a mirror game. The transition to jihadism of a small minority of them restores, on the imaginary plane, pride, even dignity in opposition to society, legitimizing blind violence against it.

Hotbeds

Poor districts in a large global city can become “hotbeds”[1] of Jihadism: East London, in which Tower Hamlets, Newham and Waltham Forest have concentrated half of Jihadists in London is a case in point.   

On the whole, in Great Britain, more than three quarters of the jihadist acts have been perpetrated by individuals coming from poor districts and almost half of the jihadist acts have been committed by people living in the poor districts[2].

Sometimes the association of two cities or a city and an agglomeration in another city promotes jihadism : one can quote several cases of this nature in France like Toulouse-Artigat and Cannes-Torcy.

Often the proximity of a poor and a rich neighborhood can give rise to forms of frustration and indignation favoring jihadism. There is certainly no strict causality, but this urban phenomenon is found in many European cities where jihadism has developed. This is the case of North Kensington, where Grenfell Tower caught fire on June 14, 2017, causing at least 79 deaths. This district is part of the 10% of the poorest neighborhoods in England but at the same time rubs shoulders with wealthy neighborhoods where luxury hotels are bought up by foreign owners who rarely live there. This is also the case of social housing in Parisian districts in the process of gentrification, such as the nineteenth district, where members of the network of Buttes-Chaumont also live, for the most part in public housing areas. This is also the case of the young people of Molenbeek in Belgium: in this district, poverty is adjacent to other neighborhoods in the process of gentrification. We find these same phenomena in the city of Nice in France (the district of Ariane).

The excluded

The history of the last half a century can also play a significant role. In Nice, the establishment of the members of the FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) and, later, the GIA (Armed Islamic Group) in the 1990s after the military coup in Algeria that ousted the Islamic group, the Islamic Salvation Front, had a significant impact on the indoctrination or even the radicalization of a part of the population of immigrant origin in the following decade.

Even if the city does not explain everything, most European jihadists come from areas, cities or regions relatively well circumscribed in space, mostly poor, stigmatized and inhabited by sons and grandsons of immigrants.

jihadists can also be recruited in middle-class neighborhoods, but here it is the malaise of middle-class youth, the absence of utopia, the fear of social downgrading and an often atomized and anomic individualism that are at the origin of radicalization for a youth that can no longer refer to the ideals of the extreme left. In the latter case, the urban structure does not play the same role as in the case of poor neighborhoods. Still, the latter case is by far the majority among European jihadists.

In conclusion

In short, Europe is sick of its enclaved and impoverished neighborhoods where young people, mostly of immigrant origin and economically marginalized, are locked up. Not knowing how to integrate them, and as long as this urban structure is not challenged, we can expect either jihadism or a frenzied delinquency in an enclosed environment where at the same time we have the development of a puritanical and sectarian religiosity, a pietist Salafism.

Norrebro, Copenhagen. Wikicommons/Jay Bergesen. Some rights reserved.


[1] Jihadist Hotbeds – Understanding Local Radicalisation Processes, European Foundation for Democracy, ISPI Milan, July 15, 2015.

[2] James Monroe, Event Summary : « HJS Report Launch : Islamist Terrorism : analysis of Offences and Attacks in the UK, Henry Jackson Society, 3 August 2017.

How to cite:
Khosrokhavar F.(2018) The jihadogenous urban structure Open Democracy / ISA RC-47: Open Movements, 9 June. https://opendemocracy.net/farhad-khosrokhavar/jihadogenous-urban-structure

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About the author

Farhad Khosrokhavar is Directeur d'études at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris and Researcher at the Centre d'Analyse et d'Intervention Sociologiques (CADIS). His latest book is Radicalisation (Paris: Editions de la Maison des sciences de l'homme, 2014).

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