The death of the Islamic State’s self-styled Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi in October 2019, has not contained risk and threat of Islamic terrorism in Europe, and has not even halted would-be jihadists from acting against civilians, as the last terror attack in London a few days ago clearly showed. The radical Islamic ideology is, in fact, part of a subversive culture that survives the death of its leaders. It is pervading many Western nations, even without a substantial Muslim presence inside, such as is happening in Italy. It is a sort of transverse violent subculture that derives from political, economic and social domestic factors, all very similar inside whole of Europe. This violent culture is, in fact, the result of individual discomfort that derives from personal problems as well as a failed integration in a society totally different from the original. However, for the first time in contemporary history, this personal discomfort is also fed by global international instability, particularly in the Middle East region, which undermines traditional political and social values. Domestic and international political crisis and instability, conflicts and personal discomfort feed each other, in which criminal and terrorist actions become a sort of relief.
The Caliphate’s institution, in 2014, in the context of the Syrian-Iraqi conflict brought back the jihad to Europe after almost twenty years, after the Bosnian war in 1992-1995. Not even al Qaeda’s appeals or the 9/11 attacks have had such great impact as IS’s call to the holy war.
The terrorist attacks in Brussels (2016) brought to a strict control over movements of subjects close to the radical Islamist ideology by the security institutions of those countries that felt threatened by flows of fighters to and from the Middle East. Consequently, IS’s leadership issued an order to the foreign volunteers not to enter the Syrian-Iraqi conflict but to implement jihad by striking directly in their countries or joining other affiliate groups in conflicts in Africa or Ukraine, for example.
An era of reorganization of jihadist subversion in Europe, as in other non-European and non-Muslim regions, began. Many subjects, most of them self-radicalized, created small cells and so-called short networks limited to the close circles of friends and relatives.
Their self-radicalization process began mainly through Internet web channels, which have been untill today considered the almost undisputed protagonists of propaganda, recruitment, affiliation, even training and self-financing by jihadists of any acronym and organization outside the regions of strong Muslim dominance, such as Europe, the Americas and Australia.
Italy is now looking with concern at the radicalization’s phenomenon, particularly of young people (from 17 to 30 years old) that are the most exposed to this risk as resulted of domestic data. The Internet and its various social channels, as well as the dark web - its most hidden but not so unattainable component for the new generations of digital natives - represent the tools through which they become radicalize, as part of a search of identity. For many of them, to be migrants’ sons means to not belong to either the parents’ original country or to the one that has welcomed them, and in which perhaps they were born and have grown up. This sort of double absence of identity afflicts them.
The same discomfort is also felt by the young generation towards traditional religious practice. The messianic message of the Apocalypse and the world’s end, of which IS’s propaganda on the Internet is full off, produces fascination in the youngsters’ minds, particularly if it is filtered in fantasy videogames, with initiation rites, action, killings, victories and achievements, albeit simulated.
All these elements increase the youngsters’ self-esteem. They feel invested with a messianic role, leaving them unscathed and mostly victorious, just like a videogame. It is definitely much more seductive than the old, silent and muffled traditional religious rituals of their parents.
The choice of Dabiq town in the background of IS’s propaganda videos, with the nasheed - the music and the songs praising the jihad - is at the same time an IS religious reference and an appeal to competition and to fight. Dabiq is in fact considered the Apocalypse’s symbol in the struggle between Good and Evil, because it is the location of an historical battle between victorious Muslims over the Christians “infidels”. Dabiq, in their opinion, would witness again the Muslim victory and the beginning of the end of time.
In this post-ideological era, radical Islam rules specifically as an ideology, as happened once with communism and liberalism. If the first is already dead, the latter is now strongly in crisis, according to some observers, like the economic laissez-faire due to the financial collapses of 2007-2008. That’s why populism and sovereignism are advancing in the political arena worldwide.
In this way, the search for one own identity, strongly in crisis with globalization, leads many Muslims to identify the faith as an ‘identity ideology’. The Islamic radical practice becomes, in fact, a sort of personal redemption and, as an ideology, it guarantees young people the certainty of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’, what the duties are, and what is or is not legitimate.
All these elements are functional for the elaboration of a new identity. They give rise to a community of similars, even a community of fighters, where the ‘radical identity’ acts as a glue. Being part of a community, in fact, completes the search for an identity. In the same time, it is also the most explicit reference to individualism’s failure that is, instead, typical of the Western culture that they want to overthrow with jihad.
These guys or young men often had a behavior very far from the proper Islamic precepts, such as the abuse of alcohol, criminal actions or the refusal of mosques. The radicalization process means to them to no more be a ‘waste’ of their own Muslim community but, in the end, an ‘elected’. That’s why they call themselves born again or re-born, because they consider themselves reborn in and thanks to radical Islam.
However, the new beginning must take place through martyrdom, that is the sacrifice of one’s own life in a terrorist action that elevates and purifies their earthly life as sinners.
The phenomenon is not easily identifiable and obtainable, especially if it concerns the radicalization of young and free citizens, apparently well integrated in their social, scholastic or working environments. It was the case of Issam Shalabi, an Egyptian arrested in November 2018 during a vast Italian counter-terrorism operation. Shalabi was a self-made man, and apparently a well integrated, busy and rich citizen. All these elements made him a leader in the eyes of the national “would-be jihadists”.
Furthermore, these potential jihadists do not always come from traditional Islamic communities, as shown by Italian and non-Muslim citizens who have converted to radical Islam. As not all converts to Islam radicalize themselves, so not all radicalized people decide to go to war for jihad. However, the latter can be instrumental for propaganda, domestic proselytism and financial support for jihad even staying on national soil.
There is only one exclusive tool to prevent this kind of threat. It is to carefully observe the behavior of a person who is supposed to be on the path of radicalization. Everything must be considered as warning signals, from posting statements praising or rejoicing jihadist work on social networks, to considerable changes of behavioral habits such as devotion to radical Islam. Everything can indicate the transition from moderate to extreme Islam. The prevention of youngsters’ Islamist radicalization is possible even with the collaboration of domestic Muslim communities and the original families. The first observation outpost, in fact, is the family and the strict parental circles. It is in this context that the challenge to the domestic security outside Muslim regions arises.