Islamist Extremism: Bred, Not Inherited?

Breeding Bin Ladens: America, Islam, and the Future of Europe

Zachary Shore. John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, Maryland. 240 pages.

Shortly before the July 7, 2005, bomb attacks in London, Mohammed Siddique Khan, one of the bombers suspected to be the leader of the terrorist strike, videotaped a message explaining his group’s actions. The video began with this statement: “Our driving motivation doesn’t come from tangible commodities that this world has to offer.”

Author and associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, Zachary Shore, argues that this opening qualification is crucial to understanding the increasing Muslim presence in the West. Shore shows that at the core of the antagonism between Islam and the West is a conflict over values and identity.

It is important first to note that Shore’s title is misleading. This is not a book about Muslim extremism (or Islamism); it is not a book uncovering a nefarious fundamentalist production line. As Shore readily admits, such a thing does not exist. Breeding Bin Ladens is primarily about ordinary Muslims in Europe, not extremist groups. The book claims that Islamist extremism is bred rather than born, that it is produced by influence rather than by inheritance. It is no secret that many new Islamist converts are young, European-born, second- or third-generation Muslims who have become increasingly disillusioned with the society in which they live. He pinpoints the growing Muslim populations in Europe and their clashes with incumbent Europeans, as the setting for this new trend.

Through a series of interviews with European-based Muslims in the United Kingdom, Holland, Germany, Slovenia, France and the Czech Republic, Shore attempts to discover the underlying attitudes behind Muslim bitterness towards the West, and particularly the United States (Shore’s text is written specifically to Americans). In the case of the United States, problems seem to emanate fundamentally from perceptions of recent foreign policy. According to Shore, American actions in Afghanistan and the Middle East—particularly the Iraq War and persistent support of Israel—have produced a reputation for capitalist exploitation, arrogance and lack of concern for social justice. These attitudes are widespread across Europe, not just among Muslims. Furthermore, consumerism and permissive sexuality are widely disseminated by electronic media from many Western nations, not only America. These perceptions of Western moral deficiency generate a set of values that are at odds with a strict Muslim upbringing. For instance, Islam forbids homosexuality as well as the commercial exploitation of female sexuality, both of which have been key features of Western liberalism.

As a result, Islam has given birth to a parallel culture, where there are Muslim-friendly versions of Barbie (hijab-clad ‘Razanne’), online discount shops (Zaid, TalkIslam) and Coca-Cola (Mecca Cola, Cola Turka, Qibla Cola). British-based Qibla Cola stridently underscores its marketing appeal with its list of ingredients—ETHICAL CONTENT: Added Injustice: 0%, Exploitation: 0%, Artificial Morals: 0%, Inflated Claims: 0%, Conscience Free.

Given this conflict of values, the situation reduces to a question of identity. Muslims living in America have gradually assimilated, meaning that they share their allegiance between the United States and Islam. In Europe, however, there is no similar tradition of social blending. Europe has largely retained national stability since the Middle Ages, and the impact of immigration has thus far been small. Today, however, Muslim communities are growing throughout the continent. In Rotterdam half of residents are not native; France is projected to be one-quarter Muslim by 2025, and the U.K. is home to 1.5 million Muslims, a large number of them young—one third are under 15. In the face of Western liberalism and tolerance, many Muslims want to remain Muslim first and European a distant second. A recent survey of young Turkish-Germans finds that 56 percent believe that they “should not adapt too much to Western ways but should instead live according to Islam.”

Shore recommends that Europeans make further attempts at integrating their Muslim neighbors through government-funded clubs and awareness-raising schemes.

There are, however, inevitably problems with Shore’s arguments. His evidence at times seems paltry and too reliant on statistics and other secondary studies, making his book feel like a tourist-eye view of Muslim Europe. Shore’s conclusions are often overreaching: the link between Muslims living in Europe and Islamic extremism is too easily made, and his claim that many are ”ambivalent” towards the United States is misleading: outright rejection of a value system combined with widespread indifference towards individual Americans themselves does not equate to “ambivalence.” Likewise his implied assumption that Western degeneracy can be traced mainly to American influence overlooks the possibility that the decline in Western values may have more to do with widespread philosophical influences rather than simple Hollywood aping.

Shore fails to tackle this grand historical irony of the conflict. The clash of values between Islam and the West demonstrates how far the latter has moved from its traditional Christian values. Today’s major Western religions—Islam, Judaism and Christianity—have similar origins, and as a result in their written form share many basic tenets. This current conflict shows how far the West has strayed from the Judeo-Christian values it once celebrated, at least in name.

All that said, Shore makes some crucial statements that could be vital to destroying the myth of the violent Muslim monster which has become so popular for many in the West.